Commentary Magazine


Live Blog: Time to Restructure Our Embassies

President Obama’s speech is his neoconservative moment. While the President’s arrogance prevents him from acknowledging his predecessor in any honest way and his understanding of history—and Saddam’s extreme violence toward the Iraqi people—falls short, he is correct that it’s time to dispense with dictatorships and reach out to ordinary people.  Why then are American diplomats concentrated in embassies just in capitals or, in rare occasions, in one or two other consulates.  If the president and Secretary Clinton are serious about new diplomacy, it’s time for a fundamental reorganization: No longer should embassies be staffed with administrators and bureaucrats who seldom leave the embassy or the social circle of the expatriate community.  Some diplomats shine, but many other have grown complacent.  Rather, we should revert to the British model of decades past: If we want to understand a society, every town or city with more than 250,000 should have an American diplomatic presence. No need for cooks or administrative layers: Diplomats should purchase their own food—and meet the fruit vendors and butchers and ordinary people.  Diplomats will, of course, need security, but this is possible. They do, after all, live in apartments buildings in Cairo and among the public in Bahrain. Perhaps they will need security guards.  That’s fine: Divert money from the swimming-pool fund or save money by downsizing support staff.  The age of the typewriter is over.  If an ambassador or DCM doesn’t know how to use a word processor, they shouldn’t be representing the United States in the 21st century.  Certainly, reform and restructuring is a tough subject and will take much study and debate, but there’s no time like now to begin that debate.

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