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A decade after 9/11, life in the U.S. Foreign Service has changed dramatically. Diplomats say the biggest danger in a “hardship” post used to be boredom and irrelevance; now it’s being killed. We explore the new challenges facing America’s diplomats and look at how the Foreign Service is adapting.
- Cameron Munter U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan
- Matthew Asada Foreign Service Officer
- Susan Johnson President, American Foreign Service Association
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's not all embassy balls and champagne on the Champs-Elysees. A decade after 9/11, being an America diplomat is a lot more dangerous than it used to be.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIForeign Service officers represent the United States at embassies, consulates and outposts around the world. And more of them than ever find themselves in harm's way. Some diplomats say the biggest danger in a hardship post used to be boredom or irrelevance. Now, it's being killed. And while the Foreign Service has more embassies to staff since the break up of the Soviet Union, it has yet to see a big boost in its ranks.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThis hour, life as a U.S. diplomat post-9/11 and the challenges of adapting the Foreign Service for an increasingly complex world. Joining us in studio is Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association. Susan Johnson, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. SUSAN JOHNSONIt's a pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Matthew Asada, Foreign Service officer who has served in Iraq, Pakistan, Germany, India and here in Washington, D.C. Matthew Asada, thank you for joining us.
MR. MATTHEW ASADAThank you, too.
NNAMDIJoining us by telephone from New York is Cameron Munter, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. Amb. Munter, thank you for joining us.
AMB. CAMERON MUNTERIt's a pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, if you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. That's 800-433-8850. You can email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. The Washington area is home to more current and retired Foreign Service officers than anywhere else in the country. Have you served in the Foreign Service? You might want to call to share your experience, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDISusan Johnson, describe the size and composition of today's Foreign Service, how many people serve as Foreign Service officers, and where they're located.
JOHNSONThat's a big question, Kojo. But, overall, I can say we have about 13,000 people in the State Department Foreign Service. But there are other parts, other agencies who have their foreign services, and that -- they should not be forgotten, the U.S. Agency for International Development, with about 1,700 people now.
JOHNSONThe Foreign Commercial Service and the Foreign Agricultural Services, much smaller, but the Foreign Commercial Service has about 250 Foreign Service officers, and the Foreign Agricultural Service probably about 175. And then, finally, last but not least -- at least, for you -- the International Broadcasting Bureau has about -- I don't know -- 25 or 30 foreign correspondents.
NNAMDIYou had a 30-year career in the Foreign Service after growing up in it, so to speak, as a diplomat's daughter. What are some of the places that you have served in during those years?
JOHNSONI was afraid you were going to ask me that.
JOHNSONToo many years growing up in it and serving in it. But also, I'll start -- growing up, I was mostly in Eastern Europe and North and East Africa, which is where my father served. And one of my favorite posts was Ethiopia, growing up in the days of Haile Selassie. I had a horse. We could ride all over the countryside.
JOHNSONAnd after school, we could take these wonderful trips down to Misila, you know, fishing for sharks in the middle of the night and out of old submarine pits. And, this, we're talking about 11-, 12-, 13-year-old kids -- just a little commentary on how the world has changed. But in the Foreign Service, my first posting was Cuba, also fascinating.
JOHNSONAnd then I was at the U.S. mission to the United Nations for four years. Then I was in Mauritius. Then I was in Pakistan, Russia, Central Asia, Romania...
NNAMDIOkay. Stop, stop, enough.
JOHNSONIraq and Bosnia.
NNAMDIAmb. Munter, you were sworn in as U.S. ambassador to Pakistan 11 months ago, after serving as a deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. When did you start your career in the Foreign Service, and where else have you been assigned?
MUNTERWell, I joined 25 years ago. So, I think, Susan's got me beat. But the first 20 years of my life, I was really serving in areas that had -- they were all concentrated in Central Europe. And I think one of the things that is in answer to your question about what's changed since 9/11 is that people like me, who have an area specialization -- Czech, Polish, German -- things of this sort, are serving in other places because that's where the need is.
MUNTERSince that time and the recent years, I've been ambassador in Serbia, two tours in Iraq and in Pakistan. And I think that going to places like Iraq and Pakistan in a post-9/11 era is something that Foreign Service officers not only will think is possible, but will expect.
NNAMDIMatthew Asada, you joined the Foreign Service, it's my understanding, in 2003. Was that in response to 9/11?
ASADAI wouldn't say it was necessarily in response to 9/11. But a theme of public service has always ran through my family. And a little similar to Susan, I grew up as a military brat. My dad was in the Army, so we followed him all around the country, around the world. But I was in school in 9/11 at the University of Pennsylvania. And what I saw there was that -- an increase in interest in joining the public service.
