State Department employees on February 19 woke up to a love letter in their inbox from their new Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun. The Deputy Secretary says that he is looking forward to highlighting his priorities relating to people, policy and process but the new email was aimed at tackling “the first issue”, that is, how they can “work together to ensure we do not improperly engage the Department of State in the political process.”
He writes that “One of the great strengths of our country is its democratic process, which we proudly showcase in our global engagements.”
He talks about the political debate going on and the agency’s far-reaching restrictions “designed to ensure our representation overseas is not perceived as partisan.”
It is not lost on any of us that there is a national political debate going on around us that manifests itself daily in news feeds, questions and comments from our foreign contacts, and communications from friends via emails and social media. I have spent my career at the intersection of foreign policy and politics, so I recognize that it can be personally challenging to keep politics outside of daily engagements. This, however, is what our laws and policies require. State Department employees, like all federal employees, are subject to restrictions on engaging in partisan political activity while at work and outside of work. We often talk of Hatch Act requirements, but in truth the Department has more far-reaching restrictions designed to ensure our representation overseas is not perceived as partisan.
Apparently, Mr. Pompeo recently approved “updated guidance for political activities restrictions that apply to all Department employees.” Further, Mr. Biegun notes that “Department legal requirements and policies, which have been in place for decades, are broad and bear careful review.”
He tells employees that “obligations differ based on your employment status” and reveals that “as a Senate confirmed Department official, I will be sitting on the sidelines of the political process this year and will not be attending any political events, to include the national conventions.”
His message does not say if all Senate-confirmed Department officials will also sit on the sidelines.
He writes that while he is not active on social media, he encourage employees “to think about your own practices and how the guidelines provided by the Office of the Legal Adviser might apply to your social media activity.” Further, he also shared that he intends “to be thoughtful in how I respond to emails from friends that have even the appearance of partisan political content.”
Apparently, there are three new Department memoranda which summarize political activity guidance for each of three categories of Department employees—
(1) All Presidential Appointees and All Political Appointees
(2) Career SES Employees
(3) All Department of State Employees (Other than Career SES, Presidential Appointees, and Political Appointees)
(—as well as special guidance for employees and their families abroad).
The Office of the Legal Adviser has issued three political activities memoranda but they are behind the firewall, so we do not, as yet, know what they say. He is asking employees “to review the guidelines carefully so that together we can ensure that our Department work is above reproach.”
(Can somebody please FOIA these updated guidance?)
Mr. Biegun also cited 3 FAM 4123.3 (Employee Responsibilities Abroad/Political Activities): https://fam.state.gov/fam/03fam/03fam4120.html — see 3 FAM 4123.3 for Political Activities
He ends his message with:
“I am impressed by the discipline and unfailing professionalism that I see across our Department team on a daily basis, exemplifying the Secretary’s Ethos statement. I hope you will join me in carefully adhering to these restrictions designed to support our nonpartisan foreign policy.”
Oops! We read “Secretary’s Ethos statement” and we nearly fell off our chair like a drunken master.
Bonus report below about the deputy secretary’s boss’ recent 17-minute speech at a city of 3,100 people in Florida and then you all can have a town hall meeting about how to ensure that the Department’s work is beyond reproach.
In any case, it sounds like employees who want to learn more may attend a special training session by the Office of the Special Counsel scheduled for March 13 in Foggy Bottom. It doesn’t sound like senior State Department officials and advisers who are active and partisan on social media are required to attend the training session. State/D’s message only notes that he is attending the OSC’s session, and it is “a regularly scheduled session available to all employees.”
If Mike Pompeo is not running for U.S. Senate (which he says he isn't) and if he's not using state travel to help Trump's 2020 campaign (which he says he isn't), then why did he secretly stop in The Villages on his recent trip to Florida?https://t.co/NloYGVEyZf
— Steve Contorno (@scontorno) February 19, 2020
I was traveling w/ Secretary Pompeo when his vehicle mysteriously split from the motorcade in Bushnell. @TB_Times reports he met w/ one of the wealthiest Republican donors in Central Florida: the Morse family. At the time no one would tell traveling press where Pompeo was going. https://t.co/sMyit7VlMl
— Elizabeth McLaughlin (@Elizabeth_McLau) February 19, 2020
For a month, I've asked the State Dept to explain why Mike Pompeo came to Bushnell—a city of 3100—for a 17 min speech.
