Stephanie Kinney: Wither the Foreign Service? — Wham! Read Before You Go-Go

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— Domani Spero

On its home page, the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training shares a funny ha!ha! joke that the Foreign Service has undergone major reforms and tinkering over the past century so much that people often say that if you didn’t like the current system, just wait a few years and it would change.  One of the fascinating periods of change at the State Department occurred during the tenure of William Crocket, the Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Administration from 1963-1967. He  was responsible for bringing Chris Argyris to write a report on the Foreign Service, now only available to read at the State Department library (anyone has a digital copy?).  He did T-groups, organizational development and such.  When Mr. Crockett retired in 1967 many of the programs he started were barely alive or already buried and forgotten.  He was never credited for some that still lives on.  He felt he was an outcast from the Foreign Service and left a disillusioned man. He tried to change the service, and it wasn’t quite ready for him (see pdf of oral history).

We recently just read ADST’s oral history interview with Stephanie Kinney.  We have previously quoted her in this blog in 2009 and are familiar with her ideas for change.  Ms. Kinney is a former Senior Foreign Service Officer, one of the first “tandem couples” (i.e., both are FSOs), and winner of the Department of State’s Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Harriman Award for her leadership role in creating the Department’s Family Liaison Office (FLO). She was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2010 for ADST.

Below is an excerpt from her 2010 interview.  Check out her full oral history interview here.

[T]he problem at the State Department, I believe, is its lack of institutional leadership and its lack of a single, unified and vibrant corporate cultures. Its culture is still fundamentally 20th century and divided between Foreign Service and Civil Service and the growing overlay of short-term, Schedule C [political appointees] leadership. There are people, pockets of people, working to change that, but it is an uphill battle.
[…]
The drafters of the 1980 Act did not believe in a generalist Foreign Service officer corps. Bill Backus and I argued about “generalists” versus “specialists” ad nauseam; he wanted to create a Foreign Service more like the Civil Service, of which he was a part. He and the other drafters wanted to tie the Foreign Service to the Civil Service and create an equivalency that has never existed because the two personnel systems and cultures are so different. They also created something called LCEs, Limited Career Extensions, which seriously corrupted the Senior Foreign Service through their abuse, and then created an infamous senior surplus, the cost of which was the gutting of a generation of largely 01, political officers in the mid 1990’s. [Note: An FS-01 is equivalent to a GS-15 and is the level before entering the Senior Foreign Service.]

So today what do we have at the State Department? The vast majority of our FSOs have less than five years experience. You have officers expecting to be promoted to 01 who have done only their obligatory consular tour, maybe a tour in their cone, and one or two others.

Another pattern is that many entry level officers now have to do two consular tours, then return to the Department for a desk job and then go to Iraq or Afghanistan, where they do ops with the military. They have never done the first lick of what you would call mainstream diplomacy. One wonders what the impact of this will be on the system?

Now this is not to say that what they have been doing is not a kind of diplomacy; it is and it is utterly essential to the 21st century. But their experience to date is not a kind of work that has prepared them to come back into the civilized world and maintain proper relations and perform with long standing successful states and cultures. These more established states—be they developed or “emerging” like the BRICs [Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, and China], all value tradition and diplomatic savoir faire more than we, and they far outstrip the value and importance of either Iraq or Afghanistan.
[…]
The people to whom you have referred as the high flying “staffers,” have taken no interest in their own institution, which is the base of their power and their work. It is the nature of a profession that it is involved in its own institutions. Otherwise, it is not a profession.

I could not sustain the assertion today that diplomacy is a profession at the Department of State. I think it can be. I think it should be. I am working to move it in that direction, but there is no evidence that the current culture and conditions and leadership are encouraging and helping the younger generation assume the responsibilities and take the measures needed to improve the situation….

But minus strong leadership that seeks to instill common ethics and standards and professional pride, there seems to be growing concern that what we are getting is a group of people for whom little matters beyond one’s own interests. If the Foreign Service culture is all about stepping on someone else to get to the next rung, it is not going to work. You are going to hang separately, because, in my view, that is how it has gotten us where we are.
[…]
When I came to State, there was no such thing as a Schedule C Assistant Secretary. Jimmy Carter took eight FSOs—well they were almost all FSOs under the age of 38 who had resigned over Vietnam, such as Dick Holbrook and Tony Lake—and he made them Assistant Secretaries. They were known as the Baby Eight. So when Ronald Reagan came in he said, “Oh, I will pocket those eight, and I also want a DAS in every bureau,” and so the Deputy Assistant Secretaries became politicized. Today it goes down to the Office Director level. (Note: see this graphic – pdf)
[…]
The politicization, along with Secretaries of State who also have no sense of responsibility for or interest in the Department as an institution, continues to sap the  institution of vitality. That in my view is one of the primary reasons that the institution has fallen on such hard times.

