On the Prospect of Mass Resignations: A Veteran FSO Cautions Against Rash Decisions

Posted: 12:49 pm ET
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We asked yesterday if the prospect of mass resignations is a real thing (see Inauguration Day Countdown: Is the prospect of mass resignations a real thing?  A veteran FSO who we admire a great deal shared with us his thoughts on the issue of morale and the prospect of an exodus from the Foreign Service of officers unwilling or unable to reconcile with the thought of working in the DJT administration. We are sharing the following with his permission:

On the specific question of the prospect of mass resignations: I think a lot of it depends on where an officer is at in their career. Standing on principle costs more at some times of your life than at others. I can see the light at the end of my career; I have ever-hungrier mouths to feed; my career prospects outside of the FS are a relative mystery to me. I work in a career track that doesn’t often put me in a position of delivering demarches on policy approaches I find objectionable.

But I think it is possible we’ll see resignations among two groups: first, amongst officers who joined in the last five years. Many are already unhappy with the fact that promotions will be slow for some time, given the massive intake of officers in recent years. Working for a decade as a FS-03 in a John Bolton-run State Department (for example) isn’t going to improve their mood. They are young, bright, idealistic, and are unlikely to — in their view — sell out just for the pleasure of public service. The second group I suspect might see resignations are those eligible for retirement. If you are an FS-01 or SFS who has been tossing around the idea of moving on, it seems entirely plausible that the election results might push you over the edge, all other things being equal.

But I want to make something very clear: I’ve been around long enough to have served under several presidential administrations, and the talk of mass resignations percolates anytime we’ve got a nail-biter election result or a controversial new war. But I have to say what I am seeing in the aftermath of Election 2016 is qualitatively different.

Many FSOs disagreed vociferously with the Iraq War; at various times with our approach to the Israeli-Palestinian issue; with our massive HR commitment to PSP missions, just to name a few. A few people resigned from time to time. But never have I witnessed the visceral emotional response from as many FSOs to an event or policy as I have in the last two weeks. We’re a diverse workforce, and given the rhetoric of this campaign, many took the victory of a candidate who spouted misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, isolationist bombast at every turn very, very personally. It is no exaggeration to say this triggered an existential crisis for a fair number of officers without significant time invested in the FS and soul-searching about whether this really is the career for them. As a veteran, I viewed it as my responsibility to help contextualize current events, to urge my charges not to make rash decisions in the heat of the moment, to reconsider the oaths they had taken and their commitment to the nation and the American people, regardless of who sits in the White House.

January 20 is a long way off. I hope once colleagues have had the time to absorb and process November 8, they will return fully engaged and recommitted, because Lord knows we’re going to need their energy and expertise in the coming years.

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Some clips to read:

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2 responses

  1. Because of the global and public service aspect of our jobs, more than in most other occupations, a FSO needs to feel inspired and supported by top leadership. Based upon ample and long enunciated pronouncements by the president-elect and the history of his “leadership” style, the Trump presidency represents a truly unique situation: a debilitating undercurrent that runs counter to the basic tenets of the Foreign Service.

  2. I look at it a bit differently – I hope they do resign, because it is obvious there is a misunderstanding of public service, and an apparent inability to separate their personal and professional agendas. Nobody said this would be easy.