Amb. Charles Ray: Preparing the Foreign Service to Survive Disruption

Retired Ambassador Charles Ray joined the State Department as a career Foreign Service officer following his retirement from the military as a career officer. His diplomatic assignments  included tenures as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, and at the U.S. Consulate General Offices in Guangzhou and Shenyang, China. In 1998, he became the first U.S. Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He served as President George W. Bush Ambassador to Cambodia from 2003-2005, and later as the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs from 2006-2009. He served as President Barack Obama’s U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe from 2009-2012. When he retired in 2012, he concluded a 50-year career in public service.  Below is a piece he wrote about disruption and the Foreign Service. Originally published in his blog, we are reposting this here with Ambassador Ray’s permission –DS

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Preparing the Foreign Service to Survive Disruption
Ambassador Charles Ray (Ret.)

Whenever there is a change in leadership in an organization, whether it’s a country or a country club, there will be change. And change is, by its very nature, disruptive. With every change of administration in Washington, government workers must accommodate the inevitable changes., sometimes minor, sometimes very substantive. Career personnel are committed to carrying out the policies of the elected leadership, but sometimes that job is made difficult by the pace, volume, and nature of the changes that a new administration brings. During my 50 years of military and civilian government service, under every administration from JFK to Barack Obama, I have lost track of the number of times I’ve had to make significant changes in how I carried out my duties.

Everyone, including the Foreign Service, faces changes in the way we do business when the foreign policy leadership changes. As frustrating as it can be, it is what it is.

Disruption means change: Sometimes Cosmetic, Sometimes Cataclysmic

During my thirty years as a Foreign Service Officer, in positions from junior consular officer to ambassador, I observed and experienced the turbulence that came with five presidential administrations, and since my retirement in 2012, I’ve followed with interest the changes underway with the current administration. Sometimes the changes were merely cosmetic, consisting of relabeling programs that were longstanding, but, at other times, the changes were dramatic.

The Reagan Administration practiced a form of ‘out-of-the-box’ disruptive diplomacy, but Reagan had a clear goal and even though he sometimes used militant rhetoric, was willing to change when the situation called for change. In addition, he had an excellent foreign policy inner circle.

George H. W. Bush entered office in 1989, a time of seismic changes in the global situation, with the USSR breaking up and the Cold War ending, ushering in what he called the ‘new world order.’ Bush, however, was not given to militant rhetoric or grand gestures, preferring instead a deliberate, cautious approach. While he was cautious with his rhetoric, he did cause some disruption because of his tendency to have direct contact with foreign leaders often leaving the diplomatic corps to learn things from the foreign press…

Bill Clinton took office in 1993, and his foreign policy direction was to rely on regional and international organizations. Much of the disruption during his two terms came from his conflict with congress over war powers, and the administration’s failure to act in response to the genocide in Rwanda, which, after he left office, he acknowledged was a failure on his part. Establishment of relations with Vietnam was perhaps the high point in his tenure, and expanded opportunities for many Foreign Service Officers who were Southeast Asian specialists.

When George W. Bush assumed the presidency in 2001, his foreign policy focused on stronger relations with Latin America, Mexico in particular, and a reduction in US nation-building efforts. One of his earlier moves, withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocols, caused a brief diplomatic scramble as our people abroad had to explain our position to host nations. Objections to the International Criminal Courts, and the possibility of it being used to target Americans for propaganda purposes, with threats of reduced assistance to countries who did not support our position created problems for diplomats who had to approach host countries what amounted to a ‘take-it-or-leave-it bullying’ offer.

In 2009, the administration of Barack Obama outlined a foreign policy based on cooperation with allies, a global coalition of partnerships to address global issues, such as the Paris Agreement on the Environment, and an emphasis on soft power instead of military solutions to problems. He did not immediately repudiate past policies, including some that many of our allies disagreed with, and 805 of the previous administration’s politically appointed ambassadors were retained for varying periods of time, ensuring continuity in our relations with their host countries.

And, that brings us to the present administration of Donald J. Trump, which took office in January 2017. From day one, and even during the campaign in 2016, we have seen a Heisenberg Principle level of uncertainty and disruption in US foreign policy, with policy pronouncements often announced via early-morning Twitter posts, without the benefit of interagency coordination. These actions have caused significant shifts in long-standing policies, forcing diplomats on the ground to scramble to explain their meaning to our allies

The Short- and Long-term impacts

Since January 2017, there has been an exodus of experienced senior career FSOs from the State Department, which exacerbates existing problems, particular relating to providing career guidance to new hires. In the short term, these vacancies have to be filled with often inexperienced mid-level people, who are not lacking in intellect or will, but who don’t have the wealth of experience and depth of contacts needed. This is further complicated by the lack of a clear policy. While ‘Make America Great Again,’ is an interesting slogan—albeit bringing to mind the discredited ‘America First’ policy of the pre-World War II years—it is not a policy.

