- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Foreign Service

Somewhat like comedian Rodney Dangerfield, the Foreign Service men and women who staff America’s embassies and consulates around the world these days feel underappreciated and in need of a little more respect.

That may help to account for the tremendous cooperation we received when we set out at The Washington Times to tell their story like no daily newspaper has ever told it before.

State Department reporter Nicholas Kralev spent the better part of the past six months working on the project, which will appear as an occasional series of articles beginning very soon — hopefully tomorrow, depending on the flow of daily news.

During that time, Mr. Kralev has conducted interviews with five past and present secretaries of state and almost 300 other diplomats, both in Washington and at some 30 U.S. missions on five continents.

Seeking the broadest possible understanding of how our diplomats live and work, he has visited both the prestige capitals of Europe and Third World hardship posts such as Maputo, Mozambique.

The project was made possible in part through a generous grant from the Una Chapman Cox Foundation, a Washington-based organization dedicated to promoting a better understanding of the U.S. diplomatic service.

We made clear from the beginning that we had no agenda other than to put the Foreign Service under a microscope and to report what we found.

For Mr. Kralev, the interest in undertaking the project grew out of his travels around the world with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and the sometimes momentary glimpses into the lives of the permanent overseas staff that those visits provided.

“I realized that most people in this country don’t know what the Foreign Service is and what it does,” Mr. Kralev says. “Even in Washington, there are many misperceptions about the Foreign Service and what diplomats do — outdated notions left over from 1930s images of white men in striped pants.”

America’s other army’

The State Department was extremely helpful on the project, providing access to top officials who usually do not speak to the press.

Spokesman Richard Boucher sent a cable to the missions on Mr. Kralev’s schedule urging them to cooperate. The press officer at every post had already lined up a series of interviews by the time he arrived. Any requests for additional interviews were quickly honored.

Not everything that Mr. Kralev heard, however, can be reported. In some cases, diplomats provided off-the-record details of sensitive ongoing negotiations that could compromise American interests if published.

At every mission he visited, Mr. Kralev reports, the staff were thrilled that someone was interested in telling their stories. Over and over he heard people say that, while the U.S. military gets a great deal of much-deserved respect for the courageous work it does around the world, few realize that from the Vietnam War until the recent Iraq war, the Foreign Service suffered more casualties in the line of duty on an annual basis.

That fact inspired our logo for this series: “America’s other army.”

The diplomats “really feel that they don’t have a constituency in Washington and that people don’t appreciate the sacrifices they make for their country just by going to work every day in a building that could be blown up at any time,” Mr. Kralev says.

Their sacrifices will be one of the themes running through Mr. Kralev’s articles, which will be appearing on Mondays over the coming weeks, either on the front page or the Global Issues briefing page.

But Mr. Kralev will also take a hard-headed look at U.S. diplomacy, and the service’s critics will be heard from as well.

This is the kind of project that might not be possible to do for a newspaper in any other capital but Washington, which boasts the greatest concentration of U.S. and foreign diplomats anywhere in the world. It’s all part of the fun of being a newspaperman in this city.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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