Smart Diplomacy? As Crisis Hits Karachi, Bureaucrats Sideline Star
Published on: August 21, 2010
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  • WigWag

    Isn’t an orchestrated campaign on Dr. Colton’s behalf that includes letters and e-mails to Secretary of State Clinton and members of Congress likely to infuriate the State Department bureaucracy even more and make Dr. Colton’s position worse not better?

    This reminds me of the campaigns that you sometimes see on college campuses designed to pressure university tenure committees to grant tenure to candidates that they have turned down. These campaigns almost never work. But in light of the wonderful things WRM has said about Dr.Colton, I hope that I’m wrong.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      You are right that not everyone will like this, but as a government agency the State Department has more experience with (and, necessarily, tolerance for) political campaigns. I wish that she could have stayed in Karachi, but the Cairo assignment is a great one and I know she’ll do well there. It also shows that there are people in the State Department who understand what an asset she is.

      At this point it’s not so much about Dr. Colton personally (although I hope she can get a full three year assignment in Cairo) as about bureaucratic practice that doesn’t respond as well as it should to important facts on the ground. Routinely allowing talented foreign service officers to remain in hardship posts past 65 is a good first step; reviewing both the mandatory retirement policy and other ways the State Department changes its personnel system to take a changing world into account should be the long term focus.

      Let Dr. Colton know that people back home support creative and dynamic diplomats by wishing her happy birthday; let the State Department know that the public cares about effective management of our diplomatic corps going forward.

      I plan to post more about the importance of supporting our diplomats — including providing a better managed State Department with more resources.

  • vanderleun

    Although you may have, and I share, a great deal of respect and admiration for many in the foreign service, surely this can not come as a surprise to you when you consider the State Department itself — especially as an entity that operates outside of electoral cycles.

  • vanderleun

    Wigwag writes: “likely to infuriate the State Department bureaucracy even more and make Dr. Colton’s position worse not better?”

    Are you suggesting the “diplomatic” approach to this issue or simply the “shut up and go along with it” approach?

  • Peter

    “Nobody has more respect for America’s diplomats and our State Department than I do”

    You’re kidding, right Mr. Mead?

    The State Department has been one tremendous drag of U.S. national interest for many a year now.

    Maybe if the place wasn’t so inbreed with Ivy League twits things would be different.

    I’m sorry, but until the State Dept. finally starts to represent American interests instead of its own, its standing with the American people will continue to slide.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Peter, a great many American diplomats put their lives on the line every day and whatever their personal opinions may be, most of them do their level best to carry out the policies of the administrations elected by the American people.

      If an ignorant or thoughtless person were to rant inaccurately about the shortcomings of our people in the military, you and I would both take offense. My suggestion to you is that you think about what kind of courage and dedication it takes to serve the United States in places like Yemen, Pakistan, Lebanon and Iraq before making more cheap comments about people whose honor and patriotism you evidently don’t know much about. These folks are, literally, risking their lives for their country; you seem to think it’s enough to feel superior and sneer.

      Is that really the right way to go? Is it fair? Does it do anybody on the planet any good?

  • K2K

    Mr. Mead: I would like to add my voice to your campaign on behalf of Dr. Colton, and the broader goal of being more flexible about mandatory retirement in the State Department.

    However, having been downsized out of my career in private industry at age 49, being bluntly told I was too old, I just can not bring myself to help. America throws out millions of us like garbage. Only government and academia offer any protection against endemic ageism. (Please, no lectures about high cost of older employees: I offered to work at half salary – which would have been $40,000 per year in 2000 – but that employer, a global technical consultancy, wanted youth for image purposes. They spent a year trying to find someone with my specialized experience, personal networks, and skill sets, and failed. Being fired for no apparent reason tainted me. I went back to grad school to become a high school teacher of social studies, only to learn, after paying my own way and straight A’s, that being 50-something was equally undesirable in this idiocy we still call America. My professors all encouraged me to get my pHd to teach at university level, but I had the sense to decline that idea)

    Best of luck to Dr. Colton.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Dear K2K,
      I’m horrified by this story. We need dedicated and intelligent high school teachers, especially in the wilderness of social studies, and it’s a criminal waste that your talents aren’t being used. It sounds like your employer broke the law if they gave your age as the reason for getting rid of you. There has to be a way to get you in touch with the young people who need you — keep trying, please.
      Best,
      WRM

  • WigWag

    Off topic, I just downloaded on my kindle a new book about the relationship of African Christians and Muslims; it’s a topic that WRM has posted on from time to time. The book is entitled “The Tenth Parallel” and its by Eliza Griswold who according the the New York Times book review is the daughter of a relatively progressive Episcopal prelate.

    Here’s a link to the review that appeared in today’s New York Times,

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/books/review/Robinson-t.html?_r=1&ref=books

    In the book’s acknowlegement section Professor Mead is thanked but his name is spelled incorrectly; his last name is spelled as “Meade.” If you mention this to them Professor Mead, perhaps they can still fix this error at least in the kindle vesion of the book.

    I am looking forward to reading it.

