Welcome Hannah Gurman (FPIP) (HuffingtonPost) and Host Michael K. Busch (MichaelKBusch) (ForeignPolicyInFocus)

The Dissent Papers: The Voices of Diplomats in the Cold War and Beyond

Bureaucrats are rarely celebrated for their aesthetic sensibilities. Indeed, the modern machinery of state seems to suffocate the creative spirit by design. Scolding a subordinate who favored flowery language and winding prose in his political analysis, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson didn’t mince words. “The task of a public service officer seeking to explain and gain support for a major policy is not that of a writer of a doctoral thesis. Qualification must give way to simplicity of statement, nicety and nuance to bluntness, almost brutality, in carrying home a point.”

That subordinate was George Kennan, author of the famous “Long Telegram,” and archetype of the freethinking diplomat who refuses to go along with a program they know to be wrong. Kennan’s approach to diplomacy put the process of writing squarely at the center of his efforts at influencing foreign policy. Despite his reputation for using three words where one would suffice, Kennan’s portfolio demonstrates his faith that language, when tailored to fit a targeted audience, had the potential to persuade presidents of ideas embedded within the process.

Kennan serves as springboard and guiding light of sorts for Hannah Gurman’s new book on dissent within the State Department since the end of World War Two. The Dissent Papers, the title of which plays off the famous documents leaked by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971, has a more ambitious objective than its namesake. “While the Pentagon Papers tells the story of US foreign policy in Vietnam primarily through documents that reflected the status quo, [Gurman’s] analysis of the dissent papers tells the story of US foreign policy since the end of the Second World War that critiqued the reigning logic.” Those who produced these memos and analysis, “writerly diplomats” according to Gurman, were not frontline foot soldiers in the application of Washington policy preferences as much as they were “in-house authors of dissent.”

Like the diplomats she profiles, Gurman is a masterful writer. The Dissent Papers elegantly weaves together the recent history of insider opposition to official state policy by anchoring its narrative in four richly-researched case studies that roughly follow the contours of the modern State Department’s evolution. Gurman looks at how dissenting diplomats negotiated the bureaucratic battles with superiors to have their voices heard and, more importantly, built into the policy posture of the United States with regard to its friends and adversaries. These fights proved difficult and sometimes dangerous.

Diplomats refusing to go along with the party line risked personal and professional ruin. While Kennan emerged relatively intact, though unhappy, from his stint at State, some of his colleagues faced more difficult circumstances. John Service and John Davies, two enterprising diplomats in China during the rise of Mao, were hauled in front of the United States Senate by Joseph McCarthy for supposed communist sympathies. Each had questioned American policy supporting Chiang Kai-shek after extensive time in the field with ordinary Chinese and those in power alike. And each, though ultimately cleared of wrongdoing, would never professionally advance to a level commensurate with their formidable talents.

Others, like George Ball, attempted to strike a more complicated balance. Ball staunchly supported in public American foreign policies he just as vehemently opposed in private. As Lyndon Johnson weighed the costs and consequences of escalation in Vietnam, Ball walked point on internal efforts to sway the president against ramping up the war in Southeast Asia, though dutifully sold the administration’s stance in the media when asked. Ball’s arguments against the logic of escalation proved correct in the final analysis, but he was unable to persuade Johnson of their worth. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and the military establishment closed ranks to cut off any influence Ball may have been enjoying over the president, and ultimately succeeded in pushing the dissenting diplomat out of his post.

A third approach adopted by foreign service officers, largely in reaction to the “dissent channel” established during the Nixon administration, was to go public with their dissatisfaction. A recent crop of diplomats including, most famously, Joe Wilson and John Brady Kiesling, have issued their dissent since the invasion of Iraq within the special channel designed for this purpose while simultaneously going to the media and publicly airing their dissatisfaction. In so doing, they have muddied the distinction between insiders and outsiders, becoming both at once in expressing their disgust with the status quo.