It turns out there was more to his Florida trip: Pompeo secretly stopped in The Villages near a GOP donor, records we obtained show.https://t.co/NloYGVWanP
— Steve Contorno (@scontorno) February 19, 2020
— Diplopundit (@Diplopundit) June 27, 2019
While you're reading this Tillerson transcript remember that w/the Trump Admin it's almost always true that there are only ever different kinds of shitty. Tillerson ALSO wasn't a good SoS, even if he may be better in some ways than Pompeo. https://t.co/zcIc4FfEPx
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) June 27, 2019
A newly released transcript reveals how Jared Kushner was freelancing U.S. foreign policy, leaving former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the dark, FP's @RobbieGramer and @MDGANDHI report. https://t.co/NLj37t9snx pic.twitter.com/bwx6DNf0cX
— Foreign Policy (@ForeignPolicy) June 27, 2019
NEW: Just released testimony has Rex Tillerson explaining how Kushner ran foreign policy, with secret world leader meetings that left Tillerson and State Dept. out of the loop and in the dark on emerging U.S. policies and crises. From me and @jdawsey1 https://t.co/YwNFBTFPeC
— John Hudson (@John_Hudson) June 27, 2019
NEW: Rex Tillerson claims that the State Department was left in the dark over critical foreign-policy decisions because Jared Kushner had his own operationhttps://t.co/zXahpTPppB
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) June 27, 2019
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) June 27, 2019
— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) June 27, 2019
Via UNCLASSIFIED CABLE: 19 STATE 53266 Date/DTG: May 20, 2019 / 201659Z MAY 19 available via afsa.org:
1. Divorce can impact the division of Foreign Service retirement benefits. This message from the Bureau of Human Resources Office of Retirement outlines the key rules that apply under the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability System (FSRDS) and the Foreign Service Pension System (FSPS).
2. Please note that the guidance outlined in this message does not apply to Civil Service employees. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reviews and administers civil service court-ordered benefits. For more information, Civil Service employees should download Pamphlet RI 84-1 titled “Court Ordered Benefits for Former Spouses” from OPM’s website (https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/publications-forms/pamphlets/ri84-1.pdf) or view OPM’s presentation on Court Ordered Benefits (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZIaRfUtQB4).
Default Statutory Entitlement
3. The Foreign Service Act provides a statutory entitlement, also referred to as a default entitlement, when a former spouse is a qualified former spouse. A former spouse is a qualified former spouse if the following criteria are met: a) was married to a Foreign Service retirement plan participant for at least 10 years of his/her creditable federal service, b) at least 5 of those 10 years occurred while the participant was a member of the Foreign Service, and c) the former spouse must not have remarried prior to the commencement of any benefits and while under the age of 55 (age 60 for remarriages prior to November 8, 1984, for benefits under FSRDS). If the above criteria are met, and the former spouse is qualified, the statutory default entitlement applies regardless of the employee’s wishes, unless a spousal agreement or court order otherwise governs the disposition of benefits.
4. Under the default statutory entitlement, a qualified former spouse is entitled to a pro rata (marital) share of 50 percent of the employee’s annuity and a pro rata share of the maximum survivor benefit. The pro rata share is a fraction: the numerator is the total length of time of marriage during which the annuity was earned and the denominator is the retiree’s total creditable service. For example, if a couple was married for 14 years during the participant’s creditable service and the participant retired with 20 years of creditable service, then the pro rata share would be 14/20, or 70 percent. The former spouse would therefore receive 35 percent of the participant’s retired pay (which is half of the 70 percent pro rata share) while the participant would receive the remaining 65 percent.
Deviating From Statutory Entitlement
5. The Foreign Service default statutory entitlement may be altered through a valid court order or notarized spousal agreement. For example, a valid court order or spousal agreement can provide an express waiver of the former spouse’s statutory entitlement or provide that the former spouse’s entitlement be based on a different calculation method than the default calculation provided for by statute. Additionally, a valid court order or spousal agreement can award benefits even if the former spouse was not married to the retiree during his/her creditable Foreign Service or even if the marriage lasted fewer than 10 years. For a court order to be given effect for a former spouse, the order must be issued within two years of any divorce or annulment becoming final.
6. Any spousal agreement or court order that claims to alter or waive retirement benefits that are due under the Foreign Service Act to a former spouse must do so expressly in order for the alteration or waiver to be effective. To expressly waive or alter benefits under the Foreign Service Act, any spousal agreement or court order must specifically refer to Foreign Service retirement benefits. Merely mentioning generic retirement benefits or erroneously referring to retirement benefits under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) is insufficient to constitute a valid waiver or alteration of benefits. For example, to constitute an express waiver or alteration, the parties may specify that the relevant language in the agreement or order pertains to survivor annuities or pensions under the Foreign Service Act, under the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability System if the annuitant is a FSRDS participant, or under the Foreign Service Pension System if the annuitant is a FSPS participant.
