I know various people in the diplomatic service who work honourably, giving their imagination and compassion as well as their entire professionalism to the work they do as diplomats. Which at the end of the day, in my eyes, is a very noble work indeed.
The NYT article seems to say that State Dep’t colleagues feel that Van Buren is a sort of traitor for speaking out as openly as he has. Oh hell, I don’t know. This is a true moral dilemma, one of the oldest I suspect. Do you try to work through channels, give the process time to do its glacial work? Or do you finally decide that the more immediate moral imperative is indeed more urgent, and can’t wait for the process to do its work, especially considering that there’s a very real chance it won’t be able to do that? I imagine that the brave person who sneaked those photos in Abu-Ghraib –and then even more bravely decided to make them public (or was that second choice already made in the moment of taking the photos? perhaps … ) was moving towards such a decision and then made it, in the blinding flash of a moment teetering over the abyss. Countless millions of other such choices over the course of history, I am sure.
I feel as tho’ this script is already written, for something like the Iraq version of Robin Williams’ Good Morning Vietnam. (Too bad I’m such a movie illiterate: maybe someone has already MADE this movie.) I mean, nothing I read in this article is in any way surprising. This is my rule for reading stuff in the paper: will it surprise me, will I learn anything from it? If it’s just something I already intuit, or that looks as tho’ it won’t challenge me, I don’t read it: life is too short.
Not quite sure why I read this one: perhaps because a friend sent it, perhaps because one way or another, and over the years, I have come to know people in the diplomatic service. Because of the kind of people they are, as I mention above, I persist in believing that being a diplomat is a noble calling. Also because, at its best, it has to do with communication, and what I do has so fundamentally to do with communication.
The resignation letter –dated 7 Feb 2003, I find when I miraculously locate it in some file rescued after the theft of THREE laptops-- written by John Brady Kiesling, a career diplomat whose last post was, as far as I know, as Political Attaché in Athens, sticks in my mind, in this connection. I re-read that letter and still find it moving and compelling. I am going to try and attach it here, hope this works … OH POOEY, for some reason it doesn't want to accept a PDF. What to do? Oh well, here it is as Raw Text, who uses THAT anymore?
JOHN BRADY KIESLING RESIGNATION LETTER, AS PUBLISHED IN THE NYT (amazing that I found it stashed in my PEACE WORK folder after all these years; SO SAD how it is still so present). The intro is from a former US Ambassador, colleague of a cousin of mine who served long and honorably as a Foreign Service officer.
Subject: Patriotism of the highest caliber
Here's an example of patriotism of the highest quality. It's the letter of resignation by an American diplomat, printed today in the New York Times. His reference to "oderint dum metuant" means "Let them hate so long as they fear." (A favorite saying of Caligula. I didn't know this. I had to look it up).
"February 27, 2003 U.S. Diplomat's Letter of Resignation
The following is the text of John Brady Kiesling's letter of resignation to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Mr. Kiesling is a career diplomat who has served in United States embassies from Tel Aviv to Casablanca to Yerevan.
Dear Mr. Secretary:
I am writing you to submit my resignation from the Foreign Service of the United States and from my position as Political Counselor in U.S. Embassy Athens, effective March 7.
I do so with a heavy heart. The baggage of my upbringing included a felt obligation to give something back to my country. Service as a U.S. diplomat was a dream job. I was paid to understand foreign languages and cultures, to seek out diplomats, politicians, scholars and journalists, and to persuade them that U.S. interests and theirs fundamentally coincided. My faith in my country and its values was the most powerful weapon in my diplomatic arsenal.
It is inevitable that during twenty years with the State Department I would become more sophisticated and cynical about the narrow and selfish bureaucratic motives that sometimes shaped our policies. Human nature is what it is, and I was rewarded and promoted for understanding human nature. But until this Administration it had been possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my president I was also upholding the interests of the American people and the world.
I believe it no longer. The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security.
The sacrifice of global interests to domestic politics and to bureaucratic self-interest is nothing new, and it is certainly not a uniquely American problem. Still, we have not seen such systematic distortion of intelligence, such systematic manipulation of American opinion, since the war in Vietnam.
The September 11 tragedy left us stronger than before, rallying around us a vast international coalition to cooperate for the first time in a systematic way against the threat of terrorism. But rather than take credit for those successes and build on them, this Administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely defeated Al Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally. We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government. September 11 did not do as much damage to the fabric of American society as we seem determined to do to ourselves.
