At the American Foreign Services Association day at the U.S State Department on Friday, I got to ask John Heffern, Principal Assistant Deputy Secretary, and a career officer, about what retired Foreign Services Officers could and might tell their friends around the world to make clear that America’s institutions are not crumbling. (See my prior general post on the need for this kind of outreach through international networks of professionals and friends)
I did the best I could to reconstruct his reply, so this is not an exact quote:
First, I would say that retired Foreign Service Officers can say, write, or do anything.
I would urge you to be vocal on US values, on the Constitution, on what we do internationally.
Tell people that there is not going to be chaos, that our institutions are not going to crumble.
Tell them to watch what we as a country say and do. Judge us by what we do, not by what might happen. Tell them that this kind of frank debate is what we do.
Our global role is not going to go away. The American people are vibrant and look outwards.
I would ask that you avoid name-calling. Rather be positive in your description, and tell people how important it is to remember that most Americans agree with the essential bi-partisan consensus that has stood for more than 40 years in support of NATA and our commitments.
I would ask that you help us get that word out as much as you can
This pretty much speaks for itself — except that I would reiterate that this advice applies to all of us, particularly those who may have credibility in the rest of the world in our personal networks.
Lets think about how to engage as many people and organizations, academics, medicine, foundations, sports, media, business networks, professional organizations, in getting this kind of word out. Remember that very very few of our friends in other countries have anything like our record of stability, and are therefore less likely to be able to understand the strength of enduring institutions supported by long term consensus.
I will try and follow up later with more ideas on how to do this oureach this most effectively.
Its worth observing that State Dept officials are here in some ways in the same place as judges and judicial officials, all needing to both to be neutral while also being effective in communicating their organizations message in complex and freighted situations. We can learn from each other on how best to do this.
By the way, I was at the gathering at the State Dept to represent Collington, our retirement community, that has many residents who worked in the Foreign Service, and related international organizations.