ASADAWhether it was the Foreign Service, whether it was the military service, people wanted to serve their country. And so people that have looked at careers in investment banking, going to Wall Street, consulting, all of a sudden where looking again at the Foreign Service. So I was happy to join at that time.
NNAMDIYou come from a family of public servants, is my understanding.
NNAMDIBut are you the first to serve in the Foreign Service?
ASADAI am the first to serve in the Foreign Service. I'm a fourth generation Japanese American, third generation public servant. My grandfather was a -- working for the U.S. Postal Service. My father was an officer in the U.S. Army. And I was the first to serve in our diplomatic service.
NNAMDISusan Johnson, how has life changed in the Foreign Service since the days when you could have your own horse in Ethiopia?
JOHNSONWell, you're touching on one of the big changes, which is security for diplomats, which has imposed constraints on their ability to move around, to interact with the people in the country and of the culture where they are. It's all become much harder to do.
NNAMDIThat idyllic life you knew as a child probably doesn't much exist in the Foreign Service anymore.
JOHNSONProbably in very few posts. I was just trying to think if there were some places of the world, but that's one big change, and not only on your -- it's a big change in your lifestyle and the sort of quality of your life, but also on your ability to carry out your mission and be a diplomat and do the work that we are there to do.
JOHNSONSo that's a big challenge. How do you overcome the requirements to sort of mange the security risks and still be able to do the job?
NNAMDICameron Munter, has the Foreign Service changed since you joined?
MUNTERWell, I just want to back up what Susan said. She's absolutely right. Since we have come past 9/11, the security issues have become important. Being the eyes and ears of America is more than just kind of living in another country. It's getting to know people. It's getting steeped in their culture. It's being able to really swim in the sea that we live.
MUNTERAnd we're -- our security concerns now -- Pakistan, for example, where I'm working, is we have a lot of walls and a lot of barbed wire. And we want to project, but we have to protect. And those two things are something that our security people really struggle with. And it's a challenge for us to get out and get to know the people and to report accurately to Washington.
MUNTERSo I'd agree with Susan. That's the biggest change that's taken place, is the tension of security and mission.
NNAMDIWell, working as an economics officer in Europe and working on a provincial reconstruction team in Iraq seem like vastly different jobs requiring vastly different skills. I guess, I have two questions about that. First is, how well, in your view, has the Foreign Service adapted the way it screens applicants and promotes people, Cameron Munter?
MUNTERYes. It's a very good question. We have a Foreign Service exam that's very demanding. But much of it is based on looking for people who have the skills of traditional diplomats, the ability to draft, the ability to analyze, the ability to talk with other people or speak in public. The skills that you need when you're at the provincial reconstruction team in Mosul also involved the ability to stay away out of harm's way, the ability to avoid very dangerous situations.
MUNTERAnd someone who's cut out to be, say, a good textile negotiator in Geneva may not be the person who is cut out to be an analyst who's going up to visit very dangerous sites in Iraq.
MUNTERFor that reason, there's a debate in the Foreign Service about whether we are two services, whether we are a traditional service and what we call an expeditionary service, a service of people who are going out and doing this new kind of diplomacy in areas where we have never done it before. I think this is something -- it's fair to say, at this point, the Foreign Service is struggling with this.
MUNTERHow do we meet the needs of the traditional requirements that we have and these new requirements with the security challenges?
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about the latter, the expeditionary force. Can you talk a little bit about how different your day-to-day life tends to be if you are a part of an expeditionary force as opposed to a traditional diplomat?
MUNTERWell, I'll just give you one example from where I'm working now and where I worked in Iraq. These are non-accompanied posts. That is to say, in Pakistan, in Iraq, we are not allowed to bring our children. We're not allowed to bring our spouses because of the danger. What that means is that it's not only a question of lifestyle but a spouse, a child. These are ways of getting to know a culture.
MUNTERMy wife has always been someone who has been an enormous contributor to my understanding -- to our common understanding of what goes on. I'm fortunate enough that my wife got a job at the embassy, and she's with me in Pakistan. But if I were there alone, I wouldn't have her skills and her ability to reach out.
MUNTERSo it's a lifestyle question, and it's also a question of the effectiveness we have, not having our families with us. That's just one example.
NNAMDIWell, some number of Foreign Service officers today are going to be serving in places where they are being shot at. How do you figure out who will be able to handle that and who won't? And this question, I'll start with you Amb. Munter, but I'd like to go around the table on this one.
MUNTERSure. Very good question. I mean, the kind of questions that we screen people for, that we look for when we give our exam tend to be more intellectual and kind of bureaucratic. How do you get along with people? How do you manage? How do you lead? The question of how you'll respond when you're under fire is something that no one knows. Or let's put it this way. We are not yet trained to know what to do as the military is.
