State of the Union 2010, Visualized!

The delivery of the annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress is, I can imagine, a good deal more complicated in our age of instant and ubiquitous media. It is no longer a speech to Congress, not even only a speech to America, but a speech to every citizen of every country in the world, every ally and every enemy of the United States.

Riding bike down Independence Avenue, on the South side of the National Mall that stretches from the Washington Monument to the National Capitol, one hour before Obama stepped to the podium, it was easy to feel alone. The quiet dark blanketing the monuments to democracy and halls government gave no indication of the energy and consequences of the events taking place but 6 blocks away.

Embassy of Iraq

The sun was shining brightly on the P Street entrance of the Iraqi Embassy today.

We can hope this is an auspicious sign. Hope.

The county’s Embassy, surprisingly easy to miss, is located on P Street, just East of the bustling Dupont Circle. This area of DC has the highest concentration of embassies of foreign governments – North of Iraq’s is what is called “the African Row,” and on the other side of Dupont Circle is a majority of the EU, stretching up Massachusetts Ave on Embassy Row.

Given the prime location of this embassy, and the fact that the US and Iraq must have not had diplomatic relations until only relatively recently (though I don’t know for sure), the history of this building must be worth exploring.

What is striking, as well, is the near complete anonymity of the Iraqi Embassy. There is not wall, no huge gate. Tall trees obscure the plain looking windows on the second floor. The nation’s flag hangs limply on the yard on P Street, and a small plaque hangs on the wall outside, hoping not to be noticed by the outside world. Apparently you don’t go there unless you have a good reason to.

Crowd Sourcing: Unlimited Wisdom

One of my most valuable assets is the brilliant, diverse network of friends, family, and colleagues around the world with a wealth of knowledge, experiences and beliefs. Technology lends itself to crowdsourcing, channeling this wisdom to solve a complex problem.

A recent email to this network evoked a wonderfully diverse and profound round of replies.

The question posed: What are the pros and cons of a career in the United States Foreign Service? Answers were informed by personal experience, life philosophies, deep caring, and perspectives on global politics. The following is a brief list of some of the major themes that emerged from this almost overwhelming flow of knowledge, wisdom, and advice.

If you have wisdom to add, by all means do!!

From the Wisdom Cloud

HEART

  • your heart already and absolutely knows what you are supposed to be doing.
  • Ultimately, we do not know the future. What happens to you could happen no matter where you are.  I am talking in terms of achievements, failures, disappointments, fantastic successes.
  • Don’t listen too much to others. Follow your own blessing. And if you are not sure, then take the most adventurous route. At least it will lead you into even newer and more unexpected areas of delight, inquiry, and mystery.
  • Trust your heart! and know that wherever you go it is right!
  • My advice is to just ride the wave as long as you can and live in the moment.

SERVICE

  • Like the title indicates I trust you could go into it consciously and be of SERVICE through it.
  • Working to help promote/develop new US foreign policies towards peaceful and inclusive co-existence that will avoid the ‘clash of civilization’ in the future.
  • Provided you think you can find a way within that Service to do your part in working to create a world where there is better communication and perhaps more understanding among the peoples of the world.
  • As much as I like you, I’m not nearly as concerned with what you want and what’s best for you as I am with what’s best for my country which I dearly love.  I want my country to be represented by someone who cares enough to be curious.  I want someone who takes the time to learn the languages of my fellow man and come to know something of the way he lives.  I want someone who is guided by reasoned empathy.  I want someone who can express himself with eloquence and humility. I want the face of my country to be one of kindness and intelligence…the face of someone who actually cares.  I want my fellow citizens of the world to identify the face of America with your face.
  • This is your Peace Corps – a wonderful opportunity to be of service and to teach by who you are.
  • So go catch your challenging dream if the idea of SERVICE is crucial to you. Just make sure you engage in the path less traveled to make co-operation rather than competition work.

