Saturday, October 4, 2008

Diplomats Flocking to the War Zones, Come Now

Jeff Stein wrote in the CQ blog yesterday about our Diplomats in Foxholes: Volunteers Flocking to Baghdad, Rice Says.” He did republished part of the recent AFSA press release from Steve Kashkett, did a plug for the AFSA book but could not help but kick the can one more time:

“By the way, ever wonder what it's like to work in an embassy? AFSA has just published a book, Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works for America. It has a couple pages about Iraq.”

Inside a U.S. Embassy was not "just published" by the American Foreign Service Association. The book, edited by former Foreign Service Political Officer, Shawn Dorman was published in 2003, and revised in 2005. If that revision had come out early this year, I would take "just published," in stride. Over at Foreign Policy Passport, Josh Keating also used the same hyperbolic term: “Diplomats flocking to the war zones,” AFSA crows, he says (what's with the bird imagery?) and repeated the same AFSA release citing CQ. Then he added an update, “As one of those journalists who allegedly did a "great disservice to the Department of State and its employees," let me just point out that the department was posting open and withering criticism of the foreign service officers in question on its own blog. If the media owes American diplomats an apology, so do they.”

Digger at Life After Jerusalem has the full text of the AFSA press release from State VP, Steve Kashkett. You can read it here.

First, I have to say that I still think that town hall brouhaha could have been avoided and the meeting handled more constructively. I put the greater onus on that public meltdown on the leadership at State. Think of it this way: If you have smart kids who ask a never ending stream of whys - do you try to answer their questions as best you could, or do you give them a time out for asking those questions and tell them just do what mom says, while the camera rolls? The war zone is not a walk in the park, but - we know that. The uncertainty of that place for anyone not trained in warfare should be understandable. The question, "What do I do when its raining bullets, fight back with my Skillcraft pen?" should not be treated with derision but addressed with factual information and understanding. At the back of my mind is a nagging suspicion that perhaps, what happened was exactly the results some people wanted. Bad me, I can't wish that suspicion away. In the end, it did put the men and women of the Foreign Service on the defensive. It did not seem to matter that our people are serving in other dangerous posts from Yemen to Colombia; people who served outside the war zones were simply weenies, end of discussion. In the battle of public opinion, we lost that round. Let's move on, there are other battles to fight. Second, I don't really know how much income to AFSA the book generates. But if its main purpose is to make the American public understand the important work the men and women of the Foreign Service do for our country, AFSA could put that information in an electronic platform, accessible to anyone with one click of a mouse. It is time to put that information out there in a wiki, that would make editing and updating less costly, and easier. It would also allow other members of the Service contribute more timely materials to the FS collective story from the frontlines of Africa, South Asia and elsewhere.

Also, it does not pay to beat up the media (unsolicited advice here). It is true that there are some who take great amount of glee in beating the FS originally, but you don't really want to cross swords with the somebodies who make a living with their pens. The organization, AFSA, that is, should be focused in telling the FS story online and in multiple electronic avenues. It needs to actively recruit PD FSOs to join its ranks and craft a cohesive public diplomacy strategy on behalf of the men and women of the Foreign Service. Finally, I just think the term "flocking" is simply atrocious, don't you?. It made me think of buzzards and vultures over the war zones. The other image that comes to mind that's just as displeasing comes from the root word, "flock" - an orderly crowd or a group of sheep or goats. Good lordy! Do we get to pick our own imagery come January?

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