MUNTERIt may be that our examination has to change to be able to measure kind of your emotional capacity to do that. And I was very surprised to find who under fire reacted well and who didn't. It's a very pretty tough question.
NNAMDISame question to you, Susan Johnson.
JOHNSONWell, you know, I was thinking about it just as Cameron was responding, and it's -- we do not train for that. I think, for the most part, we have an open assignment process, which means people bid on or volunteer for positions that they're interested in. And we've been able to fill all the positions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, difficult countries, through that system.
JOHNSONPeople in the Foreign Service, I think, are ready to go and do whatever they're called upon to do. And that's part of the corporate culture or the ethic. Part of the question is, I think, for us is to sort out people who are better suited for that and people who are not.
JOHNSONBut I'm not sure that that's the only question to be asking ourselves as we look at it and how do we make sure that we can field the people, the right people and give them the right kind of training before they go, but also the right kind of leadership when they're there. I was just struck when I was in Iraq with the CPA in 2003.
JOHNSONAnd I was living in the Al Rasheed Hotel at the time, which came under mortar attack, the same time that a number -- I think we had high level visitors then. We had no, really, preparation for that. No one had been expecting it, but it was extremely well-handled by the people there. Nobody panicked. Nobody, you know -- I don't know -- freaked out or anything like that.
JOHNSONI was struck by that. Everybody did well, although nobody was really in charge. And we learned from it. Right now, this is a, you know, question that AFSA takes an interest in because we're trying to sort out what should be the policy, which should be our position as a professional association on who ought to go to these kinds of posts and into these assignments.
JOHNSONBut sometimes the unexpected comes. I mean, we're focused on the dangers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, but there are many other countries where things happen suddenly. And...
NNAMDITanzania, Kenya, just to name two.
JOHNSONSo it's -- we have to be ready for that. And I think that's part of our culture and our mission, is to be flexible and adaptable and ready to deal with whatever global events serve up.
NNAMDIMatthew Asada, this is the foreign service that you walked into in 2003, knowing full well the dangers that you faced. Is that something that you took into consideration?
ASADAI think it is. And just to go back, I should say that today I'm here not in my capacity as a State Department employee or as a representative of the department, but simply in my capacity as an elected member of the AFSA Governing Board. But, no, we looked at the Foreign Service. We knew that there were risks and dangers going into it.
ASADAAnd you have to imagine, Kojo, that, 10 years ago, we didn't have a single diplomat in Iraq or in Afghanistan. And that was the Foreign Service that I joined. And since then, you know, we've scaled up our missions in both of those countries. We've scaled up our mission in Pakistan as well. And I've served two of my assignments overseas unaccompanied.
ASADAAnd that is the reality, that the people who have joined the Foreign Service, they understand that unaccompanied tours are part of their career and will be part of their career. And it's something that they're going to have to work out, whether they're married, whether they're single, whether they're in other types of relationships.
ASADAAgain, this is the modern Foreign Service, and this is what we're dealing with. Now, I will say that -- one thing that -- what do you do when you're under fire, you know? On a provincial reconstruction team, I was up in Kunduz.
NNAMDIWe're going to talk about that.
ASADAAnd it was -- you did have those instances where you're coming under mortar fire, the base was being attacked, there was an attack on a checkpoint outside. And what's important here is, again, is, I think, as Amb. Munter and Susan mentioned, it's training. It's ensuring that we get the training that we need before we go overseas.
ASADASo, in our case, for instance, it means that we're going out to places like in Garmisch, in Germany, and doing a course with civilian and with military leaders that are about to deploy to Afghanistan. It means that other of my colleagues are going to Fort Bragg to do the civilian military training. And all that's important, so that when we get into those situations, we are able to respond. We do know what to do.
NNAMDIGo to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on life in the U.S. Foreign Service. But we'd be happy to hear from you at 800-433-8850 at -- or at our website, kojoshow.org. What skills do you think American diplomats need to have in order to represent our country abroad? 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking about life in the U.S. Foreign Service. And you may have heard references to AFSA. That is the American Foreign Association of which Susan Johnson, president, joins us in studio. Matthew Asada in on the board. He also joins us in studio. He's a foreign -- was -- is a foreign service officer who has served in Iraq, Pakistan, Germany, India and Washington, D.C. But as you heard Matthew here, he's here in his capacity with AFSA.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone from New York is Cameron Munter, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you have friends or neighbors serving in the Foreign Service and coming home every few years for a stint in Washington? What do they say about their time overseas? 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow.
NNAMDIMatthew, talk about the qualities your peers bring to the Foreign Service. Do they view their work as a sort of calling? Do they plan a career? Or are they looking for experience overseas that they may eventually parlay into something else?