7. In cases where the Department determines that a spousal agreement or court order language is insufficient, the parties may negotiate a new agreement or, in certain circumstances, return to court to correct the problem. A notarized spousal agreement may change the amount of the pension paid to the former spouse at any time. A court order can adjust the amount of a survivor annuity to a former spouse provided it is issued before the death of an employee/annuitant.
Submit Your Divorce Documents For Review
8. Foreign Service members must submit all relevant divorce documentation to the Bureau of Human Resources Office of Retirement (HR/RET) prior to retirement. HR/RET strongly encourages employees to do so prior to, or at the time of divorce, or no later than one year before retirement. In cases where years have passed since the divorce, it sometimes takes time to locate the former spouse. In other cases, state court orders may fail to meet federal standards or one party contends that the order has a different meaning than the Department’s interpretation. Thus, the parties sometimes must return to court to correct the problem. That process can take time.
9. To check in advance for such problems, Foreign Service employees should e-mail a certified copy of the entire court order and all attachments to the HR Service Center at HRSC@state.gov or e-mail that address asking for mailing instructions. HR/RET will review the documentation and provide the employee and their former spouse with a divorce determination letter addressing what, if any, retirement benefits a former spouse is entitled to.
Changes In Marital Status After Retirement
10. Foreign Service annuitants (retirees, their survivors, and former spouses) must report all changes in marital status (divorce, marriage/remarriage, or death of spouse) by notifying the HR Service Center and providing the relevant documentation.
11. Delays by annuitants in reporting a marriage/remarriage occurring after the participant’s retirement can permanently prevent a survivor election. A retiree who remarries after retirement has a limited period of time within which they may be eligible to make a survivor election for the new spouse. Under FSRDS, a retiree has only one year from the date of marriage/remarriage to elect a survivor annuity for a spouse acquired after retirement. For a FSPS retiree, there is a two-year deadline. When deciding whether to make a survivor election for a spouse acquired after retirement, it is important to consider that in order to remain eligible for FEHB benefits, a retiree’s surviving spouse must be eligible to receive a survivor annuity(whether or not the annuity would be payable in whole or in part to a former spouse).
For More Information
12. We understand this short message cannot address every conceivable situation. Therefore, additional questions may be sent to HRSC@state.gov.
Related item: Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations (PDF) | September, 2018 (Congressional Research Service).
The Trump Administration’s effort to rebuild the U.S.-#Saudi partnership isn’t popular in the salons of Washington, but the kingdom is a force for stability in the Mideast. Degrading our ties would be a mistake for U.S. national security. Read my op-ed: https://t.co/DcUyXYd1os
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) November 28, 2018
Mike Pompeo’s Faustian bargain – The Washington Post https://t.co/D8z5tLW7GF
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) November 29, 2018
Pompeo: “Saudi Arabia is a powerful force for stability.”🤦🏽♀️
– The Saudis backed the coup in Egypt
– Support oppression in Bahrain
– Bomb/starve Yemen
-kidnapped Lebanese PM
MBS is many things, but a force for stability isn’t one of them https://t.co/9ZXvIad9XN
— Rula Jebreal (@rulajebreal) November 28, 2018
Opinion: Pompeo goes from diplomat to hack https://t.co/4sT3IwIDIf
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) November 29, 2018
"Pompeo’s latest apologia on behalf of Saudi Arabia is a desperate effort by the Secretary of State to discourage senators from voting for S.J.Res. 54 later this week, and it should be dismissed as the mendacious piece of propaganda that it clearly is." https://t.co/TLJsOMSUXQ
— Daniel Larison (@DanielLarison) November 28, 2018
Pompeo’s outrageously unconvincing Wall Street Journal op-ed reads as if it were dictated by the crown prince’s high-priced public relations agents (which, for all we know, it might have been). My latest in @PostOpinions: https://t.co/aW70VVDmy3
— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) November 29, 2018
The Saudis will ruthlessly torture their cousins to accrue powerhttps://t.co/cnDVJZ6KVM
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) November 28, 2018
This Pompeo op-ed is BANANAS.
After several paragraphs of lavish fawning praise for Riyadh, Pompeo drops the HAMMER:
“The US doesn’t condone the Khashoggi killing.”
