Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Onward (and Upward) Assignment

Mrs. Valdysses and I will be headed to beautiful Beijing, China in 2012!

Between now and then is training, training, training....

Any Chinese-learning tips are appreciated.  I feel I've gotten over the hurdle of learning a foreign language, now to get over the hurdle of learning this foreign language.  Should be nothing, right?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Our Constituency

Much is made of the State Department's budget situation, especially in the current climate. Efforts at reducing waste, using funds efficiently and maximizing utility of what we have are everywhere, and for good reason -- no one can afford to be wasteful, especially when one is spending tax dollars. The State Department, like many other Federal agencies, is asking for more, expecting less, and planning on how to make the most of what we have. But it was not always like this...

 Congress authorizes our budget, and congress is not always seen as being very supportive of what we do. I think, from my limited experience, that congressional favor is a red herring. Congresspeople know full well the benefits of diplomacy, but diplomacy is often a hard sell. Our "constituency", as it were, does not exist. or at least that's what people keep telling me. I just don't buy it.

 The military has a network, and a constituency. Most everyone knows a few soldiers, and defense dollars bring jobs to every corner of the nation. Anyone with children knows their teachers, and anyone who's politically active has a chance to meet their representatives. These people stay in touch with their constituency on a daily basis. On the other hand, diplomats work overseas, and when they're back home they tend to live within 15 or so miles of D.C. Unless you live in D.C., or know someone from before they joined the foreign service, you're unlikely to feel much kinship. It doesn't help matters that we are stereotyped as effete, stripey-pantsed, high maintenance liberals.

 Here's the thing, though: your representative, excellent as she is, might care more about your jerk neighbor's interests than yours, if your jerk neighbor ccontributed more to her campaign. Your child's teachers at school are excellent, without a doubt, but they occasionally make their own decisions about what should and should not be taught to your children. Your military does very difficult work in very hostile places, but has little to no influence on the places you might actually want to go on vacation.

Your diplomats, faceless and high maintenance as we invariably are, work for you.

 If you wake up without a passport in an Italian jail, we will come help you. If your business needs parts made overseas, we can make that possible. If your cousin wants to move to the U.S., we can make that happen. We do these things because the laws you and your fellow citizens approved compel us to. We don't interpret those laws individually, and we aren't swayed by political moods or by personal politics. We do not make policy, we promote the will, the wishes, and the interests of your country throughout the world.

 So, the next time you have occasion to picture a diplomat, don't think of a privileged, rich man drinking cocktails at a gala in Europe, think of a former fighter pilot riding in a jeep to visit a scared American citizen in a sub Saharan jail. Think of a group of talented people working through the night to design a system whereby you can text money to red cross efforts in Haiti. Think of lawyers, nurses, soldiers, scholars and activists giving up their lives and careers in the U.S. to serve your interests in every corner of the globe. I can't agree with the idea that we don't have a constituency. The moment any part of your life has to do with someone or something outside of U.S. borders, you become our constituent. We will happily keep serving your interests, and the interests of our country, even if you never know us.

 So thank you, taxpayers, for making this great enterprise possible. I hope you know that you're getting your money's worth.