Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Realities of Diplomatic Life

Reality #1: Going to lunch could cost an arm or a leg, or one snuffed light bulb, seriously.

I woke up last Sunday to news of another bombing in Islamabad, Pakistan. The initial reports indicate that some U.S. Embassy staffers were also wounded in the attack. The Luna Caprese restaurant where the bombing occurred is a well-known haunt for expatriates, notably diplomats, journalists, and aid agency officials according to reports.

I felt like I was holding my breath for hours until I heard later reports specifying a total of 12 people wounded - none life-threatening (the wounded included four FBI agents and an embassy staffer). This is one thing that folks back home do not always understand about life in the Foreign Service – that one could lose a limb or one’s life by simply going out to lunch or dinner while overseas. Sure, the same thing could happen in the U.S. just by driving a car but really - no one has yet been blown away while eating a Vegetable and Swiss Frittata.

In the Foreign Service, this is a dark cloud that is never too far away from our thoughts. I go through my normal day like a normal person back home, of course – go to work, send the kids to school, go grocery shopping, meet our contacts and friends, but all the while with fingers crossed - that today would be a good day, and our loved ones would return home, safe from harm. A bit dramatic you think? Perhaps, but no matter how you hash it, official Americans are moving targets whether they are in Prague or Amman. Lawrence Foley was shot as he walked to his car outside his home in Jordan. In 2006, David Foy died in a suicide car bomb attack outside the US consulate in Karachi.

Reality #2: Paranoia can grow like a weed – you learn to tend it

I can get paranoid at times, true, but it pays to have a healthy sense of paranoia when there are people who are trying to get us wherever and whenever they can. Most folks I know in the FS take their security seriously but we also learn to make adjustments to balance the security needs with living a “normal” life overseas; because I know that if I don’t, this weed can quickly grow wild. The Green Zone can be as real as the one in Iraq, or as real as any fortified house in the mind.

Reality #3: We’d like to think we’re in the driver’s seat, we’re not

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the Belarusian Foreign Ministry had summoned U.S. Charge d'Affaires Jonathan Moore to convey a "strong advice of the Belarusian side to cut the number of the U.S. Embassy personnel."

Apparently, President Alexander Lukashenko did not like the U.S. sanctions against Belarus' state-controlled oil-processing and chemicals company, Belneftekhim. The U.S. froze the company's assets and barred American companies from doing business with it since last year.

The Foreign Ministry reportedly did not specify what reductions it demanded but some diplomats and embassy staff (and their families) could be sent back home - for no other reason except that this despot disliked being called "Europe's last dictator.” So, although we may like to think that we’re in the driver’s seat (being in the diplomatic service and all), and that we have some control about where our life is going -- we really are more like backseat drivers – I am free to tell the Mothership where to turn, but it can just as easily tell me to zip it; we’re going on another trip.

I recently re-read the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and Optional Protocols, and Article 11 did state that “In the absence of specific agreement as to the size of the mission, the receiving State may require that the size of a mission be kept within limits considered by it to be reasonable and normal, having to circumstances and conditions in the receiving State, and to the needs of the particular mission.” Would Belarus use Article 11 to trim our diplomatic presence in Minsk?

I hope this is nothing more than posturing (after all the U.S. Ambassador has already gone back to DC for consultations) but if the Belarusian Government insists on this personnel cut, this could spiral into a tit for tat, with a reduction of the Belarusian Embassy presence in Washington, D.C. And caught in the midst of this are diplomatic families on both sides that could get separated, children pulled out of schools, jobs left at short notices, etc. etc. An unpopular policy, a slight, a row – it could be as huge an issue as an elephant or as tiny as an ant, we can still become pawns in a diplomatic game – such is life in the diplomatic corp ... I'm not looking for sympathy, I'm just saying ...

1 comment:

Digger said...

So true. I have quoted and commented on your post here: http://lifeafterjerusalem.blogspot.com/2008/03/diplopundits-realities-of-diplomatic.html