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Foreign Disservice

Foreign Disservice

The U.S. Foreign Service needs a decentralized leadership style that enables U.S. embassies overseas to promote freedom effectively and to combat tyranny. That level of decentralization requires ambassadors who understand what the president of the United States wants to accomplish and who are educated in new methods that achieve and measure progress toward those goals. To this end, a comprehensive reform of the Foreign Service must instill a positive and effective model that grants personnel the time and incentive to focus on communicating with local people rather than filling out endless reports to Washington. Local language proficiency and local community interactions must be an integral part of the job. Indeed, diplomats should receive a significant extra monthly payment for language proficiency.

At the same time, a new Foreign Service officer (FSO) education program must dramatically expand the requirements for learning new doctrines and new capabilities. The Foreign Service of the future must have a clear vision of understanding the world and of how to best report back to the United States, while effectively and aggressively representing American values to the world. An appropriate training program would highlight the strategies the U.S. government is following both to make the United States safer and to increase security, health, prosperity, and freedom worldwide. This emphasis would help FSOs strengthen U.S. ties with populations around the globe.

Such an effort will require a Foreign Service that is at least 40 percent larger so that its personnel can take on career-enriching assignments outside of their traditional duties. It also requires the development of continuing education so FSOs can absorb new lessons about diplomacy and communication, learn new strategies and new skills, and continue to develop throughout their careers.

FSOs must learn to work in a new and integrated interagency system with accountability and transparency, such that U.S. military capabilities can be coordinated with civilian and nongovernmental U.S. activities overseas. In the age of mass communication and democratization, the doctrine of a 21st-century State Department must include a more aggressive and effective representation for the United States around the world. FSOs should master this doctrine and should be measured against it.

Finally, FSOs should take on a one-year assignment outside the State Department after their sixth year of service and a two-year tour outside the department after their 14th year of service. Officers with significant experience outside the State Department tend to display greater realism and sophistication compared to those who have rarely ventured beyond the department’s closed culture.