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American Diplomacy
Commentary & Analysis
Summer 2017

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On May 5, Ambassador (ret) Thomas E. McNamara, a Board member of American Diplomacy Publishing, received the prestigious Foreign Service Cup from the Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired organization in Washington, D.C. to honor his many years of service to and support for United States diplomacy. In his remarks, Ambassador McNamara emphasized challenges to recognition of diplomatic service as critical to U.S. national security. He pointed out the urgent need to address not only supporters of diplomacy but also the majority of Americans who are misinformed and skeptical about the strength and accomplishments of diplomacy in American history. We warmly congratulate him on this award.
-American Diplomacy Publishers Board President Ambassador (ret) W. Robert Pearson


Observations on Receiving the 2017 Foreign Service Cup
by Thomas E. McNamara

Thank you very much. Thank you, Ambassador Chacon. Thank you, Ambassador Ewing, I thank also the DACOR committee, Ambassador Harrop, and the officers and my fellow members of DACOR for this award. I am truly grateful. To have my name on a list headed by Mr. Foreign Service, Loy Henderson, is a great honor. It is an award that is particularly important to me because it comes from my colleagues in the Foreign Service, whom I have had the honor and pleasure of serving with over five decades.

Secretary Shannon, and friends and colleagues. In the few minutes available, I would like to take this occasion to make two brief observations on foreign policy and diplomacy, which I think deserve attention, and which deserve our action to correct an important problem.

First Observation
This audience of Foreign Service professionals knows all too well that in the generation, since the cold war ended, foreign policy and its primary implementation tool, diplomacy, have been devalued in the minds of the American public. There is no doubt that foreign policy and diplomacy do not have the public support they had during the Cold War. This is not a partisan problem, neither in its origins nor in its eventual correction. It is a national problem. The American people simply do not value diplomacy highly. Everyone here bears some responsibility for this, whether as a member of the Foreign Service, the Civil Service, DACOR, AFSA, AAD, CAA, or other organizations. So, my words here today are a challenge to all of us.

This devaluation can be seen in the public's lack of knowledge and understanding of diplomacy—which has never been very deep, even during the Cold War. But during that 45-year struggle, the public understood that diplomacy was important in securing American interests. The public certainly saw it as a more effective national defense than nuclear war. Diplomats, therefore, were understood to play a critical role in our national security and national defense. And indeed, we did.

That is far from the attitude of most Americans today. Rarely, if ever, do diplomats, our men and women not in uniform, receive expressions of gratitude from the public or our leaders for our efforts and sacrifices. Ironically, this comes as my generation ends our careers in which we have been killed by hostile action at rates far higher than in prior generations. Proof of that is a few feet away, on the plaques at the C Street entrance.

Diplomacy is dismissed as a resource drain whose objectives are obscure and whose successes are secondary or tertiary. Congress through its words and actions reinforce this dismissive attitude, especially when it comes to budget expenditures. This is because attitudes in the Congress, over time, reflect public attitudes. We are, after all, a representative democracy, and those representatives are attuned to the electorate. There are many examples of this mutually reinforcing downward cycle—none of it good for our national security.

One powerful example, which is emblematic of our situation, is the following. The House Appropriations Committee voted in 2011 to remove the foreign affairs agency budgets (the 150 Account) from the national security budget, where it had been since stere was a national security budget. That allowed members to fulfill an election promise that they would fully fund national security. But it let them cut the foreign affairs budgets, which they continue to do.

This delusion is now institutionalized in the House of Representatives. It is part of the beggaring of foreign policy through budget cuts. Congress's persistent and consistent message to the public is: military force counts; diplomacy is a waste of money. The Appropriations Committee's benighted and destructive action is symptomatic of a distorted vision of a central pillar of national security—foreign policy and diplomacy. Congressional disregard for diplomacy and its fascination with force undermine national security.

