Career members of the Foreign Service are none too pleased with comments made this week by Texas Gov. Rick Perry regarding the purpose of the State Department and U.S. diplomats serving abroad.
“I’m not sure our State Department serves us well,” Perry, a Republican presidential candidate, said Tuesday on a radio program with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. “I’m not talking about the secretary of state here. I’m talking about the career diplomats and the secretary of state, who all too often may not be making decisions or giving advice to the administration that’s in this country’s best interest.”
“We need to have a discussion with Congress to make sure that the decisions that are being made are in America’s best interest,” Perry said later.
In response, the American Foreign Service Association — which represents current and former Foreign Service officers — said Thursday that Perry’s comments on career diplomats “reflect a serious misunderstanding of their role in promoting American interests overseas.”
“Diplomacy is rightly recognized as the first line of defense and a vital instrument for ensuring national security, along with the military,” the AFSA said in a statement. “Foreign Service professionals carry out their role with exemplary dedication all over the world, including war zones and other dangerous regions.”
To amplify its point, AFSA noted that hundreds of career U.S. diplomats have been killed in the line of duty, including six ambassadors: John Mein (Guatemala, 1968), Cleo Noel (Sudan, 1973), Rodger Davies (Cyprus, 1974), Francis Meloy (Lebanon, 1976), Adolph Dubs (Afghanistan, 1979) and Arnold Raphel (Pakistan, 1988).
Other diplomats have been killed in France, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Jordan and Pakistan, and embassy bombings in Lebanon, Kenya and Tanzania claimed the lives of more than two dozen.
“We need more, not less, support from our political leaders and citizens for their work to defend and advance our interests abroad,” the group said.
On the blog Email from the Embassy, the writer, identified only as Donna (she doesn’t use her full name for security reasons), takes Perry to task for questioning the sacrifices of Americans working abroad.
“I’m not a diplomat myself. Which is why I can say, very undiplomatically, that Rick Perry is a moron,” wrote Donna, who said she had met many diplomats and even married one.
“Here’s the way it works, Mr. Perry, since you’re clearly not too familiar with how the Foreign Service operates. The U.S. Department of State looks for the smartest people it can find, and then, if it can interest them in a low-paying, lonely and dangerous job, somewhere in the far reaches of the globe, it hires them.”
A Perry campaign spokesman didn’t immediately return requests for comment. Neither did the State Department.
On this Veterans Day comes news of more cuts to the military.
Not to those in uniform, for the most part, but to civilians who work side by side with them.
The Army says it will reduce its workforce in Europe by more than 1,000 positions. Most of the people affected, 619, will be local nationals. An additional 389 will be Army civilians, and 60 will be military personnel, according to the Army’s Europe public affairs office.
“I understand that these reductions will affect the lives of those who are dedicated employees of U.S. Army, Europe. For this reason, I am asking all senior leaders and supervisors of those affected to do their very best to mitigate the effects of these actions on our employees,” said Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, the Army commander in Europe.
Earlier this week, the Federal Diary reported on previously announced cuts in the Pentagon’s civilian staff. In August, the Army said it would cut 8,700 jobs. Last week, the Air Force said various transformations would result in a net loss of 7,600 positions.
In a blunt assessment of what the cuts mean, a Facebook post by Army Col. David Buckingham, commander of the Vicenza Garrison in Italy, said, “While we will work hard to maintain all the services we can, I’d be a fool, or a liar, to tell you that we will maintain all the same services at the same level for the same cost.” His comments were first reported by Stars and Stripes.
“Some people talk about doing more with less,” he said, “but that’s not straight talk. We are going to have to do less with less. But, we are going to do less, well, very well. That’s our goal.”
In other Army news, the American Federation of Government Employees recently won the right to represent more than 1,400 Army civilian personnel specialists in the Army’s Human Resources Command.
The AFGE said the vote in favor of joining the union was 302 to 81. The command says it is the largest human resources organization in the world.
Follow the Federal Diary on Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP.
Staff writer Ed O’Keefe contributed to this column.