ASADAFirst of all, all of them joined to serve. And I think that's something that has remained the same across the decades here. But they are looking for accumulating different skills and taking advantage of opportunities. They want to travel the world. They want to see it, and they want to bring those experiences back here to the United States, to make the United States a better country.
ASADASo whether it's, again, in the Foreign Service, whether it's in the public service writ large, it's this commitment to serve that motivates them. And I think that's something that's something that's always been part of the Foreign Service and continues to be.
NNAMDICameron Munter, from your vantage point, do you see a difference in the qualities and goals of people who joined the Foreign Service after 9/11?
MUNTERI would only underscore what Matt said, is that what -- in the quality of those people who are in, it's not so much what's new. It's what's consistent over time. The Foreign Service's officers who joined in my era and in Susan's era were, I think, idealistic and practical. And I think what Matt is saying is that that remains. So those qualities are very strong.
MUNTERHowever, there is kind of a longer term social question that Foreign Service is a hierarchical organization. It's -- it has many qualities that are old fashioned, and there are people who are growing up now in the 21st century who are used to management styles that can be flatter, can be more creative.
MUNTERAnd we are trying to adapt to that to make sure that we have the best managerial practices while retaining the structure of a hierarchical institution. But the bottom line is we have such good people, truly motivated people, that I'm sure we're going to come through this fine.
NNAMDIYeah, that's clearly a challenge. The other challenge, of course, that people think of immediately is the security challenge. Susan Johnson, a lot of people think that our embassies have, in a way, become fortresses. How have post-9/11 security concerns changed the way that diplomats now perform their jobs?
JOHNSONWell, in many ways, as we're coming back to it, we start at the beginning. And, yes, the Fortress America, you know, image of too many American embassies -- and I, maybe, revealed my own, you know, bias here a little bit. I think it's a challenge when our embassies are outside of town, away from the center, difficult to get to and from. That's one of the biggest challenges that we've got. And how do we get around that? What do we do about that?
JOHNSONI don't think anyone has come up with the answer, except to look at and suggest that we look more thoughtfully at the security mission balance and at the various ways our risk aversion impedes our mission accomplishment, and are there some creative ways of dealing with that. But I wanted to just pick up on what Cameron was saying earlier. The Foreign Service is a career professional service.
JOHNSONAnd we need people to want to have careers as they accumulate experience and knowledge that we need to retain for our profession and our institution. This question about how many people or which people may come in to get the little foreign experience and then parlay that, well, that happens in life. But, overall, the attrition rate from the Foreign Service is extremely low, and there can be a lot of reasons for that.
JOHNSONA lot of people come in thinking that they might not stay long, and they end up staying. Some others do not because it's a tough and demanding life for some of the reason that we've touched upon. But many people who are in it, A, want to serve, and, B, feel they have a vocation for this kind of work in this profession. So they're willing to sort of put up with a lot of what others might consider discomfort.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Guy in Severn, Md. Guy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GUYHi, Kojo. Thank you very much. I like your program. Let me say that first of all. And I listen to you at every lunch hour.
GUYThe question -- a little bit of background. I heard a couple of years ago, a State Department Foreign Service (word?), during a broadcast on CNN, say how they did not want to be deployed because of the danger to them and everything. I'm wondering if the Foreign Service officer is looking at recruiting retired military, or even veterans that have been in the military because, well, I spent 20 years in.
GUYAnd I have been to a lot of places around the world -- have lived there, not just visited. And I've also been in combat situations as well. Once I got out, I got my degree. And I'm wondering if those are skill sets that the Foreign Service officer -- Foreign Service office is looking for. And if so, where could I apply and submit my application?
JOHNSONWell, I would just say that Foreign Service right now is taking in many people with military experience. And that looks like it's something that might, you know, increase in the future as more military learn about the Foreign Service and the opportunities to serve in the American diplomatic service. So, of course, everyone is more than welcome to join. I mean, for the Foreign Service today, for the career service, there's an examination process.
JOHNSONAs Amb. Munter mentioned earlier, you have to take the examination. I think it has several parts to it, a written and oral, medical, security clearance, et cetera. But veterans get extra points, as do people who bring in foreign languages and some other things that the Foreign Service and State Department is looking for today. So we welcome anyone who wants to serve.
JOHNSONAnd I think some of the kinds of experiences and skills your caller mentioned certainly could be relevant.
NNAMDIWell, Amb. Munter, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and especially former Defense Secretary Robert Gates have both stressed the importance of both diplomacy and military power as tools of American foreign policy. How are diplomats and soldiers linked today in a way they were not before 9/11? And how does that affect the perception of diplomats in foreign countries?