Huh? So wait…there was a chance we might?? Awesome.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) November 28, 2018
My favorite part of this absurd piece is how Pompeo tries to present support for the US-Saudi relationship as a bold rejection of DC establishment thinking. Bravo. https://t.co/5d27DbHqnq
— Matt Duss (@mattduss) November 28, 2018
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Senior Fellow, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island, 17 April 2018
This is the third and last of three connected lectures on diplomatic doctrine. The series was preceded by an introductory presentation. This lecture deals with diplomacy as risk management. The first lecture described diplomacy as strategy; the second as tactics.
At its most basic level, diplomacy is the management of foreign relations to reduce risk to the nation while promoting its interests abroad. In this task, diplomacy’s success is measured more by what it precludes than by what it achieves. One can never prove that what didn’t happen would have happened if one had not done this or that. But, for the most part in foreign affairs, the fewer the surprises and the less the stress, the better.
The ideal outcome of diplomacy is the assurance of a life for the nation that is as tranquil and boring as residence in the suburbs. And, like suburban life, in its day-to-day manifestation, diplomacy involves harvesting flowers when they bloom and fruits and berries when they ripen, while laboring to keep the house presentable, the weeds down, the vermin under control, and the predators and vagrants off the property. If one neglects these tasks, one is criticized by those closest, regarded as fair prey by those at greater remove, and not taken seriously by much of anyone.
Viewed this way, the fundamental purpose of U.S. foreign policy is the maintenance of a peaceful international environment that leaves Americans free to enjoy the prosperity, justice, and civil liberties that enable our pursuit of happiness. This agenda motivated the multilateral systems of governance the United States created and relied upon after World War II – the Pax Americana. Secretary of Defense Mattis has called this “the greatest gift of the greatest generation.” Institutions like the United Nations. its specialized agencies, like the International Monetary Fund and the World Health Organization, and related organizations like the World Trade Organization sought to regulate specific aspects of international behavior, manage the global commons, provide frameworks for the resolution of international disputes, and organize collective responses to problems.
In the aggregate, these offspring of U.S. diplomacy established and sustained widely accepted norms of behavior for many decades. International law drew on consensus to express these norms as rules. To the extent they were accepted internationally, these rules constrained state actions that could damage the common interests of the society of nations the rules had brought into being. Despite its uneven performance, the Pax Americana assured a relatively high degree of predictability in world affairs that facilitated peaceful international interactions. It did so on the same philosophical basis as the rule of law in domestic affairs – a belief that rules matter and that process legitimizes outcomes rather than the other way around.
Today, that philosophy and its ethical foundations are under attack both at home and abroad. For the time being, at least, Washington has set aside the rule-bound international order and the market-driven economic interactions it enabled. The United States is discarding the multilateral strategic framework that it built to restrain the behavior of lesser states in the last half of the 20th century. In its place, the Trump administration is experimenting with neo-mercantilist theories that seem to have been crowd-sourced to right-wing talk radio. Washington seeks to maximize U.S. leverage over trading partners by dealing with them only on a bilateral basis. Trade and investment are increasingly government-managed and hence politicized rather than freely contracted between private buyers and sellers. So far, it must be said, bird-brained bilateralism is proving no substitute for the complex regulatory regimes it is replacing and the supply chains it is disrupting.
With the fading of previously agreed codes of conduct and the principle of PACTA SUNT SERVANDA [“agreements must be kept”], what could once be taken for granted in managing relations with other states must now be repetitiously renegotiated and affirmed bilaterally. But Washington has demoted diplomacy as a tool of American statecraft in favor of primary reliance on military and economic coercion. Escalating uncertainties are driving nations toward unrestrained unilateralism and disregard for international law. As this century began, the United States popularized contemptible practices like the assassination and abduction for questioning under torture of foreign opponents. A lengthening list of other countries – China, north Korea, Russia, and Turkey, to name a few – have now brazenly followed this bad example. More issues are being deferred as intractable, addressed ad hoc, or dealt with through the threat or use of force.
In this new world disorder, the need for diplomacy to tend fraying relationships is manifestly greater than ever. The Congress and public, as well as the U.S. military, sense this. They have resisted efforts by the Trump administration to slash budgets for peaceful international engagement by the U.S. Department of State and related agencies. Still, the American diplomatic imagination has not been so myopic and enervated since before World War II. Nor have U.S. investments in diplomacy, Americans’ expectations of their diplomats, or international trust of the United States been so low.
Diplomatic preparedness requires constant attention to other nations and their views. Showing that one’s government is interested in and understands what others think encourages them to be more receptive to one’s own ideas. Attentiveness to their needs, views, and doubts signals willingness to work together and cultivates willingness to cooperate in defending common interests. The regular nurturing and reaffirmation of relationships is what makes it possible to call on a network of friends in times of need. Responding politely and considerately – in the least offensive way one can – to others’ messages conveys respect as well as substance. It invites their sympathetic study of the logic, intent, and interests behind one’s own messages.