PRO

  • We are better off if smart and thoughtful people like you join the Foreign Service.
  • It’s not a bad job to have in these tough economic times.
  • I have spoken to lots of people who work for the FCO (British version of the Foreign Service) and they all say that it is an interesting and fulfilling career.
  • Many of your colleagues will be smart.  Some of them will be very smart.
  • In short–and in theory–any specific country and regional knowledge you develop ought to be valued (although I don’t know if this is actually happening)
  • You will change jobs and maybe job descriptions every few years.  Our foreign affairs apparatus is large and you may even have opportunities for short postings outside of the State Department, if you are interested.
  • Of the FS Officers I have spoken to, they all (except one) said they don’t regret doing it and if given the choice again they would make the same decision
  • They all had incredible stories to tell.
  • They were all very happy with how the US Govt. had/has treated them and said they had very good benefits.
  • I do remember being excited by the challenges of the ambassador’s job: he could have been a true ambassador instead of a speaking head.(this is a mixed review, I guess…)
  • “It’s a career and something that I am excited about every day after nearly eight years.”
  • “I met a network of people who will be friends for life.”

  • “I met a network of people who will be friends for life.”

  • The real skill that officers develop and move from post to post is their ability to lead a diverse team.

CON

  • You’ll get moved around all over the place, and where you are posted may have nothing whatsoever to do with your interests or expertise.
  • You will also be expected to carry out US policy. No matter how much it stinks, that will be your job as a member of the foreign service.
  • Particularly when you are a FSO, you should realize that anything you write is subject to analysis, comment, and publicity.  This is the price of being a government official–especially in the Foreign Service.
  • Your life is not your own anymore.
  • Ergo, I would have loved to deal with someone like you, but you very well may find yourself in the company of, well…
  • (just stay clear or Iraq and Afghanistan)
  • Get used to writing in bullet points and sighing.
  • You probably won’t have time for your own projects.
  • Everyone single one of them said that if I was their child they would tell me never to do it.
  • One woman said it ended her marriage – one man said he was never able to have a healthy relationship.
  • Another person said it is really hard on your family – especially hard on kids because you move every four years or more.
  • The bureaucracy can feel stifling.
  • The early years can seem like a test of your patience.  Your first two tours (two years each) are “directed,” meaning you have some influence over your posting but ultimately you go and do where and what the Department needs.

NOT FOREVER

  • Keep in mind that this is not a lifetime commitment–you could give it a go and if it turns out not to be the right place for you, you can always leave.
  • And, it’s not your whole life and you may not be in that space for a long time, but you do have entrance into a very interesting service.
  • My personal opinion is – you can always quit if you don’t like it – it is the opportunity of a lifetime -right?!
  • Officers will often retire to think tanks, policy groups, or media outlets where their analytical skills, language abilities, and contact lists make them useful both in research and outreach activities.
  • I would probably only consider moving if a) I didn’t feel like I was moving forward within the Department and doing work that I considered meaningful; or b) saw an opportunity elsewhere that offered a _much_ greater opportunity to have an immediate impact on policy. 

EXPAT BUBBLE

  • On living in an expat bubble, that is really up to you. most folks do that by choice because of laziness or disdain for the “natives,” but there’s no reason that you have to follow their example. So you should not let that deter you.
  • Another person said that no matter where you go it is really hard to live out of the expat bubble.
  • I felt that there was a lot of room for the ambassador to engage with the community and intiate discussion and communication with the population.  However, he did not do this.  I remember being really dissapointed with how he seemed to simply spout Bush’s adgendas without being willing to engage in any discussion with us.
  • “Interacting with the locals/culture is part if the experience.  If you don’t do it than you really aren’t capitalizing on the experience and you aren’t sharing that part of your Americana with your host government colleagues/new found friends.”
  • There are plenty of posts where [FSO’s are isolated] is the case because the local culture is resistant to outsiders or because of significant security concerns – “By and large, however, I find that I am able to get out into the community and travel around the country with relative ease.”