Saturday, March 1, 2003

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)


THE KIESLING LETTER: When a high-ranking Foreign Service officer publicly resigns because of a policy disagreement, it makes one take notice. There may be private-sector opportunities for those who leave government service, but don't kid yourself -- almost no one outside the government can shape policy as much as those in the executive branch. To leave that for reasons of principle is significant -- as the International Herald-Tribune notes, "It is rare... for a diplomat, immersed in the State Department's culture of public support for policy regardless of private feelings, to resign with this kind of public blast."

So I took the resignation of John Brady Kiesling, the political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Athens and a 20-year veteran of the Foreign Service quite seriously. Until I read the resignation letter. Here's the key paragraph:

"The sacrifice of global interests to domestic politics and to bureaucratic self-interest is nothing new, and it is certainly not a uniquely American problem. Still, we have not seen such systematic distortion of intelligence, such systematic manipulation of American opinion, since the war in Vietnam. The September 11 tragedy left us stronger than before, rallying around us a vast international coalition to cooperate for the first time in a systematic way against the threat of terrorism. But rather than take credit for those successes and build on them, this Administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely defeated Al Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally. We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government. September 11 did not do as much damage to the fabric of American society as we seem determined to so to ourselves. Is the Russia of the late Romanovs really our model, a selfish, superstitious empire thrashing toward self-destruction in the name of a doomed status quo?"

I hope he's right about Al Qaeda's strength (this should help), but the bombings in Bali, Kenya, and Tunisia suggest that this group remains a potent force and that Kiesling is exaggerating.

Which is the problem with the whole missive. There is some measure of truth in what Kiesling writes, but there is so much gross exaggeration and simplification that it makes it hard to take seriously.

Kiesling started his career at the Foreign Service in 1983 -- a year in which Ronald Reagan was receiving mass condemnation abroaf for branding the Soviet Union an "evil empire." The U.S. was applying extraterritorial sanctions against its NATO allies because of their cooperation with the Soviet gas pipeline. Hundreds of thousands of protestors were pressuring Western European governments not to install Pershing II missiles as a counter to Soviet intermediate-range missiles, instead pushing for a nuclear freeze. A much larger budget deficit (as a share of GDP) was ballooning, in part because of an increase in military spending that makes today's increases look like chump change.

Maybe he wrote this in a distraught state of mind, but in the end the letter reads like a 16-year old protesting his curfew to his parents.

posted by Dan on 03.01.03 at 03:27 PM