The writer is a retired senior Foreign Service Officer who spent 25 years with the State Department as a science/economics officer. She is Asian-American. She feels strongly that our foreign affairs challenges require that we select the best individuals – at all levels – regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, or any other nonprofessional characteristic. – Ed.
I have always had a firm belief that "condescension" for some poor disadvantaged soul can be much more insulting than outright opposition – which usually tends to show your bigotry rather than their failure. If I am disliked or liked – I want it to be for myself and not my gender, my race, or my religion. The corollary is that I want to have earned my successes even if I have to take it on the chin for my gaffes and to have my "racial identity" be an irrelevant factor.
By the time the next Secretary is installed, it will have been 12 years and the tenures of three Secretaries of State since the last white male held the position. With each succeeding secretary, the incumbent president has attempted to "prove" something--to deliver a politico-social "message" about the United States, about U.S. foreign policy, about representative-inclusiveness. Thus we have had the "first" woman; the "first" African-American; the "first" African-American woman.
But this approach isn't foreign policy; this is central casting. And it leads to the question of the forthcoming Secretary of State.
What is next on the social/cultural personnel agenda for State? The first Hispanic (male or female)? The first Asian-American (male or female)? The first "differently abled" Secretary of State? The first Clinton?
So far as diversity is concerned, the Department of State has proved its point. Currently, approximately 28 percent of State's Civil Service/Foreign Service complement consists of minorities; almost 17 percent are African American. In 2008 Black Collegian listed State as a "preferred employer among diverse audiences" – the only government agency listed in the top 100 (and rated 11th). What more is required? Are we seeking "reserved" positions or never-mention-the-word "quotas" or set-asides for each group and subcategory?
Thus it was both pitiful and insulting for Secretary Rice to be cited in a September 2008 speech that there were too few blacks at the Department of State and that she "can go into a whole day of meetings at the Department of State and actually rarely see somebody who looks like me. And that is just not acceptable." Just what is her point? Is she arguing that by the nature of those around her are, they do not merit their positions?
That sounds like racist ideology to someone such as I who quite obviously, as an Asian woman, does not "look like" her.
Isn't it time for each individual to succeed – or fail – on their own? To succeed as John Jones, Lisa Jones, Chikae Green, Beyonce Black, Raoul Sanchez, Juinita Rameriz, See-ho Kim – or Teresa Tie-liang Chin. Or to fail on personal merits and not as the representative of any gender, race, or ethnic/religious group.
One must ask about the objectives of diversity (and its consequences) since a dispassionate observer cannot honestly say that the recent range of Secretaries has left the world (or the Department of State) gasping with retrospective awe for their brilliance, either intellectual or bureaucratic. Nor can we say that any of the recent harvest of Secretaries of State has made a defining difference in the management/resolution of any of the current batch of major problems: the Middle East; Iraq; Iran; Afghanistan; North Korea; Russia; China; India/Pakistan.
Likewise, even political partisans will admit that our two most effective Secretaries of State in the past generation have been the pale males, George Shultz and James Baker. Secretary Shultz maneuvered with Soviet interlocutors to lead seminal bilateral arms control agreements during the closing years of the Cold War. Secretary Baker through guile and inducements assembled a massive military coalition under a UN mandate to reverse Iraqi aggression in Kuwait.
So what about those white males? Can we bring them (figuratively) out of the closet? Or will the current-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates be the best Secstate we never have?