At the heart of all these strategies are questions about the degree to which competing views on critical questions of national interest should be made available to the public. The diplomats considered in Gurman’s study each grappled in their own way with the problem of transparency, ultimately gravitating to one of two views—the first, which “emphasized the end of the policymaking process”; the second, which privileged “the process itself.”

Yet even as each of the officers discussed above arrived at their own conclusions concerning the best approach to expressing dissent, the evolutionary arc of the State Department has landed firmly on the side of ends over means. Responding to news that WikiLeaks was about to drop a massive cache of State Department embassy cables, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was unambiguous about her feeling that the contents could be discarded outright. “I want to make clear,” said Clinton, “that our foreign policy is not set through these messages, but here in Washington. Our policy is a matter of record, as reflected in our statements and our actions around the world.”

Kennan and his colleagues would be disappointed. The bureaucratization and insider politics of American foreign policy have largely succeeded in suffocating the creative spark and independent thinking that animates the best diplomatic writing in the public record, as the reams of dreadfully dull WikiLeaked cables attest. But peppered throughout that same mountain of embassy reports are rare examples of writing—such as the cable reporting field findings on human trafficking in Mauritania or that which recorded interviews with Algerian youth desperate to escape to Europe—which reflect the legacy of Kennan, Service, Davies and Ball. And in this there’s hope, it seems, that today’s foreign service continues to embrace the notion—even if only in pockets, and quietly—that diplomatic writing, as Gurman rightly suggests, “is valuable precisely because it enhances the field of knowledge and scope of debate over foreign relations.”

A brief note on the book. The Dissent Papers is that rare treat of scholarship that reflects careful research and close attention to lively, elegant prose. I recommend it highly to all interested readers. If this afternoon’s exchange is only half as rich as the book itself, we’ll all still walk away having been deeply enriched. So, without further ado, Hannah Gurman…


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

112 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Hannah Gurman, The Dissent Papers: The Voices of Diplomats in the Cold War and Beyond”

BevW July 8th, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Hannah, Michael, Welcome to the Lake.

Michael, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

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Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 2:00 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Hi Bev. Thanks so much for all your work, as always, in putting this together. And Hannah, hello! I’m really excited to discuss what I think is your very valuable, and wonderfully written, book.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:01 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Thanks, Bev, for inviting me, and Michael, for hosting and for your substantive and generous introduction. I think it does an excellent job of capturing the basic premise and outlook of the book—a task which I myself find very challenging when trying to explain what The Dissent Papers is about. One way to describe it is as a set of overlapping biographies—the lives of dissenting diplomats; the lives of their arguments inside and outside the foreign policy establishment; and the life of the State Department as an institution. I’m interested in the process of producing and exchanging ideas and tracing this through on all these levels—particularly in moments of tension and conflict. My goal is neither to heroize nor demonize dissenting diplomats, but rather to examine their triumphs and tribulations in the larger context of the US foreign policy bureaucracy in the “American century.”

dakine01 July 8th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Hannah and Michael and welcome to FDL this afternoon

Hannah, I have not read your book so forgive me if you address this in it, but how did Kennan manage to salvage his career? Has salvaging a career become less and less likely as we have gotten further away from WWII?

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 2:04 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 3

Excellent. And it strikes me that you achieve this objective well throughout the book. I was hoping we could begin by unpacking the idea that is at the center of this task, that of “dissent,” in the context of the US State Department. You offer a variety of different forms and modes of dissent in the histories presented. So I’m left asking, what makes for diplomatic dissent, exactly, as you define it?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:05 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

Interesting question. Kennan resigned from the State Department in 1950, so his career as a Foreign Service was over. But he did salvage his reputation, in part because the Cold War consensus had serious cracks in it which Kennan was able to identify. Sometimes being marginalized on the inside does help with the public, but I think this is very context specific.

dakine01 July 8th, 2012 at 2:08 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 6

Do you think it is possible for a Kennan type to emerge in these 24/7 news cycle days? Or would the continuous noise block that from happening?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I think dissent within the State Department does have some basic qualities. First, at least initially, the audience is senior policymakers, not the public. Second, especially before the 1970s, it tends to ascribe to a “realist” worldview (as opposed to one grounded in human rights and international courts, etc). Third, it is different from popular protest and often quite disdainful of protest. I also see a thread that is interested in the process of internal debate.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 2:10 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 6

It’s also worth pointing out that Kennan, ironically and much to his chagrin, became synonymous with the Cold War policy of containment that later enjoyed widespread support. This couldn’t have hurt his post-State prospects, I shouldn’t think!