MUNTERA very good question. We're still finding that out. But you'll find that those people like Susan, like Matt, myself, who have served in countries like Iraq or Afghanistan, not only need the skill sets of dealing with the local country, but we need the skill sets of working with our comrades-in-arms, that is, with the military. That means that both we and the military knew each other better.
MUNTERWe are much more aware of the concerns and of the kind of psychologies that we have that sometimes different, how we solve problems. So the answer, at least internally, is we've come to know each other much better, and we've come to appreciate the kind of managerial strengths and weaknesses that our two systems have. And you'll note that when you mentioned Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton, that they see national security as a united thing.
MUNTERYou can't have a military intervention without a diplomatic component. And, increasingly, we're finding situations where diplomacy needs to be backed up by the military. Now, what that does in foreign countries is that -- obviously, it's not a normal situation, not normal in Iraq or in Afghanistan compared to almost all other embassies in the world. And there is the face of the American military overseas that's very important.
MUNTERAnd we diplomats work with our military colleagues to make sure that the diplomatic issues that we're concerned about are ones that they understand and explain to our hosts as well. And, likewise, we carry water for our military friends as well. So it's been very much a learning experience in the last 10 years, certainly, for me, and I would argue for my colleagues as well.
NNAMDIGuy, thank you very much for your call. Matthew Asada, I find your own experience, well, fascinating. In 2007 and 2008, you were stationed in Afghanistan, not at the American embassy, but at a forward outpost at a place you mentioned earlier, Kunduz, as part of a provincial reconstruction team.
NNAMDIWhy I sort of find it fascinating and surprising is that you had a car. You had a translator, but you also had a lot of freedom to move around. How did security concerns affect you there?
ASADAI think that really is -- it was quite unusual for me to have that freedom of movement that I did. And to go back to, you know, what Amb. Munter and also what Susan here have talked about, we all served in Pakistan. We all served in Pakistan at one point or another in our career. And some things have changed, but some things have remained the same. The ability to get out and amongst the people has been there throughout.
ASADAAnd when I first started in Pakistan, again, as Susan alluded to, you know, we were able to go out horseback riding. We were able to take that horse through the community and meet people. And it was also like that in Afghanistan as well.
ASADAAgain, through those opportunities to engage in cultural experiences, whether it's going to the Afghans, playing buzkashi, whether it's horseback riding through, again, some of the areas, it was something that you could do to build bonds and build connections. But, again, it is about security, about managing risk and ensuring that you know what's appropriate, what's allowed.
ASADAAnd at all times I did this in coordination with the provincial reconstruction team, with the military commander there. I knew that the places that I was going, it was permissible that I could get out and about and engage with the people.
NNAMDIBy comparison and contrast, Amb. Munter, how do security concerns affect your mobility and that of the embassy staff in Islamabad?
MUNTERWell, in Islamabad, you know, there has been an uptick of violence in the last couple of years. But we still make every effort to do what Matt has talked about, to say our jobs count on us to have a good understanding of what's going on in the country. There are some ways to protect the people. You can put up walls. You can put up a barbwire.
MUNTERBut the best way for us, diplomat, to be protected is for a diplomat to be smart in the way that he mentioned, that you know which neighborhoods are tough, that you know the signs of when you think danger is near, that you have good intelligence, that you've figured out what's going on in the country. These are skills that we are developing over time. And we need to because, in order to get that work done, we have to get out.
MUNTERAnd it is riskier in Afghanistan. Certainly, it was riskier when I was in Iraq, but we all got out. We had to do it, and we had to do it smart.
NNAMDIHere's -- oh, Susan Johnson.
JOHNSONJust want to, you know, add to that, that language and being smart in another country -- language skills, from my experience, have been critical. If you really master and know the language of the country and community, culture you're in, you're smarter, and you are safer, if anything, both in avoiding situations and in dealing with them, should they come your way.
JOHNSONAnd I think this leads to a point that's been touched on here, and I want to emphasize it from AFSA's point of view. It's the importance of the resources that we need for our diplomatic service so that our people can be trained and get the training they need to be effective and to be safe. And to get that, we need what we call a training float.
JOHNSONWe need to have the resources so that anyone, at any point in time, some people can be in training without really crippling.
NNAMDII'll go to that. If you're on the phone, hold on for a second. I'd just like to pursue this point with Susan Johnson. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asked for a 25 percent increase in staffing by 2013 or a five-year increase of roughly 3,000 positions. One, is that appropriate? Two, are we likely to meet that target?
JOHNSONWell, it's entirely appropriate. And AFSA is very supportive of full implementation of what's called Diplomacy 3.0 and that hiring surge for the State Department as well as for 50 percent increase in AID capacity. We are about 17 percent of the way there. That is that, since this started, we've increased the staff by about 17 percent on the way to that 25 percent target by 2013.