Constant diplomatic intercourse promotes stability and predictability. It inhibits inimical change, reducing the risk that amicable states will become adversaries or that adversaries will become enemies. And it provides situational awareness that reduces surprise and enables governments to respond intelligently and tactfully to trends and events.
All this may seem obvious. But it takes a sustained commitment by national leaders, public servants, and well-trained diplomats as well as reliable funding to carry it off. In the contemporary United States, none of these is now assured. The safety net provided by routine diplomacy as I have just described is increasingly neglected. The resulting disarray in American international relationships is shaking our alliances, eroding cooperation with our international partners, raising doubts about U.S. reliability, causing client states to seek new patrons, and diminishing deference to U.S. national interests by friends and foes alike. Increases in military spending demonstrate eagerness to enhance warfighting capabilities. But greater capacity to wreak havoc does nothing to rectify the doubts of foreign nations about American wisdom, reliability, and rapport in our conduct of relations with them.
U.S. military power is as yet without effective challenge except at the regional level. But, on its own, it is proving consistently incapable of producing outcomes that favor our national security. It is a truism that those who cannot live by their brawn or their wallets must live by their wits. Neither war nor the threat of war can restore America’s lost political primacy. Only an upgrade in American competence at formulating and implementing domestic and foreign policies, coupled with effective diplomacy in support of credible American leadership, can do that.
In recent years, Americans have become better known for our promiscuous use of force and our cynical disregard of international law than for our rectitude and aspirations for moral excellence. U.S. foreign policy has featured unprovoked invasions and armed attacks on foreign countries, violations of their sovereignty through drone warfare and aid to insurgents, assassinations and kidnappings, interrogation through torture, the extrajudicial execution of citizens as well foreigners, universal electronic eavesdropping, Islamophobia, the suspension of aid to refugees, xenophobic immigration policies, and withdrawal from previously agreed frameworks for collective action on issues of global concern, like climate change. This sociopathic record inspires only the enemies of the United States. It is not a platform that wins friends, influences people in our favor, or encourages them to view us as reliable.
By André Spicer | A professor of organisational behaviour at the Cass Business School at City, University of London, he is author of Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement: A Year Inside the Optimisation Movement (2017), co-written with Carl Cederström. His latest book is Business Bullshit (2018).
After getting lost in the conference hotel, I finally located the ‘creativity workshop’. Joining the others, I sat cross-legged on the floor. Soon, an ageing hippie was on his feet. ‘Just walk around the room and introduce yourself,’ he said. ‘But don’t use words.’ After a few minutes of people acting like demented mimes, the hippie stopped us. ‘Now grab a mandala,’ he said, pointing to a pile of what looked like pages from a mindfulness colouring-in book. ‘And use those to bring your mandala to life,’ he said pointing at a pile of magic markers. After 30 minutes of colouring, he told us to share our mandalas. A woman described how her red mandala represented her passionate nature. A man explained how his black mandala expressed the negative emotions haunting his life. A third person found words too constraining, so she danced about her mandala. Leaving the room after the session, a participant turned to me and quietly said: ‘What a load of bullshit.’
All over the world, organisations encourage kooky activities unrelated to employees’ work. I have attended workplace retreats where I learned beat-boxing and African drumming. I have heard about organisations that encourage employees to walk across hot coals, take military assault courses, and guide a raft down dangerous rapids. There are organisations that force their employees to stage a lingerie show, take part in a ‘bush-tucker trial’ by eating insects, and dress up in giant animal costumes to act out fairy tales.
My cynical fellow participant in the mandala-colouring workshop described it as ‘bullshit’. She had chosen her words wisely. The philosopher Harry Frankfurt at Princeton University defined bullshit as talk that has no relationship to the truth. Lying covers up the truth, while bullshit is empty, and bears no relationship to the truth.
The mandala workshop bore many of the tell-tale signs of bullshit. The session was empty of facts and full of abstractions. Participants skipped between buzzwords such as ‘authenticity’, ‘self-actualisation’ and ‘creativity’. I found it impossible to attribute meaning to this empty talk. The harder I tried, the less sense it made. So, during the event, I politely played along.
After spending more than a decade studying business and organisations, I can assure you that my unheroic response is the norm. Most people are likely to follow my bad example, and stick to the script. There are many reasons for this, but politeness is an important one. Bullshit greases the wheels of sociability. Questioning bullshit can be a sure way to lose friends and alienate people. Even when we smell bullshit, we are willing to ignore it so we can avoid conflict and maintain a polite atmosphere. Our desire to keep social interaction going smoothly prevails over our commitment to speak the truth.