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:11 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 7

As to the question of whether a future Kennan could emerge, predictions are always risky. But I do think it would be much more difficult, given the pace of information these days and the 24/7 news cycle you refer to. On the other hand, the range of public voices is broader now and that’s something to be happy about. After all, Kennan was of the old boy’s club.

hpschd July 8th, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Were all of the people you profiled in the Department of State?

The Department of State seems to be shrinking over the last few years, as the Pentagon expands it’s ‘diplomatic’ missions.

The current environment for diplomatic dissenters seems more hostile than ever. No?

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 2:12 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 8

And yet, despite these common qualities, you make clear that diplomatic dissent is practiced through a number of different strategies and tactics. From your research, what’s your sense of what makes for effective dissent? Are certain strategies inherently more effective than others, or do things like one’s position within the bureaucratic hierarchy, for example, count for more? Or is there something else to consider?

CTuttle July 8th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Aloha, Hannah and Michael, welcome to the Lake…!

Why do you think the humanist diplomats are such a rare breed, and are largely confined to the sidelines…? Are there even any left at Foggy Bottom, or were they all supplanted by the PNAC/WINEP/Neocon War Cabal…? The war drums are beating loudly for war with Iran and Syria…!

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:16 pm
In response to hpschd @ 11

Yes, all the people I profiled were in the State Department whose budget and numbers are tiny compared to the Pentagon. Part of what I examine in the book is the marginalization of State as a result of the national security state. And yes, I do think the environment for dissenters is particularly hostile now, despite the existence of a formal dissent channel!

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Yes, I do think that the efficacy of dissent is very context specific and that one’s position in the hierarchy matters. Take George Ball, for instance, who was Undersecretary under Johnson and a dissenter against the Vietnam War. He had the ears of the president, so it made sense to keep them, rather than to go public, at least before his resignation.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 2:19 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 14

Hannah, to follow up on your last remark to hpschd–why do you think the environment is particularly hostile now? Is it simply the natural course of things tending in that direction, or has something fundamentally changed recently that creates this greater hostility?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:20 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 13

Hi, and thanks! I think there are humanists in the State Department still. Unfortunately, their voice is muted when it comes to the official line.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Well, just to point to the most recent and obvious, I think WikiLeaks has had a huge negative impact. But in the longer historical view, I think it’s been touch and go since McCarthy, with some ebbs and flows.

TarheelDem July 8th, 2012 at 2:21 pm

. “I want to make clear,” said Clinton, “that our foreign policy is not set through these messages, but here in Washington. Our policy is a matter of record, as reflected in our statements and our actions around the world.”

Is it? And if that is the case, why the out-of-the-normal (I was going to say extra-judicial but that is not completely true) judicial prosecutions of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange?

gregvargo July 8th, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Hi Hannah,

How do you think the the context for dissent has changed in the wake of wikileaks? What is the relationship between internal dissent and the possibility of that dissent being made public?

hpschd July 8th, 2012 at 2:23 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 14

I would hope that diplomats are special class of appointment. I don’t imagine that a person would be assigned to a dangerous, hot, distant locale as a reward for political patronization.

How are they chosen and trained? Are they moved around a lot?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:25 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 19

I think you well underscore the State Department’s over-reaction to WikiLeaks here. Bradley Manning is certainly a victim of that but so is a sane conversation about what the point of the State Department is–just an executor of foreign policy?

