Monday, January 18, 2016

Inside a U.S. Embassy by Shawn Dorman (Book Review #105 of 2015)

Inside a U.S. Embassy: Diplomacy at Work, All-New Third Edition of the Essential Guide to the Foreign Service
This is my final review of books from 2015.

The State Department helps produce this book with the American Foreign Service Association as a marketing/recruitment piece for those interested in becoming Foreign Service Officers. It contains stories by FSOs in the different "cones" - Consular, Economic, Management, Political, or Public Diplomacy. Something like 25,000 people apply annually to join the 14,000 member FSO workforce around the world; last year the State Department had money or need to hire fewer than 300. For many aspirants, reading this book is as close as they will come to achieving their dream.

The book begins with an introduction to the Foreign Service and a bit of its history. Part I is a collection of profiles of specific people in embassies around the world, including Ambassadors, USAID reps, entry-level FSOs, and even locally-hired employees. Part II explains the process of becoming an FSO and being deployed, and features some day-in-the-life profiles giving examples of work. Part III is a collection of "one day journals, "day-in-the-life" stories written by FSOs highlighting their everyday routines including problems they've solve, challenges they face, and routine boredom they deal with. It gives details about their family life (many spouses work or volunteer for the embassy), workout routines, deployment history, etc. Part IV contains tales from the field -- interesting stories written by FSOs highlighting stresses (disasters and terrorist attacks), problems they solve, and people they meet.

The most interesting story is by an FSO in Macedonia in 1999, serving under Christopher Hill (later a negotiator with North Korea and Ambassador to Iraq).
"One summer midnight in the Balkans, an American ambassador walked into a (Kosovar Albanian) refugee camp to try to quell a riot and save the lives of Roma (gypsy) refugees under attack. He succeeded, and went home to bed. It wasn’t diplomacy around big tables in grand rooms. The U.S. embassy had no responsibility to intervene, and few who were not there ever heard about it. But the actions of Ambassador Christopher Hill highlight the power of the individual Foreign Service officer’s moral and physical courage...We never talked much about that night again—each day at Embassy Skopje brought too many new problems and issues connected with the Kosovo crisis. But I’ve come to realize that night was characteristic of much of our work in the Foreign Service: We confront so many unknowns, we have so little time, and— on scales large and small—the consequences of our actions and inactions can be so extraordinarily profound."

I give the book 4.5 stars out of 5. A must-read if you're interested in the Foreign Service. The individual day-in-the-life stories get a bit repetitive or dry, as they should-- this is real life.  

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