US Foreign Service officers deserve better than WH attacks - GulfToday

US Foreign Service officers deserve better than WH attacks

Biden

Joe Biden

Scott Turow, Tribune News Service

The White House lashed out at respected diplomat William Taylor after his testimony in the House impeachment investigation this week. Its reaction was unequivocal, insulting — and dead wrong.

Taylor, acting ambassador to Ukraine, explained in careful detail that he saw President Donald Trump tie military aid to a public commitment by the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden, contradicting Trump’s claims that there was no quid pro quo in the conversations.

Trump officials quickly trash-talked Taylor, saying his testimony was part of “a coordinated smear campaign from ... unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.” This was in line with the reaction last week of acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who dismissed earlier testimony from the likes of veteran diplomats Marie Yovanovitch and George Kent as coming from “mostly career bureaucrats who are saying, ‘You know what, I don’t like President Trump’s politics, so I’m going to participate in this witch hunt that they are undertaking on the Hill.’”

I don’t know any more about diplomats Taylor, Yovanovitch and Kent than I’ve read. But I have observed firsthand the rigorously nonpartisan culture in our Foreign Service, which is not well-understood by most Americans. For more than a decade, I have occasionally travelled overseas as part of the State Department’s US Speakers Programme. Why me? For many years now, under administrations of both political parties, the United States has fostered the rule of law abroad.

The State Department apparently thought an American novelist and lawyer, who writes about the law and whose books have been frequently made into movies, might offer a more engaging approach to that topic for a foreign audience than, say, a law professor.

Since 2008, I have been dispatched to, among other places, Argentina, Austria, China, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Georgia, and Russia.

One of the biggest revelations to me on these trips has been meeting dozens of officers of the US Foreign Service. To a person, they struck me as remarkable, both for the depth of their intelligence and their devotion to our country.

We routinely honour the members of our armed services. But our Foreign Service officers are entitled to almost the same level of veneration. Thirteen thousand serve at 256 posts around the world, implementing US foreign policy and helping Americans abroad.

Their careers frequently keep them far from home and family, often in unglamorous or even dangerous locations. Chris Stevens, our ambassador to Libya, had been a Foreign Service officer for more than a decade when he was killed in the infamous Benghazi attack in 2012.

Entry into the Foreign Service is highly competitive, involving written and then oral exams. Only 1 in 10 candidates is ultimately hired. And the competition does not end then.

There are annual ratings and an up-or-out promotion system. At the top level is the Senior Foreign Service, requiring a presidential appointment, the rank occupied by Taylor and Yovanovitch. Senior officers sometimes become US ambassadors, especially in locations like Ukraine, where expertise in local affairs is essential in representing us.

FSOs implement the policies determined in Washington, whether or not they agree with them. They know that over the course of their careers they will serve under Democrats and Republicans, and that it would inevitably be detrimental to their advancement to be outwardly identified with either party. On the job, they express no political opinions.


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