In a short aside in his book On Bullshit (2005), Frankfurt describes an interaction between the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and Fania Pascal, Wittgenstein’s friend and Russian teacher. ‘I had my tonsils out and was in Evelyn Nursing Home feeling sorry for myself,’ Pascal wrote. ‘Wittgenstein called. I croaked: “I feel just like a dog that has been run over.”’ Wittgenstein, apparently, was disgusted: ‘You don’t know what a dog that has been run over feels like.’
Wittgenstein’s response seems not just odd, but rude. So why did the great philosopher do this? Frankfurt’s answer is that throughout his life ‘Wittgenstein devoted his philosophical energies largely to identifying and combatting what he regarded as insidiously disruptive forms of “non-sense”.’ Wittgenstein is ‘disgusted’ by Pascal’s remark because ‘it is not germane to the enterprise of describing reality’. She is ‘not even concerned whether her statement is correct’. If we were to react like Wittgenstein whenever we were faced with bullshit, our lives would probably become very difficult indeed.
Instead of following Wittgenstein’s example, there are ways we can politely call bullshit. The first step is to calmly ask what the evidence says. This is likely to temper our interlocutors’ views, even if the results are inconclusive. The second step is to ask about how their idea would work. The psychologists Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil at Yale University found that when they asked subjects to tell them, on a scale of 1 to 7, how they would rate their knowledge about everyday objects such as toilets, most people would say about 4 or 5. But when asked to describe precisely how a toilet worked, they dropped the rating of their own toilet expertise to below 3. Asking over-confident bullshitters exactly how their idea might work is another way to slow them down. Finally, ask the bullshitter to clarify what he means. Often, bullshit artists rely on ‘zombie nouns’ such as ‘globalisation’, ‘facilitation’ and ‘optimisation’. Pushing beyond linguistic boondoggles helps everyone to see what is solid and what is clothed in ornamental talk.
Politely questioning a peer is one thing, but it is much trickier to call out the bullshit of junior colleagues. Decades of research has found that people listen to positive feedback and ignore negative feedback. But Frederik Anseel from King’s College, London has found that people are willing to listen when negatives are focused on the future. So instead of concentrating on the bullshit a junior might have created in the past, it is best to ask how it can be minimised in the future.
Calling out an underling’s piffle might be tough, but calling bullshit on the boss is usually impossible. Yet we also know that organisations that encourage people to speak up tend to retain their staff, learn more, and perform better. So how can you question your superiors’ bullshit without incurring their wrath? One study by Ethan Burris of the University of Texas at Austin provides some solutions. He found that it made a big difference how an employee went about posing the questions. ‘Challenging’ questions were met with punishment, while supportive questions received a fair hearing. So instead of bounding up to your boss and saying: ‘I can’t believe your bullshit,’ it would be a better idea to point out: ‘We might want to check what the evidence says, then tweak it a little to make it better.’
Next time you’re faced with a bullshit attack, it might be tempting to politely zone out. But that only gives the bullshit artist time and space. Or you might be tempted to follow the example of Wittgenstein, and fight back. Sadly, bullshitters are often impervious to full-frontal attack. The most effective tactic in the war on empty talk seems to be to outflank the bullshitter by posing your questions as constructive tweaks, rather than refutations. That way, you might be able to clean up the mess from within, rather than raging from the outside.
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.
Courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Senior Fellow, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island, 5 April 2018
This is the second of three lectures directed at laying a basis for the development of diplomatic doctrine. It deals with diplomacy as the tactics of foreign relations. The preface to this series and the first lecture in it set out some thoughts on diplomacy as strategy. The third lecture will consider diplomacy as risk management.
In American foreign policy, perpetual warfare, arms races, economic bullying, and derogatory rhetoric seem for the time being to have supplanted diplomacy. This is a profoundly destabilizing approach to foreign relations. Once it has run its course, Americans will need to rediscover, reconstitute, and rebuild diplomatic capacity.
Our objective in doing so should be to train and field diplomats who are as skilled in the profession of persuasion as our military are in the profession of arms. The extent to which we are able to draw on diplomatic doctrine – guidance for the application of judgment to trends, events, and opportunities – will determine the speed and effectiveness with which we can accomplish this. We need to work now on developing such doctrine for application to our foreign policies and practices when that is possible.
