American Diplomacy in Sad Shape

Essay: Foreign Service needs more professional diplomats, not political appointees
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 12, 2013 11:00 AM CDT
American Diplomacy in Sad Shape
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, on Tuesday, April 2, 2013.   (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Even as diplomacy has grown ever more important to US national security, the US Foreign Service is being threatened by partisan politics worse than ever before, write longtime diplomats Susan Johnson, Ronald Neumann, and Thomas Pickering in the Washington Post. Exhibit A: Top leadership positions in the State Department have grown to 33 today from 18 in 1975, but the share of those slots going to career foreign service officers has fallen from 61% to 24%. The failures in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown all too clearly the limits of military force in securing US objectives and the need for better diplomacy.

"When the bulk of its leadership positions are held by transient appointees, the Foreign Service is undermined," they write. "This situation spawns opportunism and political correctness, weakens esprit de corps within the service, and emaciates institutional memory." In addition, even as the Foreign Service has been marginalized, the State Department's civil service has grown dramatically, bringing a more bureaucratic and less effective approach to such issues as refugees, law enforcement, environment, and disarmament. But with John Kerry just starting as secretary of state, the writers call on Kerry to restore the role of the professional diplomat. Click to read their full column. (More foreign service stories.)

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