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Honoring our Diplomats on "Foreign Service Day"

Original post made by Scott Kilner, Leland Manor/Garland Drive, on May 1, 2020

Today, May 1, is "Foreign Service Day," honoring the service of America's professional diplomats to our country.

Few Americans outside our nation's capital may know about this day. However, last fall millions of citizens DID watch with admiration as Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and other Foreign Service Officers fulfilled their oath to defend the Constitution during testimony before Congress. Those televised hearings gave Americans an excellent look at the patriotism and non-partisan professionalism of our career diplomats, who normally toil behind the scenes.

Today, these same diplomats and their colleagues across a pandemic-stricken world are working around the clock to bring home tens of thousands of Americans stranded abroad. However, the Foreign Service and the Department of State suffer from severe staffing vacancies, especially in senior positions.

For 32 years, I represented our country abroad in nine overseas postings, including Afghanistan, Turkey and the former East Germany. Today I urge all Americans and their elected representatives, on whose behalf our diplomats proudly work, to support the Foreign Service of the United States.

Scott F. Kilner
Consul General (Ret.)

Comments (8)

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2020 at 1:21 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2020 at 5:43 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Curious
a resident of Community Center
on May 3, 2020 at 8:35 am

What are the actual duties of a foreign diplomat?

Are they primarily ambassadors and/or government representatives in various embassies & consulates?

It is my understanding that ambassadors are chosen by the president so are there politically based (i.e. biased) obligations & perspectives as well?

Lastly, how much power do ambassadors actually have? I am assuming their roles are more along the lines of international public relations & promoting state department perspectives rather than actual policy implementation as policy implementation is usually left to the executive & legislative branches of US government.

Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 3, 2020 at 10:17 am


My impression is that they had more autonomy and authority before global electronic communications systems, since they couldn’t wait for decisions from their bosses.

These days they do seem to have been reduced to just hosting dinner parties, without the authority to do much else. That’s why nobody cares that they’re just political donors and cronies and somebody’s nephew.

Posted by Scott Kilner
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 3, 2020 at 3:13 pm

Dear Curious,
Dear Family Friendly,

Thank you very much for your questions. I'm pleased to provide some perspective.

First, a few words on terminology. An EMBASSY is a diplomatic post in the capital of a foreign country. The United States has an Embassy in almost every country in the world. A CONSULATE is a diplomatic post in any city outside the capital. The head of an embassy is the Ambassador; the head of a Consulate is a Consul General.

Ambassadors are the most senior U.S. Government representative to the government of the country to which they are assigned. An Ambassador is the personal representative of the American President, but is also supposed to represent the United States government in its entirety: all three branches and both political parties. In this sense, Ambassadors are supposed to be non-partisan, as are all members of their staff. Historically roughly one-third of ambassadors are "political appointees" from outside the State Department; about two-thirds are career Foreign Service Officers from the State Department. Under President Trump, however, the percentage of outside political appointees has risen to an all-time high of more than 50 percent. Also, many ambassadorships to important countries have been left vacant for long periods of time under the current administration.

It is important to understand that the Ambassador is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of embassy staffing. Under the Ambassador there are many career diplomats -- a few hundred at our largest embassies -- who carry out the day-to-day work of the embassy or consulate. This work is amazingly broad, and it would take pages describe fully. But here is a sample, to give you an idea:

-- An Embassy's Consular Section helps any American citizen who needs assistance while traveling or living abroad. During the current pandemic, Consular Officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates have helped tens of thousands of Americans return safely to the United States. They will replace lost passports; they will find doctors for Americans who get sick; if an American is arrested, they will ensure that that person's legal rights are respected; they will work with local police to find Americans who go missing.

-- In an Embassy's Economic and Commercial Sections, professional diplomats help U.S. companies penetrate foreign markets, promoting U.S. trade and investment; they work to resolve trade disputes and ensure fair treatment for U.S. companies. This part of an Embassy also works on health and environmental issues, including the fight against infectious diseases and climate change.

-- An Embassy's Political Section works to promote human rights and religious freedom in the country to which they are assigned. In zones of conflict, they work to resolve disputes in a manner consistent with U.S. interests. They work to promote democracy and free and fair elections. They work with host governments in the fight against terrorism and organized crime.

-- The Public Affairs Section is that part of an Embassy that speaks to the general public of the host country, rather than to government officials. They work with local newspapers, radio and television to get America's story out to the general public. They work to promote media freedom in the host country. They also work to promote American culture overseas, and well as educational exchanges with American universities.

Finally, with respect to an Ambassador's (or an Embassy's) autonomy, it is true that policy decisions are generally made in Washington. The Embassy's role is to carry out Washington's instructions, but that "guidance from headquarters" can be quite broad and general -- giving embassies considerable latitude to work out the details. Also, because the Embassy is most familiar with the host country (i.e. our "eyes and ears on the ground"), Ambassadors continually make recommendations to Washington on the best tactics to achieve our policy goals. In other words, while Washington has the final say, there is continuous two-way communication between "headquarters" and our embassies overseas.

I hope this information is helpful. I would be pleased to respond to any further questions.


Scott Kilner

Posted by Curious
a resident of Community Center
on May 4, 2020 at 9:03 am

In terms of diplomatic assignments, which ones carry the most prestige?

I am assuming that being assigned to a modern, industrial country (i.e. Great Britain or any advanced western European country along with Japan) trumps being assigned to a backwards 3rd world country with high illiteracy/public health problems and unstable despotic governments.

Personally speaking and in lieu of future advancement/promotional possibilities, I would not want to be assigned to a developing dictator-run country in Africa, SE Asia or Latin America/Caribbean...England most likely tops the list in terms of overall desirability.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 6, 2020 at 1:05 pm

Check out US Foreign Aid on Wikipedia. It provides a picture over a period up to 2017 of what major countries are getting foreign aid, and how that amount shifts by year. US Foreign Aid helps distinguish those countries that are getting a special boost from the US - most in Africa and Eastern Europe. Those countries have special problems which have a lot of political tension within those countries.

In addition the world is changing with the consolidation of the European Union, and now the Brexit issue. The Soviet Union broke up in 1991 and those countries have different issues relative to energy sourcing, food production, and general safety. Russia is now on contract with the Ukraine for five years to help with the oil pipeline that is feeding through - now to Germany.

Posted by Scott Kilner
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 6, 2020 at 2:46 pm

Dear Curious,

Regarding your question about which assignments carry the most "prestige", there is no answer that applies to everyone. For career Foreign Service Officers (like I was), assignments that present the biggest challenges are generally the best for one's career. So, working in a very difficult place like Afghanistan or Iraq or Libya is more likely to get you promoted than would an assignment in London or Paris. Living in a big European capital can be interesting and good for a family. Our diplomats in such places do have a lot of work to do with those governments. But those "comfortable" assignments are not as good for one's career advancement.

FYI, the vast majority of Foreign Service Officers work in very challenging environments, where you would probably not want to go on a vacation. The image of diplomats as simply attending fancy receptions in big European capitals is a caricature that bears no relationship to reality.

Thanks for your question.


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