Diplomacy is an instrument of statecraft that few Americans have been educated to understand and whose history – even in relation to our own country – most do not know. Diplomacy emphasizes peaceably arranged change, but it is not pacifist. Diplomacy is how power persuades states and peoples to accommodate adjustments in relations they instinctively disfavor. It uses words to portray capabilities and convey intentions in order to shape the calculus of foreign partners and opponents and cause them to make desired changes in their policies and behavior.
Diplomacy is the verbal tactics of foreign relations. It is the alternative to the use of force as well as its prelude, facilitator, and finale. It is both the implementer of policy by measures short of war and the translator of the results of war into durable outcomes.
Americans celebrate our independence on the day of its official declaration, July 4, 1776. Most imagine that we achieved our autonomy then or on October 19, 1781, when we (and the French) defeated the British at Yorktown. But this ahistorical view disregards the essential role of diplomacy in such adjustments of relations. U.S. separation from the British Empire was only secured when the British conceded it. It took John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and Thomas Jefferson nearly two years to persuade the British to accept that the necessary consequence of their military defeat was American independence. This became a legal reality only on September 3, 1783, when Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris.
The failure of Americans to recognize the centrality of diplomacy to war termination, including in our own war of independence, is not inconsequential. Recall the ludicrous triumphalism of President George W. Bush after the defeat of the Iraqi Army in 2003, when he stood on an aircraft carrier under a banner, reading “Mission Accomplished.” Subsequent events in Iraq provided a costly reminder that no war is over until the defeated admit defeat and accept its consequences. Such adjustments do not happen automatically. They are achieved through diplomacy or not at all.
The tragic American experience in Iraq was also a reminder that to achieve peace, there must be a leader among the defeated populace with the authority to commit them to it. This is why the United States left the Japanese emperor on his throne after World War II. The failure to consider, let alone address, the question of who might be able to commit Iraqis to cooperation with their foreign occupiers – and what would be required to persuade Iraqis to do so – accounted in no small measure for the anarchy that followed the removal of the Saddam regime in Baghdad.
Diplomatic tactics for war termination are an essential element of any war strategy. But the translation of military triumph into political victory is a task that the American way of war all too often omits. This reflects a history of pursuing the annihilation of enemies, their unconditional surrender, and their political reconstruction through occupation. Disdain for diplomacy that negotiates postwar adjustments in relations, together with “mission creep,” is a major reason that so many American wars spin on without end or abate, only to resume in altered form.
by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Senior Fellow, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University, Washington, DC and Cambridge, Massachusetts, February, 2018
I am here to talk about diplomacy. This may seem an odd moment to broach the subject. Our president has told us that it doesn’t matter that his administration is not staffed to do it, because “I’m the only one who matters.” In other words, “l’état c’est moi.”
Now that it’s got that straight, the United States Department of State has set about dismantling itself. Meanwhile, the Foreign Service of the United States is dejectedly withering away. Our ever-flatulent media seem unconvinced that Americans will miss either institution.
I suspect they’re wrong about that. Diplomacy is an instrument of statecraft that Americans have not been educated to understand and whose history they do not know. It is not about “making nice.” Nor is it just a delaying tactic before we send in the Marines.
Diplomacy is a political performing art that informs and determines the decisions of other states and peoples. It shapes their perceptions and calculations so that they do what we want them to do because they come to see doing so as in their own best interest. Diplomacy influences the policies and behavior of states and peoples through measures short of war, though it does not shrink from war as a diversion or last resort. It is normally but not always overtly non-coercive. It succeeds best when it embraces humility and respects and preserves the dignity of those to whom it is applied. As the Chinese philosopher, Laozi put it: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.”
Napoleon called diplomacy, “the police in grand costume” but it is usually not much to look at. It seldom involves blowing things up, most of its action is unseen, and it is relatively inexpensive. Diplomacy’s greatest triumphs tend to be preventing things from happening. But it’s hard to prove they wouldn’t have occurred, absent diplomacy. So diplomats are more often blamed for what did happen than credited for what didn’t. Diplomats are even worse than sailors at marching. Diplomacy stages no parades in which ambassadors and their political masters can strut among baton-twirling majorettes or wave to adoring crowds. Nor, for the most part, does it justify expensive programs that generate the pork and patronage that nourish politics
All this makes diplomacy both obscure and of little or no direct interest to the central institutions in contemporary Washington’s foreign policy. As any foreign embassy will tell you, the U.S. Department of Defense and other elements of the military-industrial-congressional complex now dominate the policy process. Both are heavily invested in theories of coercive interaction between states. Both favor strategic and tactical doctrines that justify expensive weapons systems and well-paid people to use them. Activities that cost little and lack drama do not intrigue them. They see diplomats as the clean-up squad to be deployed after they have demolished other societies, not as peers who can help impose our will without fighting.