The potential long-term impact is even more distressing.

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William A. Heidt – From “E” Bureau to the Kingdom of Cambodia

Posted: 2:19 am EDT
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President Obama recently announced his intent to nominate William A. Heidt as the next Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia. The WH released the following brief bio:

William A. Heidt, a career member of the Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Executive Assistant to the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment at the Department of State, a position he has held since 2012. Mr. Heidt served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, Poland from 2009 to 2012, Counselor for Economic and Social Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York from 2007 to 2009, Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia from 2004 to 2007, and Special Assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs from 2003 to 2004. Prior to that, he served as a Finance and Development Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta from 2000 to 2003 and Economic and Commercial Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia from 1997 to 1999. Earlier assignments with the Department included Economic Officer in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, Economic Officer in the Office of Korean Affairs, Economic Officer in the Office of Bilateral Trade Affairs, and Consular Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Poznan, Poland.

Mr. Heidt received a B.A from Pennsylvania State University and an M.A. from The George Washington University.

If confirmed, Mr. Heidt would succeed Ambassador William (Bill) E. Todd who was confirmed as the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia on March 29, 2012. Among the previous COMs at the U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh are career diplomats Charles A. RayJoseph A. Mussomeli, and John Gunther Dean (see 12 April 1975: Ambassador John Gunther Dean recalls the day the United States abandoned Cambodia).

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AFSA Event: Why Ethics Matter in the Foreign Service — Thursday, October 9, 2pm

— Domani Spero
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We’re passing the info below for our friends at AFSA.  This event is sponsored by AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics ( PEC) currently chaired by FSO (ret) Robert Dry; he succeeded Ambassador Charles Ray, the first PEC chairman.

On October 9, AFSA presents “Why Ethics Matter in the Foreign Service” in which the concept of professional ethics writ large – and how they apply to the Foreign Service in particular – will be examined. Should the Foreign Service have a code of professional ethics? What would that look like? How would one benefit the Foreign Service profession?

Anthony J. Gray is President and Chief Executive Officer at the Institute for Global Ethics (IGE). Previously, he served as Global Compliance Officer at a major U.S. corporation where his innovative leadership significantly improved the global compliance culture within the organization. Gray is a Member of the Bar of three jurisdictions. AFSA and IGE collaborated on the 2013 Foreign Service values survey which can be found on the AFSA website.

This program takes place at AFSA headquarters, 2101 E St NW, and begins at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 9. Please RSVP to events@afsa.org if you have not done so already. The event will be recorded and made available for later online viewing for those unable to attend.

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Submission Call– In the Line of Fire: American Diplomacy in a Dangerous World

Charles Ray, a 30 year Foreign Service veteran who previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe (October 2009August 2012) and Cambodia (December 2002July 2005) has a new book project that FS folks may be interested in.  Below via:

I am currently working with the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) on updating a book on “Diplomacy in a Dangerous World.”  To that end, I am seeking stories from Foreign Service Officers (active and retired), their families, former Marine Security Guards, and other people who have served in U.S. diplomatic establishments abroad regarding the sometimes hazardous situations American diplomats face on a daily basis as they perform their vital missions.

The working title of the book I plan to write is “In the Line of Fire:  American Diplomacy in a Dangerous World.”  I plan to structure it as follows:

  1.  Embassies under attack:  stories of attacks on diplomatic establishments from the point of view of those who were inside the facilities.
  2. Off-duty danger:  stories of hazardous situations faced by our diplomats in their countries of assignment even when not on duty.
  3. Not all danger is physical:  in addition to the dangers of physical attack, our diplomats face moral, ethical, and emotional dilemmas continually.  I would like to include a section in the book on the non-physical crises these people deal with.
  4. The ultimate sacrifice:  no story of the dangers our diplomatic personnel face would be complete without a tribute to those who have lost their lives while serving abroad.

If you have a story that you’d like to share, or you know of someone who has, please contact me at charlesray.author@yahoo.com.  You can either provide a brief synopsis of the story, including the names of those involved, or the story itself either in the body of or as an attachment to your email.  If you have clear digital images, and the rights to their distribution, I would also be happy to look at them.

Most people in the U.S. are unaware of the dangers our diplomats face, except on those occasions when something terrible happens and it appears in the press.  I hope, through this book, to fill in the blanks and show that it’s not just the incidents like the terrible tragedy at Benghazi, but that it is a part of the everyday life of an American diplomat.

Ambassador Ray’s other books are available at amazon.com here.

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