Is the Russia of the late Romanovs really our model, a selfish, superstitious empire thrashing toward self-destruction in the name of a doomed status quo? We should ask ourselves why we have failed to persuade more of the world that a war with Iraq is necessary. We have over the past two years done too much to assert to our world partners that narrow and mercenary U.S. interests override the cherished values of our partners.
Even where our aims were not in question, our consistency is at issue. The model of Afghanistan is little comfort to allies wondering on what basis we plan to rebuild the Middle East, and in whose image and interests.
Have we indeed become blind, as Russia is blind in Chechnya, as Israel is blind in the Occupied Territories, to our own advice, that overwhelming military power is not the answer to terrorism? After the shambles of post-war Iraq joins the shambles in Grozny and Ramallah, it will be a brave foreigner who forms ranks with Micronesia to follow where we lead.
We have a coalition still, a good one. The loyalty of many of our friends is impressive, a tribute to American moral capital built up over a century. But our closest allies are persuaded less that war is justified than that it would be perilous to allow the U.S. to drift into complete solipsism. Loyalty should be reciprocal.
Why does our President condone the swaggering and contemptuous approach to our friends and allies this Administration is fostering, including among its most senior officials? Has "oderint dum metuant" really become our motto?
I urge you to listen to America's friends around the world. Even here in Greece, purported hotbed of European anti-Americanism, we have more and closer friends than the American newspaper reader can possibly imagine. Even when they complain about American arrogance, Greeks know that the world is a difficult and dangerous place, and they want a strong international system, with the U.S. and EU in close partnership.
When our friends are afraid of us rather than for us, it is time to worry. And now they are afraid. Who will tell them convincingly that the United States is as it was, a beacon of liberty, security, and justice for the planet?
Mr. Secretary, I have enormous respect for your character and ability. You have preserved more international credibility for us than our policy deserves, and salvaged something positive from the excesses of an ideological and self-serving Administration. But your loyalty to the President goes too far.
We are straining beyond its limits an international system we built with such toil and treasure, a web of laws, treaties, organizations, and shared values that sets limits on our foes far more effectively than it ever constrained America's ability to defend its interests.
I am resigning because I have tried and failed to reconcile my conscience with my ability to represent the current U.S. Administration. I have confidence that our democratic process is ultimately self-correcting, and hope that in a small way I can contribute from outside to shaping policies that better serve the security and prosperity of the American people and the world we share."
I wrote to my cousin, who’d sent this on to me from his friend the retired Ambassador:
This letter gives me great sadness, and also great pride. Sadness, because John Brady Kiesling expresses with great precision and eloquence my own feelings as an American citizen --and former Fulbrighter!-- when he says "my upbringing included a felt obligation to give something back to my country ... My faith in my country and its values was the most powerful weapon in my diplomatic arsenal ... the United States ... as a beacon of liberty, security, and justice for the planet ...". I never have had a diplomatic arsenal, in any narrow sense, but that feeling of the US being a beacon was always, for me, a powerful part of my own personal patriotism. So I am sad because of the great disillusion and pain I read between the lines of Mr. Kiesling's letter; feelings which I share. Here he is, someone for whom being a career Foreign Service officer was a "dream job", giving up the thing that most impassioned him, because the job, under the current administration, no longer permitted him to do what he most values: be a diplomat and proudly represent his country.
I feel pride because Mr Kiesling elected to do what I too feel was the moral choice remaining to him: resign and make public his reasons for doing so. For me this shows that he is truly a diplomat, not only by career but by passion. As I read his letter, he elected to exit from a situation which, if he'd stayed on, would have required him, effectively, to lie about what is central to him, not only as a professional but as a human being.
During my Fulbright year and afterwards, I've had the opportunity to meet and get to know some people in the Foreign Service both of Mexico and of the US. The good ones are people of vision, thoughtfulness and, often, contagious enthusiasm, who really believe in the ability of diplomacy to make a difference in our sorely troubled human affairs. Obviously Mr Kiesling is one of those, and of a very high order. He shows his quality in the choice he made here, which cannot have been an easy one.
I saw an excerpt from Mr Kiesling's letter in a MoveOn.org mailing this evening ... it came as a grateful surprise to receive the full text from you a few minutes later. Thank you so much for sending it on ... and thanks to Don Pelton for the translation of the Latin. I not only wasn't sure of the translation, I didn't know it was uttered by Caligula (which, sadly, ought not by now to surprise us ...)
Love to you from