U.S. foreign policy is heavily militarized in theory, practice, and staffing. No one has bankrolled the development of professional diplomatic doctrine, meaning a body of interrelated operational concepts describing how to influence the behavior of other states and people by mostly non-violent means. So there is no diplomatic equivalent of military doctrine, the pretensions of some scholars of international relations (IR) theory notwithstanding. This is a very big gap in American statecraft that the growing literature on conflict management has yet to fill. The absence of diplomatic doctrine to complement military science eliminates most options short of the raw pressure of sanctions or the use of force. It thereby increases the probability of armed conflict, with all its unpredictable human and financial consequences.
Working out a diplomatic doctrine with which to train professional diplomats could have major advantages. Diplomatic performance might then continually improve, as military performance does, as experience emended doctrine. But developing diplomatic doctrine would require acceptance that our country has a need for someone other than dilettantes and amateurs to conduct its foreign relations. Our politicians, who love the spoils system, seem firmly convinced that, between them, wealthy donors and campaign gerbils can meet most of our needs in foreign affairs, with the military meeting the rest. The Department of State, which would be the logical government agency to fund an effort at the development of tradecraft and doctrine, is usually led by diplomatic novices. It is also the perennial runt at the federal budgetary teat.
Leadership of foreign policy by untrained neophytes was to a great extent the American norm even during the Cold War, when the United States led the world outside the Soviet camp and deployed unmatched political attractiveness and economic clout. Now retired and active duty military officers have been added to the diplomatic management mix. They are experts in the application of violence, not peaceable statecraft, to foreign societies. How is this likely to work out in the new world disorder? As the late Deng Xiaoping said, “practice is the sole criterion of truth.” So we’ll see. But while we wait for the outcome, there is still time to consider the potential of diplomacy as an instrument of statecraft.
The basis of diplomacy is empathy for the views of others. It is most effective when grounded in a sophisticated understanding of another’s language, culture, feelings, and intellectual habits. Empathy inhibits killing. It is not a character trait we expect or desire our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to have.
Language and area training plus practical experience are what enable diplomats to imagine the viewpoint of foreign leaders, to see the world as they do, to analyze trends and events as they would, and to evaluate the pros and cons of actions as they might. A competent diplomat can use such insights to make arguments that foreign leaders find persuasive. A diplomat schooled in strategy can determine what circumstances are required to persuade foreign leaders that doing what the diplomat wants them to do is not yielding to superior power but deciding on their own to do what is in their nation’s best interest.
Empathy does not, of course, imply alignment or agreement with the viewpoints of others, just understanding of them. It is not the same as sympathy, which identifies with others’ perspectives. Sometimes the aim of diplomacy is to persuade a foreign country to continue to adhere to established policies, because they are beneficial. But more commonly, it is to change the policies, behavior, and practices of other countries or individuals, not to affirm or endorse them. To succeed, diplomats must cleave to their own side’s interests, convictions, and policy positions even as they grasp the motivations and reasoning processes of those whose positions they seek to change. But they must also be able to see their country and its actions as others see them and accept these views as an operational reality to be acknowledged and dealt with rather than denounced as irrational or duplicitous.
To help policy-makers formulate policies and actions that have a real chance of influencing a particular foreign country’s decisions, diplomats habitually find themselves called upon to explain how and why that country’s history and circumstances make it see things and act the way it does. In the United States, most men and women in senior foreign policy positions did not work their way up the ranks. They are much more familiar with domestic interest groups and their views than with foreign societies and how they work. Explanation of foreign positions is easily mistaken for advocacy of them, especially by people inclined to dismiss outlandish views that contradict their prejudices as inherently irrational or malicious.
It’s good domestic politics to pound the policy table in support of popular narratives and nationalist postures and to reject foreign positions on issues as irrational, disingenuous, or malevolent. But diplomats can’t do that if they are to remain true to their calling. In a policy process driven more by how things will look to potential domestic critics than by a determination actually to change the behavior of foreigners, diplomats are easily marginalized. But when they are backed by strong-minded leaders who want results abroad, they can accomplish a great deal that military intervention cannot.
Let me give a couple of examples of how U.S. diplomacy has rearranged other states’ and people’s appraisals of their strategic circumstances and caused them to decide to adopt courses of action favored by the United States. These examples show both the complexities with which diplomacy must deal and its limitations in terms of its ability to secure assured outcomes.