JOHNSONHowever, looks as though, in the current situation that we're facing, fiscal, political, et cetera, that there's a real danger that this will be interrupted, and we will not be able to meet that target, certainly not in the timeframe of 2013. I hope that we'll be able to keep that trend going in the right direction because it is critically important.
ASADAAnd I will say it is a trend. I came in the Foreign Service under Secretary of State Colin Powell under our Diplomatic Readiness Initiative. He increased hiring in the Foreign Service to provide for things like the training float. These hiring efforts were in -- continued with Secretary of State Rice, and then as we've heard, with Secretary of State Clinton with 3.0. But this training float that Susan referred to is so critically important.
ASADAIt will allow our officers to take advantage of full-year language training to get up to speed in those critically hard languages, like Urdu, like Arabic, like Dari to use in Afghanistan. And it will also allow our officers to engage with training that will socialize them with their colleagues across the United States government.
ASADAThose inter-agency training opportunities -- things like going to the war college to learn a little bit more about how our military work, or things like what I'm doing right now, going out to the Hill, serving on a Congressional fellowship. It's this type of training opportunities, whether they're language, whether they're trade craft, whether they're working with our colleagues in the U.S. government, that are so important.
ASADAAnd it's so important that we have this training float that we can do that.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Joan in Bethesda, Md. Joan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOANYes, Kojo. My point is that security has always been a problem in the Foreign Service. We were assigned to East Africa and Darussalam in the '60s. In '64, there was an army coup. My husband spent the evening, or the whole night, actually, before a firing squad until he managed to develop a relationship with one of the soldiers and was freed. I in -- at the same time, was in the house surrounded by 80 mutinous soldiers with two small children.
JOANAnd I did speak to one of the soldiers in Swahili, and he gave me a big smile. And so we had the innate ability, without having any training, and we did survive.
NNAMDIYou underscore Susan Johnson's point about knowing the language because it seems to me that both your husband persuading a member of a firing squad and you persuading a member of a rebellious military had a great deal to do with your being able to speak the language.
JOANWell, perhaps that, and God had something to do with it.
NNAMDIYes, there's always that.
JOANBut I just -- my point is that security has always been a problem. It's not only since 2011.
JOHNSONWell, that's very true. In Algiers, when I was growing up, the Algerian Revolution took place. Our house was almost blown up. You know, people were being shot on the square outside my school house, and lots of things have happened. And that's a very accurate point. It's just that our response to it on a scale and the conduct of diplomacy in conflict zones, active conflict zones has imposed, I think, some new challenges on us as diplomats.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your call. If the lines are busy, send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. You heard about unaccompanied post.
NNAMDIWould you join the Foreign Service if you knew you'd be posted some place that your significant other or your family members could not come? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on life in the U.S. Foreign Service. We're talking with Matthew Asada. He is a Foreign Service officer who served in Pakistan, Germany, India and Washington, D.C. He is on the board of the American Foreign Service Association, where President Susan Johnson is also in studio with us. Cameron Munter joins us by telephone. He is U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. He joins us by telephone.
NNAMDIWe have this email from S, who says, "I've been in the Foreign Service for 11 years and, thus, must remain anonymous. I don't know how to say this without sounding like a whiner. I know your guests will try to sound rosy, but, truth is, the Foreign Service today is a rather broken organization. Like a body adapting to a tumor, the Foreign Services need to repeatedly fill one year unaccompanied hardship slots in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
NNAMDI"AIP service, as we call it, has caused the organization to wrap itself around this need. All other priorities have become second or third tier." Cameron Munter, what would you say to that?
MUNTERIt's a very tough question. I mean, I feel the pain that he expresses because it's something that all of us have to deal with. No one likes the idea of an unaccompanied post. And yet I think what we're doing here is -- I take issue with the idea that we're a broken organization. We're an organization that has chosen priorities.
MUNTERWe're making priorities, and we're doing the best to be professional to maintain our idealism and our practical ability and to address those things that our president wants us to do, that our secretary of state wants us to do. These are tough assignments. They must be done. And if that means that we're going to spend time without our loved ones and spend time in situations that we might not have thought we'd be in, that's the way it's going to be because, after all, it is Foreign Service.
MUNTERWe have to be self-critical and say, how can we do this better? We always have to learn from these experiences. And if I had my way, I would talk people into longer assignments. I think one year is very short, very difficult to do the work you need to do. But, nonetheless, we will make this work. We're here to serve, and these are tough days. And we've got to get through this period successfully.