  • Adam Garfinkle

    The State Department capable of doing a bone-headed bureaucratic thing? I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

    Remind me to tell you the story of Condi’s “transformational diplomacy” speech at Georgetown in January 2006, and its aftermath. (No, I did not write that one.) It mentions a lot of problems you discuss in this post. This story, which for now needs to remain out of public domain, really takes the cake.

  • Pat

    I just emailed the Sec’y of State. We need all the creativity and resourcefulness of a pro like Dr Colton we can possibly muster in a place as critical to our future as Pakistan. Seems like the political appointees have forgotten that we are in a war over there?

    Keeping her in Karachi is a no-brainer.

  • Javed Jabbar

    As a resident of Karachi, as a Pakistani, as
    someone with only about 45 years of experience in media and communications, including official media policy formulation and
    oversight as Minister for Information and Media Development in 2 out of 3 tenures in Cabinets,
    as a friend and as a critic of the USA, I fully endorse the pertinent and powerful comment by Dr Mead about the value that Liz Colton brings
    to her challenging and difficult work in Karachi
    at this time. With her unusual initiative,
    experience, courage and charm, Liz Colton
    has established a wide network of contacts
    in a complex and volatile situation that help
    bridge gaps and misperceptions. Her
    departure in 2010 will deprive the USA of an
    exceptionally effective presence in Karachi
    and require wasteful efforts to re-build
    personal contacts in a fluid and unpredictable
    situation. No human is indispensable but in
    certain situations where there is discretionary
    opportunity available to extend tenure for a
    larger cause, individual persons should be
    retained and supported. Here’s to benevolent
    Pakistani interference in the internal affairs of the US Government’s personnel policies !

  • Peter

    Tell me, Mr. Mead, what do you say about this action by your beloved State Department?

    “Our State Dept. is using undisclosed amounts of US tax dollars to build and renovate Islamic Mosques in 27 different countries. They do this under an ‘outreach’ program with the purpose of fostering ‘good will’ in Muslim countries. The state department will not reveal just how much they spend on overseas, foreign programs but a very reliable source told me most likely it is in the hundreds of billions.”

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Peter, if you think for a nanosecond that the State Department is spending “hundreds of billions” building and renovating mosques abroad, there is a bridge in a borough very close to glamorous Queens that I think you might like to buy.

  • Peter

    Mr. Mead,

    Please. The critical point here is not whether the State Department is spending ‘hundred of billions’ to build mosques abroad; it is whether the State Department is spending ANYTHING on such projects.

    Answer that honestly and we’ll be making progress in defining the U.S. State Department.

    As for buying the Brooklyn Bridge, given the state of finances of NYC and NY State, the thing could well be up for sale soon. [Just kidding Mr. Mead. Just a little preppy humor to make your day.]

  • Daniel

    Dear Mr. Mead,

    You claim that “Nobody has more respect for America’s diplomats and our State Department than I do” is belied by your slam two paragraphs later that foreign service officers are “cookie pushers” who swan around stately capitals.

    Look, nobody has more respect for bloggers than I do, but when hacks who supported the invasion of Iraq (http://www.cfr.org/publication/5684/deadlier_than_war.html) start slamming my profession, I get a little annoyed.

    Just kidding — I don’t think you’re a hack. But those little digs that esteemed writers toss out for grins tarnish the Foreign Service and make it very hard to us to get support for the resources we need to get the right people (and enough of them) trained and equipped, etc.

    For the record, I know LIz, I greatly respect her work and her abilities, and I hope that she’ll be able to keep working for the State Department and for the American people.

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  • Doug Page

    I’m one of these adults — and there are [darn -ed] few of us, from what I can tell — who spent parts of his childhood overseas, first in London, in the late 1960s, and then in Hong Kong, in the early 1970s; as a college senior, I studied in Strasbourg, France, and lived with a family.

    I was too young for this during my London days, because I was only six when we arrived, but what I learned from time in Hong Kong, and again in France, was that soft diplomacy is effective.

    I can’t say I had this idea completely down by the time we left Hong Kong. But having attended British-run schools on the island and being surrounded by children from Great Britain, India, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand, I learned the effectiveness of exchanging ideas and finding our common humanity. It’s far more effective than sending some high-profile diplomat overseas for a high-profile meeting.

    Which isn’t meant as a knock on any secretary of state, president or ambassador.

    It’s the people on the ground, the little people, that is, who make a difference.

    If we want the Arab world and any other potential enemy to understand Americans and the United States, we need more cultural exchanges. More time talking with one another — even about little things, like sports — will bring us closer together than meetings between governments.

    Because, in the final analysis, all governments are filled people.

    If we can exchange ideas on the little things in life, like sports, or talk about our experiences in bringing up children, and day to day living, with people from other countries, then we’ll figure out solutions to the larger questions, like war and peace.

    All of this is easier said than done. But we should never undervalue a connection and a bond that two people can form with one another — even if they come from opposite ends of the earth.

    We have far more in common with our enemies than we think.

    I hope Liz Colton is still overseas. She’s a far more effective diplomat than any ambassador.

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