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 2:25 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 18

I’ve been fascinated by the advent of the WikiLeaks cablegate documents and the reception they have received. On the one hand, as you point out in the book, they re-instilled a certain confidence in some sectors of the public in the foreign service who pointed out the quality, and even the literariness, of the cables. And yet they seem to have had a net negative effect on the rank-and-file.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to gregvargo @ 20

Hi Greg: Since its inception in 1971, the dissent channel has been a way of quelling and containing dissent. The State Dept just gave out its annual dissent awards a couple weeks ago. I am of the school that the dissent channel is a steam valve. But of course, there are always a few for whom this bureaucratic mechanism won’t work. And in the digital age, that opens up possibilities…

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:28 pm
In response to hpschd @ 21

The State Department is composed of both career Foreign Service officers and political appointees. As you might guess, the careerists are typically distrustful of appointees and vice versa, but patronage is all too common. The ambassador to China is never a careerist, for example.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 2:30 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 24

Hannah, can you flesh out why the dissent channel, in your view, is simply a relief valve and nothing more? Where did it come from, how does it work, and why is it of such limited utility?

TarheelDem July 8th, 2012 at 2:30 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 22

Looking at dissent on the inside, to what extent can the execution of the policy bend the actual policy into something quite different?

How do historical institutional biases among the various branches of the State Department affect how that bending plays out?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Yes, I think the effects of Cablegate on the State Department are fraught with contradictions. As you point out, most of the cables are banal, but some are very insightful and incisive, which garnered attention early on. And yet, Clinton made a point of underscoring the cables’ lack of importance on policy. We know why she did that, but it was a real detriment to SD morale in the long run.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Yes, some background on the Dissent Channel: It was inaugurated in 1971–by a reform-minded administrator–but it coincided with the Nixon administration’s clamping down on leaks–as the Pentagon Papers were leaked that June. The idea is State Department officers channel their dissent “up” rather than “out.” Good idea, but in practice, there are numerous examples of dissenters either being ignored or worse penalized.

Teddy Partridge July 8th, 2012 at 2:33 pm

I wonder if your book covers the Kennedy Administration in detail, specifically the Oval Office conference my friend Rufus Phillips had with the President when he was stateside from his CIA assignment in Vietnam, quoted in Halberstam’s The Best and The Brightest? [edit: in late summer 1963]

Thanks for writing this book; I’m looking forward to it. What changes do you think Wikileaks’ exposure of diplomatic cables will have on their performance of their job duties? Has the world of “cables” changed now?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:35 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 27

Did you have an example in mind? One that comes to my mind is the China Hands–who during the Second World War were active in creating channels to the communists. That was not against official policy at the time, but it did upset Chang Kai Shek.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 2:38 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 31

I’d argue, too, that in the case of Service and Davies in China, it wasn’t historical institutional biases so much that affected the application of policy, but their intensive time in the field, taking tea with peasants, debating political philosophy with Mao, and generally taking the temperature of the country about which the USA knew little at the time, and stayed that way largely through the pressure of what you, Hannah, term the China lobby.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Hi Teddy: I touch on the Kennedy administration in the chapter on Vietnam–which focuses on George Ball. I don’t focus on Phillips, but I do think Halberstam’s book is of the essence here. That book is my common sense for understanding Vietnam.

As for the future of diplomatic cables, I’m doing a book talk at the State Department on Tuesday, so I’ll ask them!

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Yes, I was fascinated by the richness of Service and Davies’ field reporting. This is a good example of how what I call dissent isn’t always a formal argument, but rather, a way of filling in details that contributes to a questioning of policy.

thatvisionthing July 8th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I have a Pentagon Papers question. As I understand it, McNamara ordered the massive study (47 volumes, 7000 pages) to be done, yet it was to be kept secret from LBJ. Yet they were plain history — unknown within the government? The government operates on fiction? Ellsberg tried to get Senators McGovern, Fulbright and Mansfield to [take them/release them?] but they wouldn’t. Finally, two years later I think, Ellsberg got the NY Times to publish some of them, Senator Gravel read many of them into the Senate record and so got them out that way, and the president by this time, Nixon, wanted them squelched. But while the papers were inside the system and confidential — and there were very few copies — were they used as intended? Were they used for dissent? Were they effective in any way inside the system?