What’s remarkable is that Mr. Crockett in his oral history interview (pdf) conducted in 1990 said practically the  same thing:

“The absence of Secretarial interest in the operations of the Department and many of its functions is often pointed out as one of State’s major deficiencies. Most Secretaries, when faced with the choice of being part of the policy development process or managers of a Cabinet Department, opt for the first to the detriment, I believe, of the second. I am sure it is far more attractive to run around the world like Shultz did–involved in diplomatic activities–that staying at home managing a fairly large organization–certainly a complex one. State is unique among Cabinet Departments in that regard because a Secretary can get by without paying much attention to the management of his Department.”

What’s that they say about change — the more things change, the more they stay the same?

In related news, Secretary Kerry is on travel, this time to Seoul, Beijing, Jakarta, and Abu Dhabi, from February 13-18, 2014. On his first year as Secretary of State, he was on travel 152 days, to 39 countries, travelling 327,124 miles.  If he keep at this, he will break Secretary Clinton’s travel record.  He may also go down in the history books as the Secretary of State who was almost never home.

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Blast From the Past: US Embassy Benghazi (June 1967) — “The mob battered its way in”

— By Domani Spero

Almost nine months since the attack, Benghazi continue to make news.  Three days ago, CBS News reported that U.S. officials gave instructions for Benghazi Medical Center to use a “John Doe” pseudonym on the death certificate of Ambassador Christopher Stevens after he died of asphyxiation in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. Frankly, we don’t think that was an unreasonable request. Who wants to imagine the body of a deceased ambassador held hostage or used for propaganda or other purposes by the militants who killed him?

We missed this May 17 piece by Christopher Dickey saying, “The CIA misjudged the security threat in Benghazi and contributed mightily to the confusion afterwards. The ass-covering of then-CIA Director David Petraeus, particularly, muddled the question of what could and should be told to the public.” It’s good reading.

To our last count, there’s a subpoena for emails and documents from ten top State Department officials that Congress wants to look at (see House Oversight Committee Subpoenas Benghazi-Related Documents To/From Ten State Dept Officials). There’s also congressional request asking what happened to the four employees “fired” by the State Department last December (see Congress Seeks Details on Status of Four State Dept Employees ‘Fired’ Over Benghazi. Then there’s the appearance by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen before the Oversight Committee, which to-date does not have a confirmed date.  Oh, and the RNC filed an FOIA for more Benghazi-related emails.

Then Ambassador Ryan Crocker made news when he told the Marine Corps Times that people should come before paper, and why he doesn’t think it makes sense any longer that the primary duty of the Marine Security Guards is protecting classified documents. “I really do think it’s time that the Marine Corps and the State Department re-look at the memorandum of agreement and rules of engagement because that was written effectively in the pre-terror days,” Ambassador Crocker said.

The attack on the temporary mission in Benghazi in 2012 was not a first.  In 1967, we did not have a temporary mission in Benghazi, we actually had an embassy there that was attacked by a mob, and set on fire by the attackers. With our diplomats inside. Below is a first-hand account of what happened that harrowing day.

Via the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST), an excerpt from John Kormann’s entry in the Foreign Affairs Oral History Project:

John Kormann fought in World War II as a paratrooper and went behind enemy lines to apprehend Nazi war criminals and uncover a mass grave.  As an Army Counter Intelligence Corps field office commander in Berlin from 1945 to 47, he helped search for Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary.  He joined the Foreign Service in 1950 and describes his experience as officer-in-charge at Embassy Benghazi, when it was attacked and burned in June 1967. At that time, the Libyan capital rotated every two years between Benghazi and Tripoli. The Ambassador David Newsom was posted in Tripoli and John Kormann was the principal officer and consul in Benghazi.  The Arab-Israeli War was fought on June 5–10, 1967.  John Kormann is also author of his memoirs, Echoes of a Distant Clarion. Below is an excerpt from an interview conducted by Moncrieff J. Spear on February 7, 1996

“The mob battered its way in”

The most harrowing experience of my Foreign Service career occurred in Benghazi at the outbreak of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Convinced by propaganda broadcasts that U.S. Navy planes were attacking Cairo, Libyan mobs, spurred on by 2000 Egyptian workers building a pan- Arab Olympic stadium in Benghazi, attacked the Embassy. The streets were being repaired and there were piles of rocks everywhere, which the mob put to use. A detachment of soldiers provided by the Libyan Government to protect us was overwhelmed. The embassy file room was full of highly classified material, which we desperately tried to burn. The embassy had been a former bank building, with a heavy safe-type front door and barred windows. The mob finally battered its way in. They pushed themselves in through broken windows and came at us cut and bleeding.

We were well armed, but I gave orders that there be no shooting, so we met them with axe handles and rifle butts. Dropping tear gas grenades, we fought our way up the stairs and locked ourselves in the second floor communications vault. We were able to continue burning files in 50-gallon drums on an inner courtyard balcony using Thermite grenades. There were 10 of us in the vault, including two women. The mobs set fire to the building. The heat, smoke and tear gas were intense, which while terrible for us, blessedly forced the mob from the building. We only had five gas masks for 10 people and shared them while we worked. We came out of the vault several times during the day to use fire extinguishers to control blazes and spray down walls.