NNAMDISusan Johnson, that is not S's only concern. S also writes, "A key casualty has been gender equality, which was never strong to begin with. The organization structure remains antiquated, mainly based around men with non-working spouses who accompany them on postings around the world. Foreign Service women all are either single, married to another Foreign Service person or those with stay-at-home husbands.
NNAMDI"Women cannot have a career-oriented husband and stay in the system. Maybe it's no surprise, but when it comes to unaccompanied postings, more men than women are willing to leave their families for a year. And, of course, anyone who checks the box is on a fast track for promotion and plum assignments.
NNAMDI"It should be noted that while women make up about 50 percent of incoming officers, their representation at the top of the organization is slim." Susan Johnson?
JOHNSONWell, I also can...
NNAMDII'm not picking on you here.
JOHNSONYes. No. I will get to that question, but I wanted to just take this opportunity to go back on -- to the point of resources. One of the reasons that, you know, we have to make some very tough choices to staff up Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is because we don't have the people we need and the resources we need.
JOHNSONAnd during the '90s, both State Department and AID took about a 30 percent cut in personnel and resources, so we were very under-resourced and starved. And when these emergencies hit us, we had to scramble. And we're scrambling as best we can, and that's why the increase in personnel is very critical, as well as the training element.
JOHNSONBut let me get to the question about gender, which is one -- and I think many women in the Foreign Service have had concerns about and a certain amount of disappointment that the changes that were expected to take place seem to not have really been realized.
JOHNSONAnd I can say there's been a huge difference since I joined the Foreign Service 30 years ago in the numbers of women joining and even in the numbers of women, let's say, in Senior Foreign Service at the top. But it's still not commensurate with what I think expectations were. About -- I think it's about 25 percent of the Senior Foreign Service is female, whereas it really should have been…
NNAMDIHas it made a difference that three of our secretaries of state over the course of the past 15 years have been women?
JOHNSONI don't think it has. You know, Foreign diplomats have asked that, and it seems to have led to the more women ambassadors from other countries coming to Washington. That's one conclusion some have drawn. But we have to differentiate between the number of women serving in the State Department as non-career in non-career positions versus what's happened to the career service.
JOHNSONThese changes take times, depends on whether you look at the glass half-full or half-empty. But the points that the caller was making, several of them, are, I think, unfortunately, true in many ways. If a woman wants to take some of these unaccompanied posts, it's tougher in many ways. And if you want to be married to and have a spouse with a career, that's very tough.
JOHNSONAnd I can speak from personal knowledge because my spouse had a career, and that resulted in about 10 years of separation. And it's a choice you have to make. I wouldn't want to put my choice on anyone else. It's a very tough one.
NNAMDII want to talk about the skills and talents a successful foreign officer would need today. But, first, I need to take some of our telephone calls. So allow me to go to Arague (sp?) in Beltsville, Md. Arague, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ARAGUEYes. This is Arague (word?). Amb. Susan, thank you for coming to this program. My question is, the -- when the ambassador is nominated to any country, a profile will be submitted to that country head of state and then -- or foreign minister. They accept it after they go through a lot of questions and answers. Then the ambassador will be nominated and will be accepted to those countries.
ARAGUEBut, recently, I think as far as, since Reagan administration, it started from that point, as I remember, then the United States assigned ambassadors, sometimes just nominated ambassadors on the spot without any country who are receiving or accepting that ambassadorship, wouldn't that create a big problem from the public viewpoint because they're just assigned, just nominated? That is my question...
NNAMDIYou're saying that ever since the Reagan administration, the U.S. no longer sends profiles of diplomats to the government of the countries to which those diplomats are going to be posted? Oh, Arague seems to be gone. But that was my...
ARAGUENo. I am here.
NNAMDIOh. That was my understanding of the question you're raising.
ARAGUEYes. That's exactly (unintelligible) that's my...
NNAMDIOkay. Susan Johnson?
JOHNSONWell, I -- if I -- I'm not sure I completely understood it, but we certainly still follow and subscribe to the international diplomatic practice of getting agrement. So once the United States has gone through our domestic process of nominating and getting Senate approval of an ambassadorial nomination, we have to seek agrement from the host country to which that person would be sent.
JOHNSONAnd I'm not sure if that's what the caller has been calling about, but that's still very much part of the mix and part of the practice.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Talking about the skills and talents a successful foreign officer would need today, Matthew, you've served in both a country at war and in a country with a fairly peaceful -- at a fairly peaceful European post. If you were in charge of evaluating Foreign Service applicants, what skills and characteristics would you be looking for?
ASADAWell, I think they do need to have that critical insight and ability to analyze and process information. And, to go back to something that Amb. Munter had said before, we have these procedures for taking in candidates, and the procedures have actually changed in the last 10 years since I've been in the Foreign Service.
