Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is reportedly seeking deep personnel cuts in the State Department in order to make room for a massive increase in military spending demanded by President Trump. Some 2,300 jobs are on the chopping block, which accounts for about 9 percent of the department’s workforce.
Amid the budget debate in Washington, however, there seems to be very little regard for the work of US foreign service officers and State Department employees around the world–and very little understanding of how US diplomats advance not just “national interests” but help ordinary Americans every single day.
At least, that must have been how it looked to this one (anonymous) foreign service officer who posted this Facebook note that is being shared widely in key foreign policy circles.
I don’t ever wish ill on people. If I were the sort of person who did, I’d wish that every single commenter who is reacting in ignorant delight to the proposed cuts to State would encounter one or several of the following:
1. not being able to get a U.S. passport in time for a vacation and missing flights/losing a ton of money
2. losing a passport overseas and being stranded, unable to get home to a job/loved ones
3. having a family member pass away overseas and having no assistance learning about the situation or planning a repatriation
4. being the victim of a crime overseas and having to navigate a foreign justice system without any information in English, nor recommended lawyers
5. losing high-paying jobs/companies in their home town due to lack of skilled workers, foreign investors, and/or any foreign awareness of the U.S. business as a customer or supplier
6. losing massive tourism dollars to their hometown hotels, restaurants, and local attractions because no one issued visas to any of the visitors who otherwise flock there
7. not being able to adopt a child from overseas and bring them to the United States
8. marrying a foreign spouse and not being able to bring them to the United States
9. not being able to have foreign friends or relatives come visit them due to no visas being issues
10. facing more, and more crowded/violent anti-American protests everywhere they travel due to lack of exposure to positive American cultural values
11. living under the real, daily threat of violent conflict with countries capable of causing us harm
12. having no credible representatives of American interests in negotiations on security, countering narcotics, fighting transnational crime, protecting the environment,keeping dangerous debris out of space, ad infinitum
Ok, seriously, I don’t wish those things on anyone. Not only that, I work every single day to keep those things from happening, as do thousands of my smart, talented colleagues from across the political spectrum who could all be earning a whole lot more in the private sector.
Those of us who do this work overseas miss births, birthdays, weddings, funerals, anniversaries, and reunions to do it. We give up a spouse’s lucrative earning potential and often even sense of professional satisfaction.
We work in places that are exponentially more dangerous than in the United States, whether through pollution, disease, traffic accident incidences, sanitation, food safety, lack of easily available potable water, street crime, sexual harassment, xenophobia, terrorist threats, also ad infinitum. We put on hold, or sometimes sadly lose, the supportive network of family and childhood and college friends who hold us up when we are able to be at home. We learn foreign languages and try to communicate in our daily lives, often feeling like idiots or permanent tourists.
We take on these commitments willingly and embark on the work only after we swear or affirm an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies foreign or domestic. And we take our responsibilities enormously seriously.
I’m not asking for credit, or the recognition others who serve our country get. With fewer foreign service officers than professional band members than in the U.S. armed services, we have no ability to influence Congress through numbers, nor sufficient understanding of who we are or what we do.
All I’m asking is that people stop blindly criticizing us and put away the shoes they’re polishing to dance on our graves. Metaphorically– if it’s literal, they’ll use the deaths as an endless political football to finger-point and then threaten to cut our security budgets if unrelated politicized policy goals don’t go their way. Well that’s just Congress, but still.
If you’re reading this, I ask that if you hear people delighting in the misery of me and my colleagues, you please challenge their misconceptions.
Needless to say, this missive is a very helpful reminder of the value of the diplomats and the discrete ways they serve both individual Americans and American national interests. (And that goes for international diplomats at the UN, too.)
UPDATE: Wow. This post is really hitting a nerve — and rightfully so. If you are new to UN Dispatch and want to learn more about the site, sign up for our email list. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook. And check out the Global Dispatches Podcast.