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 24

Just to return to your exchange with Greg for a moment, and with a question that may not be entirely fair, but…you mentioned to Greg that the SD gives out service awards for dissent, but also tends to ignore or punish people who take advantage of the dissent channel. I’m curious: do you have a sense of what award-winning dissent looks like in the State Department? Is it meaningful dissent, or does State reward innocuousness?

gregvargo July 8th, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I was struck in the book’s introduction your emphasis on observation and information gathering as diplomats’ chief function historically.

Could you say a little bit about how their information gathering relate to all the other sectors of the US dedicated to spying. Have you looked at the style of other bureaucracy’s reports on foreign countries or governments. And in the flashpoints you describe do diplomats themselves feel spyed on?

TarheelDem July 8th, 2012 at 2:43 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 31

I don’t have examples, but I wondered if you ran across any in your research that amounted to nudges in certain directions that when carried down the chain of command bent the application of policy. I raise it because it is a common occurrence in most bureaucracies. Opening a separate channel to the communists as policy hedge is not exactly what I was pointing to, but letting Chiang Kai Shek become aware of that might be.

The reverse of this is the quality of information going up-channel and affecting the policy-making of the principals.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Re: the Pentagon Papers: if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend Hannah Arendt’s Lying in Politics. It unpacks this notion of deception and examines the multiple ways in which inside policymakers practiced deception and self-deception. I think it was a landmark event, but as Ellsberg himself said, it didn’t end the war. But it was the beginning of Nixon’s unravelling…

CTuttle July 8th, 2012 at 2:44 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 31

What are your thoughts on the 2007 NIE on Iran that was leaked, which many cite as the main reason for halting Shrub from bombing Iran at that point…?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:46 pm

I haven’t really thought about this comprehensively, so take my answer with a grain of salt. I think many people who are rewarded for dissent are truly talented and outspoken FSOs. They are rewarded for this and their combination of loyalty, as one of them, Thomas Boyatt said with a combination of cynicism and satisfaction, “I played by the rules and the old boys club took care of me.”

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 2:47 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 41

Yeah, that’s more or less my take as well, though I know very little about it.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:48 pm
In response to gregvargo @ 37

Great question! One thing to note is that diplomats were the first spies…that is, the CIA is a relatively new apparatus–coming out of the postwar period. And Kennan is sometimes called the father of covert ops, so there are overlaps. But I think in part because the SD is much older, it has more of an epistolary tradition, but that has changed over the course of the 20th century.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:50 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 38

Another possible example would be the FSO’s in Russia in the 1940s. As their personal relations with the Moscow officialdom deteriorated, that had an impact on what would become the Cold War. See Frank Costigliola’s new book.

thatvisionthing July 8th, 2012 at 2:50 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 39

Nixon’s unraveling was an unintended consequence of their release — could you expand on my question of whether they were useful inside the system, as intended, before they were released? I think I have seen or read Ellsberg say he was disappointed (paraphrasing from fuzzy memory) that their release didn’t promote more public discussion of what was in the papers themselves. I always thought it was amazing that anyone could read 7,000 pages in 47 volumes — but with LBJ gone, and McNamara gone — was it anyone’s job to, inside government?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:51 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 40

I’m not an expert on US-Iran relations. However, as the NYTimes has reported, the bureaucrats seem to be less hawkish on this one.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 2:52 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 43

Greg, I’m wondering what you meant when you asked whether FSOs themselves feel spied on when out in the field. Can you elaborate?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Yeah, I would agree that no pres is going to read 47 volumes, so at the highest level, it’s more about proverbial “wise men” giving their advice. This was McNamara’s act of desperation, I think. He didn’t really have a strategy anymore.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 2:54 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 46

This probably goes back to what you were saying earlier concerning the kind of realism that seems to inform much of the rank and file on matters of foreign policy. My guess is that few State Department bureaucrats, or those in Defense for that matter, see any utility or interest in engaging with Iran militarily at now or any other moment moving forward.

