Thursday, April 18, 2013

Political Appointees, Diplomats, & Boyd's A Good Man in Africa

 From last week’s Washington Post editorial, “Presidents are breaking the U.S. Foreign Service:”
…What accounts for the Foreign Service being marginalized? The most visible factor is the overwhelming — and growing — presence of political appointees in mid-level and top leadership positions at the State Department.
For all their merit, political appointees are short-term officials, subject to partisan, ­personality-specific pressures. They do not notably contribute to the institution’s longer-term vitality, and their ascension creates a system inherently incapable of providing expert, nonpartisan foreign policy advice…
Since 1975, the number of top leadership positions … filled by career Foreign Service officers has fallen from 61 percent in 1975 to 24 percent in 2012. Only five of the 35 special envoys, representatives, advisers and coordinators appointed during President Obama’s first term were Foreign Service officers.

For a hilarious, satirical novel about life as a diplomat (in this case, a British diplomat), try A Good Man in Africa by William Boyd -- one of my top ten favorite novels of all time:
In the small African republic of Kinjanja, British diplomat Morgan Leafy bumbles heavily through his job. His love of women, his fondness for drink, and his loathing for the country prove formidable obstacles on his road to any kind of success.
But when he becomes an operative in Operation Kingpin and is charged with monitoring the front runner in Kinjanja’s national elections, Morgan senses an opportunity to achieve real professional recognition and, more importantly, reassignment.
After he finds himself being blackmailed, diagnosed with a venereal disease, attempting bribery, and confounded with a dead body, Morgan realizes that very little is going according to plan...

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