From the peanut fields of Alabama to the Foreign Service

On this week’s episode of “Conversations with Nicholas Kralev,” Jimmy Mauldin, a Foreign Service officer currently serving in India, talks about his unlikely path from the peanut fields of Alabama to American diplomacy, and about raising a family in the Foreign Service.

Can diplomacy be taught?

On this week’s episode of “Conversations with Nicholas Kralev,” meet the woman who is trying to change the State Department’s decades-long aversion to formal training: Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, director of the Foreign Service Institute.

The diplomatic doldrums

FPThe Republican-led House Appropriations Committee approved on July 24 an $8 billion cut for 2014 in the roughly $50 billion current international affairs budget. That same day, the House authorized a $5 billion reduction in the defense budget of over $600 billion — the latest reminder that many Republicans, and certainly some Democrats, don’t much value diplomacy or foreign aid. Why is that the case?

As it happens, I spent most of the spring interviewing congressional staffers and analyzing their bosses’ — and their own — attitudes toward diplomacy, the Foreign Service, and the State Department for a recently released study commissioned by the American Foreign Service Association. The study — based on interviews with 28 staffers, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate — concluded that those attitudes have improved in the past decade, but a high level of distrust remains between Foggy Bottom and members of both parties on Capitol Hill…
 
>> READ THE FULL STORY IN FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE

20,000 want to be U.S. diplomats each year

On this week’s episode of “Conversations with Nicholas Kralev,” the director-general of the U.S. Foreign Service, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, talks about recruiting, selecting and training America’s diplomats, and what it takes to maintain 275 diplomatic posts around the world.

Top U.S. public diplomacy official seeks to explain ‘return on investment’

Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Tara Sonenshine talks about the challenges Washington has faced in public diplomacy at home and abroad, and if it’s finally getting it right.

Sink or swim

FP
Imagine the following scenario: A 29-year-old restaurant manager becomes a U.S. diplomat. Five years later, he is appointed the founding director of the Arabian Peninsula office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), a major State Department program aimed at creating and strengthening civil society in a region vital to global stability.

Even though he is considered a good officer in general, the young diplomat has little idea how to do his new job. He speaks no Arabic and has never managed people or a budget outside a restaurant — let alone $2 million of taxpayers’ money. He has minimal knowledge of democracy promotion, institution-building, or grant-making, but he is expected to identify suitable NGOs in eight countries and award them grants to build an alternative to the authoritarian regimes across the Middle East…
 
>> READ THE FULL STORY IN FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE

Who qualifies to be a U.S. ambassador?

Most of us don’t think we are cut out to be doctors or engineers. Then why do so many of us believe we can be diplomats? Does one need training or a particular background to become a U.S. ambassador? I find myself asking these questions every time I hear about a failed non-career ambassador.

President Obama promised change in Washington, but he continued the decades-long tradition of dishing out ambassadorial posts to people whose only “qualifications” were their big donations to his election campaign. As I’ve written before, the American Academy of Diplomacy and the American Foreign Service Association have called him out on this disgraceful practice.

Foreign Service school adds 100 classrooms

Historically, the State Department hasn’t been a big champion of education and training — it has relied mostly on diplomats learning their craft on the job, and taking time for a course at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Arlington, Va., was long deemed almost futile.

The introductory A-100 class every new diplomats is required to take, has been shortened several times over the past two decades, and is now only five weeks long. Given that many Americans join the Foreign Service with no significant knowledge, background or experience in foreign affairs, it’s hard to understand how they can be prepared to represent the United States abroad in five weeks, before they arrive at their first posts.

Gay diplomats get key benefits

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued an order Thursday granting diplomatic passports, access to medical care and U.S. government jobs overseas to same-sex partners of U.S. diplomats.

The State Department released a statement by Mrs. Clinton, who worked from home after a bad fall late Wednesday in which she fractured an elbow. She is expected to have surgery within days, spokesman P.J. Crowley said. Thursday’s order marks a significant change in policy, and officials said it goes into effect immediately. The State Department will now cover the moving expenses of domestic partners of gay Foreign Service members on their way to a new assignment, as well as the cost of any emergency evacuation.