ASADAWe're looking at a more well-rounded -- we're looking at the whole candidate approach, as what they call it. And so we're seeing, like, have they served in leadership positions? Do they have relevant regional experience? Do they speak languages? All these things before were -- that were not factored in are now being taken into consideration. And I think, actually, one of the key components would be a action-oriented nature.
ASADAAll these places overseas -- again, whether it's in war zones, like Afghanistan and Pakistan, or whether it's, like, in India -- are going to require people that can come up with initiatives, that they can find partners and allies to build those coalitions and they can successfully execute and implement those actions and those programs. So program management becomes -- and action-orientedness becomes much more important, moving forward.
NNAMDIHere is Fatima in Chantilly, Va. Fatima, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIHi. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FATIMAYes. I want to, you know, talk as a spouse of a Foreign Service officer. We were in Iraq in 1986, '87 when there was a war with Iran. And sometimes they go after the spouses. I know we worked with the embassy over there with U.S. Information Agency at that time. It was called (word?). And the Iraqi -- you know, Saddam Hussein, my personal file disappeared twice.
FATIMAAnd since I spoke the language, I knew that there were people who were working for the Iraqi intelligence. One of them was not showing up because she was picked up by them. And when they said to me I was at the intelligence in Arabic, that sounds exactly as cemetery. So she corrected herself right away. The other thing is spouses, sometimes we live in homes that have guards with machine guns in front of them.
FATIMAAnd that can be very disturbing. It happens when you are in countries in the Middle East.
NNAMDICameron Munter, how do you deal with the situation, such as what Fatima is describing?
MUNTERCould you summarize? The connection was not all that good for me. So, Kojo, if you could summarize the question.
NNAMDIShe is saying she is the spouse of a Foreign Service officer, and when they were stationed in Iraq, that she was targeted by the government of Iraq. They had a file on her, and somehow the file somehow disappeared. And she also made the point that if you happen to be a Foreign Service officer who has an armed guard in front of your home, that sends a certain kind of message.
MUNTERYeah, I think we are living in a world where these kinds of restrictions are just the way it's going to work. There are countries in the world where you have security limits on what you can do. And when we talk about getting out and getting into the culture and getting to know people, we do that advisedly knowing that the days -- or at least the -- a myth of the days when you had unlimited access to people, those days are probably over in most places.
MUNTERSo, to join, you have to be very careful about how you act. You're a representative of the United States. And if there's an intelligence issue, you have to be very, very careful. And the face we show to the rest of the world with an armed guard, sure, we prefer not to have that, but we have to look after the safety of our people.
ASADAI just wanted to say -- I want to, again, thank Fatima and Joanne for their service as well. Again, being a spouse of a foreign service officer is part of the service, is part of going overseas. It's part of bringing your children, your family there. And these family members go through a lot, and I think the Department of State has gotten much better in recognizing that.
ASADAWe have services for our spouses when members are sent for unaccompanied assignments. We have a lot more attention for children in the foreign service than we did before because of these unaccompanied assignments as well. And, finally, I think we need to acknowledge that the definition of family has changed in the last 10 years.
ASADAAgain, we have a much more diverse foreign service. We have, you know, same-sex households. We have unmarried partners. And all of that is part of the foreign service family. And we're greater, and we're richer because of that.
NNAMDIFatima, thank you very much for your call. This email we got from Henry. "Is there an age limit for people joining the Foreign Service? And if there is, why? I'm a retiree interested in joining up."
JOHNSONThere is an age limit, which is, as I understand it, 59 1/2. The mandatory...
JOHNSONFifty-nine-and-a-half. No. I say that because the retirement, mandatory retirement age is 65. And if you want to be in the foreign service long enough, both for yourself and for the service, to have it make sense or to invest into any kind of pension or anything else, you have to be in at least five years and a bit. So that's the current age limit.
NNAMDIJust time for one more quick email from Jim in Arlington. "Even if Foreign Service officers announce their intentions openly, how do they gather information, make friends and steep themselves in the culture without being accused of espionage?" Cameron Munter, you have about 30 seconds.
MUNTERYeah, look, what we're doing is being as honest and as open representatives of the United States as we can. It's a two-way street. We exhibit ourselves as the products of American culture, and we want to learn openly with them. One of the great cultural advantages we have is that we're open people. You talk to people as you would any of your friends. That's how you learn. And the people who are going to trust you will trust you because of who you are.
NNAMDICameron Munter is U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. He joined us by phone from New York. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDISusan Johnson is president of the American Foreign Service Association. Susan, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIMatthew Asada is a board member of the aforementioned AFSA, American Foreign Service Association. He has served in Pakistan, Germany, India and Washington, D.C. Matthew, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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