By now, many of the people who read this blog may have read the article Betrayed by George Packer. It appeared in the March 26, 2007 issue of the New Yorker. Since reading it last week I haven’t been able to escape the anger and disbelief the article left me with.
The article is an indictment of how, for all the constant bleating of “And don’t forget to recognize the valuable contributions provided by our Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs),” the US Government doesn’t give a damn about their livelihoods if it’s a choice between policy and principle. A close second to the issue of how the US Government treats its foreign colleagues, coworkers, and allies is the highlighting of the appalling, pathetic failure of leadership in Iraq in our Diplomatic corps. From the Ambassador to the Political Counselor to the RSO, we see instance after instance of an unwillingness to tackle concrete, human, and urgent problems.
The excuses are readily available, and made to disguise our fear of failure — admitting we can’t protect our FSNs means we can’t secure the country; granting a visa to a colleague who has risked their life time and again signals that the battle has been lost; trusting an Iraqi who works for you means that they know more than you do about Iraq.
For years now the State Department has talked about leadership. Almost all FSOs have now integrated leadership training into their required coursework, and the Department continually stresses leadership and management as vital to both promotion and the future of the Foreign Service. What then are we to make of those in Packer’s article who abdicated their roles as leaders? Who, instead of leading, showed us their lack of an ethical compass? What does it mean that we now have a Deputy Secretary of State who couldn’t have been bothered to tell Diplomatic Security to issue FSNs badges that would reduce the risks they run?
There’s an oft unstated principle about working in a Mission overseas: you have to some degree suspend belief to what’s around you if you want to matter, if you want people in the Department to listen to you, if you want to succeed. It’s that suspension of belief that enables you to never, ever, admit to failing.
So let’s just say it: we have failed the Iraqis. Now, besides giving those who have failed as leaders a top 5 post of their choosing, what are we going to do about it?