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why i resigned from the u.s. foreign service

  1. Why I Resigned From the U.S. Foreign Service
    By John Brown

    Last Friday afternoon, as I watched the horrid images of the first "shock and awe" U.S. bombing blitz against Baghdad, which doubtless brought terror to millions of innocent civilians, my feelings of outrage at the Bush administration were joined by a sense of relief that was perhaps inappropriate at such a shameful moment in our history. I was relieved that, eleven days before, I had submitted my resignation from the U.S. foreign service.

    Numerous circumstances led to my resignation, but there were two main reasons. First, I believed that U.S. President George W. Bush had failed to present a convincing case to Americans and the world that massive force should be used against Iraq at this time. Second, I felt an obligation as an American to speak out against this presidential failure to justify a questionable policy.

    My doubts about the president's policy began in earnest in the fall of last year. A Sept. 7 New York Times article, "Bush Aides Set Strategy to Sell Policy on Iraq," drew my special attention. In it, White House chief of staff Andrew Card Jr. said the administration waited until after Labor Day to kick off its plans to persuade the public of the necessity of war against Iraq because "from a marketing point of view you don't introduce new products in August." The idea of war as a product to be sold appalled me.

    Subsequent readings of press and government statements did not convince me of the administration's arguments for war.

    Indeed, I felt they were not coherent arguments at all, but base propaganda. The crudest propagandistic techniques were in evidence: the constant repetition of words and slogans (ranging from "regime change" to "liberating the Iraqi people") without making an intellectually valid case; the demonization of opponents of the war, from Baghdad to Paris, rather than a solid refutation of their views; the appeal to atavistic emotions such as fear of outsiders and shadowy enemies instead of the use of consistent logic and clear reason.

    It was clear to me that this vulgar propaganda was directed not only to the world, but to Americans as well.

    The eloquent Feb. 27 resignation letter of my foreign service colleague John Brady Kiesling (whom I'd never met) made a strong impression. "The policies we are now asked to advance," he wrote, "are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson."

    The president's press conference on March 6 was the straw that broke the camel's back. Speaking to a docile press in a faux imperial White House setting, red carpet and all, his scripted performance was a disastrous effort to explain why the United States should be ready to attack Iraq at this time. Tom Shales, the intelligent TV commentator for The Washington Post, wondered if the president "may have been ever so slightly medicated."

    After the press conference I could not see myself continuing with the State Department, knowing that I had done nothing against a stupid war. I sat in front of my computer for many hours to write a resignation letter. By Monday, March 10, I had had enough of staring at draft after draft on the monitor. I realized that if I didn't send the resignation letter I'd never be able to get down to serious work.

    So, eyes shut, I pressed the "enter" button on my computer and sent off the letter as an e-mail to the secretary of state, with a copy to the media.

    Below is the text of the letter:


    March 10, 2003

    Dear Mr. Secretary:

    I am joining my colleague John Brady Kiesling in submitting my resignation from the Foreign Service (effective immediately) because I cannot in good conscience support President Bush's war plans against Iraq.

    The president has failed:

    To explain clearly why our brave men and women in uniform should be ready to sacrifice their lives in a war on Iraq at this time;

    To lay out the full ramifications of this war, including the extent of innocent civilian casualties;

    To specify the economic costs of the war for ordinary Americans;

    To clarify how the war would help rid the world of terror;

    To take international public opinion against the war into serious consideration.

    Throughout the globe the United States is becoming associated with the unjustified use of force. The president's disregard for views in other nations, borne out by his neglect of public diplomacy, is giving birth to an anti-American century.

    I joined the Foreign Service because I love our country. Respectfully, Mr. Secretary, I am now bringing this calling to a close, with a heavy heart but for the same reason that I embraced it.


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