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Mike Pompeo has skills to bring American diplomacy back to life

Victoria Sarno Jordan

Of all of CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s qualifications to serve as secretary of the State Department, one of the most meaningful in terms of his relationship with the career foreign service may, improbably, be his service as a U.S. Army officer.

From my own 32 years as an American diplomat, including a stint as deputy executive secretary on the seventh floor of the State Department, I observed that Secretaries George Shultz and Jim Baker, both Marine Corps officers, had a genuine appreciation for the work of the officers who staff the bureaus, just as they had for their troops in combat.

{mosads}As a graduate of West Point and having served as a U.S. Army officer, Pompeo will have a similar in-bred instinct to reach far down into the bureaucratic structure and make every part of the State Department feel that they are, once again, considered a valued part of his team implementing our country’s foreign policy.

As the secretary of the State Department involves deputy assistant secretaries, country directors, desk officers and foreign affairs specialists in formulating policy options and providing in-depth background information to him, morale will soar.

As he prepares for his confirmation hearings, Pompeo can begin sending signals that he values the expertise of the foreign service, including by going down to key bureau offices to receive briefings by assistant secretaries and officer directors, and requesting memos on specific subjects, such as North Korean negotiating history, or protection of the most vulnerable embassies and consulates. In doing this, he will tear down the perception of a fence keeping the professional staff away from the secretary’s suite.

Other similar opportunities might include visiting the State Department’s 24-hour operation center, known as the “Watch,” that represents the first-alert capability that will call the secretary any time a crisis develops, inviting the leadership of the American Foreign Service Association to outline issues affecting employees, and taking a trip out to the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, where the agency’s highly respected language training program is implemented along with numerous other specialized courses.

The work that sets the foreign service apart, as is the case with the CIA, are the assignments that officers and staff fulfill at embassies around the globe. While there is a greater appreciation now about the risks and hardships faced by U.S. government employees and their families abroad, the ongoing threats of terrorism make day-to-day life far different than previous perceptions of diplomatic receptions and placid circumstances.

Perhaps the single most important action Pompeo could take if confirmed would be to publicly acknowledge the numerous achievements of career officers in managing crises, be they political revolution or rampant disease pandemics such as Ebola, reporting from the field on political and economic situations, and stressing his view of the essential role of U.S. Embassy staff and the consular service in protecting Americans abroad. This would uplift the professional officer corps, and at the same time, restore interest in young people to take the foreign service entry exam.

What would be incredibly meaningful would be a reference in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee calling attention to the sacrifices that the foreign service has made in terms of lives lost from terrorism, warfare and other risks that American diplomats have faced, and have increased exponentially in recent decades.

To prepare for this role, I would encourage Pompeo to go down to the State Department’s diplomatic entrance late in the evening when all the visitors and nearly all the employees are gone. There, he can privately spend time before the two large marble tablets on which are engraved the names of all foreign service personnel who have lost their lives abroad since Benjamin Franklin and the representatives of the Committee of Correspondence (the forerunner of the modern American diplomatic service) who went abroad even before the Declaration of Independence.

Like the wall of stars at CIA, it is the place of ultimate tribute for the ultimate sacrifice. When I was sworn in as a foreign service officer in 1967, there was only one marble tablet that was about half filled with names from the first 191 years of our country’s existence. In the last 50 years, that tablet has been filled, as was a second one, along with several other side plaques. As a member of the generation of officers who served in Vietnam, our numbers inscribed on those marble tablets are high.

Every member of the State Department at home and abroad will be waiting to see if a confirmed Secretary Pompeo, through his words and actions, will embrace the role as the leader of the foreign service. Everything that was inculcated in him at West Point and as a military officer has prepared him for this role.

Kenneth Quinn served as U.S. ambassador to Cambodia during the Clinton administration and as deputy U.S. ambassador to the Philippines during the Reagan administration. He spent more than 30 years as a career foreign service officer with the U.S. State Department.

Tags Americans Congress Diplomacy foreign service Global Affairs Government International Mike Pompeo Military National security State Department United States

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