Our own destruction of files using Thermite sent up huge clouds of black smoke from the center of the building, probably adding to the impression that those of us inside were dying. With no power, we managed to send sporadic messages throughout the day using an emergency generator. Efforts by British troops to come to our aid were called off several times. A British armored car was destroyed by the mob in the vicinity of the Embassy by pouring gasoline down the hatch and setting it afire with an officer and four soldiers inside. The British Embassy and British Council offices had been attacked and set afire, as were the USIS [U.S. Information Service] center and my former residence.

I might mention something here because many people asked me about it afterward. At one point the mob used a ladder to drop from an adjoining building on to our roof, catching us trying to burn files there. After a struggle they drove us back into the Embassy. They cut the ropes on the tall roof flag pole, leaving the flag itself hanging down the front of the building. An Army MAAG [Military Assistance Advisory Group] captain who was with us requested permission to go up on the roof and raise the flag. I dismissed his request, saying it would be counterproductive. Later when things looked very bleak and our spirits were waning, he came to me again in front of the others. I told him I would think about it. I had been a combat paratrooper in WW II and had seen what defiance and a bit of bravura could do for soldiers under mortal stress.

Afterward I said, “Go ahead, raise the flag!” He did so with considerable daring, the mob going crazy below and the rocks flying. The reaction among my people was profound. I could see it in their eyes, as they worked on with grim determination under those conditions to burn files and render cryptographic equipment inoperable.

The British Come to the Rescue

When late in the day (remember the attack began in the morning), we received word that a British rescue attempt had again been postponed for fear that lives might be lost, I took a photograph of President and Mrs. Johnson off the wall, broke it out of the frame and wrote a message on the back to the President saying something to the effect that we have tried our best to do our duty. Everyone signed it. When an inspector subsequently asked me about that, I could tell him that people will respond to the call of duty given the chance.

We sent our last message at about 6:00 p.m. I learned later from a friend who was in the Operations Center in Washington that it came in garbled, leading to the impression that we were burning alive. At that Secretary Rusk called the British Foreign Secretary with a further plea to get us out. At 8:00 p.m. a British armored column arrived and took us by truck to D’Aosta Barracks, their base on the outskirts of town. Libya had been a British protectorate after WW II and they still maintained a small military contingent outside of Benghazi under an agreement with King Idriss. The British were magnificent, rescuing us and then helping us bring hundreds of Americans to their camp, where they fed us and gave us shelter.

The night of our escape from the vault, I asked for a volunteer to go with me into the center of Benghazi at 2:00 a.m. to bring out Americans most in danger. The city was in flames, Jewish and foreign shops and properties having been set to the torch. Driving through the city, we were repeatedly stopped by roadblocks manned by nervous, trigger-happy Libyan soldiers. The streets were full of debris.

I remember pulling up to an apartment house lit only by fires from nearby burning shops. Going up the darkened stairs, knocking on doors, I asked for an American family. On the fourth floor, I heard a small voice say, “Who’s there?” In English, I answered, “It’s the American Consul.” An American woman cautiously opened the door. She must have known me, because she called me by name and said, “We knew you’d come, we are all packed.” What a wonderful tribute, I thought, to our Foreign Service. During that night and the next day we brought out other Americans under very trying circumstances.

Victory Street, Benghazi, Libya (1967)
Photo from ADST

We had problems in evacuating Americans from Benghazi. Arrangements were made for U.S. Air Force planes to pick up about 250 of them at the airport. At the last moment I received word that Russian-built Algerian troop transports with paratroopers and Egyptian MiG fighters had landed at the airport. I didn’t want our planes shot at. I didn’t want a serious incident. Calling Tripoli, I talked with Ambassador Newsom. After listening to me, he said, “Well, John, you’re the man on the spot. This is your decision to make.” I made the decision to bring the planes in all right, but I must say really I wished that I hadn’t had to, for I was truly worried. My wife and children were going to be aboard those planes, as well as a lot of other Americans, who could pay with their lives should my decision be a bad one.

The British provided trucks and a bus for the evacuees. They were taken on to the airport through an opening away from the terminal and driven right past the parked MiGs and Algerian transports. With the connivance of an English civilian air controller in the tower, contact was made with the incoming Air Force planes using a British Army field radio. They were instructed to land on the grass along the fence at the most distant part of the field away from the terminal. Three planes, two C-130′s and a C-124, came in and made a fast turnaround. They were loaded and back in the air in minutes. The operation was carried out with such speed and audacity that there was no reaction from anyone until much later. All of us will be forever grateful to Colonel Alistair Martin and his British troops for their role in all of these actions; without them none of that would have been possible.

Read the full oral history here.

(‘_’)