The foreign affairs community and our allies are not alone in recognizing this serious weakening of our security. Several Secretaries of Defense and multiple four-star military leaders have called attention to it because they consider that it weakens not just diplomacy. It puts additional burdens on the military, which has the money, but not the mission or the expertise. Yet, the situation continues, and without determined counter-action, will not change.

Second Observation
My second observation relates to the mistake we, diplomats, are making in our response to this devaluation. Many of you have, as I have, given speeches, attended conferences, served on panels, and published papers on foreign policy and diplomacy. We have called diplomacy, as we should, the nation's first line of defense, or as Walter Lippmann correctly called foreign policy, the "Shield of the Republic." The mistake is that we essentially preach to the choir. We talk at these events to those who know, and are interested and involved in foreign affairs (members of CFR, WACA, USIP, USAC, AAD, CAA, etc.).

It is important to speak to the choir, of course. But, in the current situation, if I may continue the metaphor, when the parishioners are losing their beliefs and leaving the pews empty, it is important to change course, and to proselytize. To proselytize we must speak to a different audience, one we have failed to address adequately. That audience is composed of the unbelievers, the skeptics, the uninformed, and the misinformed among the American public. Unfortunately, when it comes to diplomacy, that includes most Americans. In this arena, we have been largely absent.

The message we have is an excellent one. The history and practice of American diplomacy is a great success story. We have all heard it said that American diplomats are not equal to the task and that they get taken to the cleaners when they negotiate. That is pure nonsense. When I hear that, I ask the critics to explain how thirteen weak, squabbling, disunited colonies on the eastern shore of a wilderness continent began an experiment in government in 1776, and 175 years later were the first ever global superpower. One of the central reasons was skillful diplomacy, which created and took advantage of opportunities to expand and strengthen the nation.

Within the first 125 of those years, when Teddy Roosevelt was President, we were recognized as one of the world's major powers. We gained that recognition without a standing army -- the only country to become a major power without a standing army. Thus, we had to rely more heavily on our diplomats to get to that milestone and to keep us there. Our diplomats did not fail us.

Our diplomatic success did not end in 1945 with our superpower status; it continued. The Cold War was first and foremost a diplomatic success. Yet today, Congress's persistent and consistent message to the public is: military force counts; diplomacy is a waste of money.

We can and must tell the story of American diplomacy at the grass-roots level to make a difference. We explain American policy and diplomacy to other nations with great skill. We must do the same here at home. Foreign affairs organizations, like the ones I mentioned, need to unite, join hands, coordinate and cooperate in responding to this challenge. They need to proselytize like missionaries to disbelievers, not like bishops to their flocks. The time to organize and plan is now.

A Step in The Right Direction
This is the serious challenge that I see before all of us here today. Let me close by telling you about one effort underway to reach that grass-roots audience.

The United States Diplomacy Center, at the 21st Street entrance to the State Department, has as its mission to open a museum and education center that will invite the average American to come in and learn about the high value of American diplomacy in today's world and in American history. Ordinary tourists will be our main visitors. The Diplomacy Center is on their way to, or return from, the Vietnam, Korean War, and Lincoln memorials. Visiting bus-loads of high school and college students, and their teachers can come in and participate in diplomatic simulations and exercises. The Center will reach out, to their campuses and classrooms around the nation with modern communications technology for long-distance instruction. You can walk through the Pavilion of the Center, as you leave today.

To be successful, however, the Diplomacy Center needs your awareness of its mission, your support, and your commitment to its goals and objectives. How to Start? If State's employees, both Foreign Service and Civil Service, support the Center, it will succeed. If you urge foreign affairs organizations of which you are members to reach out to that large, unnoticed, and unappreciated audience, they can make a difference. As I said, now is the time to act.

Thank you.bluestar


Author Thomas E. McNamara has served as Assistant Secretary of State for political-military affairs, Ambassador to Colombia, Ambassador at Large for counterterrorism, and Special Assistant to President George H.W. Bush.





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