gregvargo July 8th, 2012 at 2:54 pm

What kind of training do/did diplomats get designed to teach them the kinds of writing you describe, which seems to include a good bit of amateur anthropology/sociology? It’s hard not to feel the view from the palace (or the embassy) mightn’t be rather blinkered.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:55 pm

There are various examples where FSOs feel spied on by political appointees, roving ambassadors etc. This is one way presidents wield their power over the State Department careerists–sometimes for good reason.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 2:57 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 51

How so?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Yes, it’s a generalization to say that the State Department is full of hawks, but the careerists tend not to opt for military solutions. There is a tendency though to imagine that civic solutions can go hand and hand with military ones, as for example, in Afghanistan.

Kevin Gosztola July 8th, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Hello, Michael. Good to see you hosting this chat.

Hello, Hannah. This is an excellent scholarly piece of work that you have produced.

My question relates to your decision to couch the book’s contents in the release of State Department diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks. The content could have definitely stood on its own. However, I realize the Cablegate release makes what you are writing about more topical.

You may have partially addressed this already, but how does the release of over 250,000 diplomatic cables accentuate the history of dissenters in the State Department? Did you find the WikiLeaks release presented a unique opportunity to communicate a key aspect of history to global citizens? Are there particular cables in the cache released that made you take note of any particular diplomats who you feel were routinely dissenting or still might be dissenting regularly within the State Department?

hpschd July 8th, 2012 at 2:58 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 51

Sounds like there may be some good stories here. Are any related in your book?

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 2:59 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 54

Kevin, great to see you here. Thanks for chiming in!

gregvargo July 8th, 2012 at 2:59 pm

I guess part of the subtext of my question is the extent the state department provides fronts for actual spies (my sense of which is partly based on too many Graham Greene novels). But also thinking about the competing bureaucracies that can flare into moments of open conflict (such as the McCarthey purges.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 2:59 pm

FDR was (in)famous for this–relying on appointees who would undermine/undo the influence of the FSO in Moscow.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to gregvargo @ 57

Oh, I see. Thanks for the clarification. Great question, and yes, especially on that last observation, this is a key consideration. Especially so in the wake of McCarthy’s efforts at purging Davies and Service from State.

CTuttle July 8th, 2012 at 3:02 pm

…see any utility or interest in engaging with Iran militarily at now or any other moment moving forward…

Sadly, that meme isn’t sinking into our thick-skulled Congress Critters…! 8-(

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 54

Hi Kevin. Thanks for your question. I was actually putting the finishing touches on the manuscript when Cablegate happened, so the timing was such that I could see the resonances. But aside from the introduction, the book doesn’t examine any specific Cablegate messages. Michael is the resident expert on those: do you want to take a stab at this one?

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:03 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 58

Forgive me for my ignorance on this count, but was FDR’s insistence on undermining FSOs influence in Moscow a product of his disdain for FSOs generally (those “striped-pants boys”), because the FSOs were harming the national interest as he understood it, or both?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:04 pm
In response to hpschd @ 55

The book is written as a narrative history, and I like to think they are all “good” stories–about compelling figures faced with tough choices in a grim world. But everyone’s definition of a good story is different.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:07 pm

FDR articulated his disdain for the FSOs in class terms, but in my view, that was a thinly veiled mask for serious differences in worldview. FDR wanted an end to the reign of Europe and his postwar vision included the Soviet Union as an emerging world power. The FSO were by and large critical of this vision. They “won” when Truman came on board.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Again, I highly recommend a new book by Frank Costigliola: Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances. It deals with the role of emotions in this untangling. Not everybody’s cup of tea but a valuable contribution to the mountains of scholarship of what/what is responsible for the Cold War.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 61

I’ll be the first to admit that I think Kevin is the most expert amongst us three. But I’m happy to answer it, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, Kevin, on these questions.

As to the question of the legacy of dissent, I thought the cables reflected this to a degree. For example, there are cables from Afghanistan that demonstrate, if not dissent, than an awareness that current policy was far from perfect, and at times, outright counterproductive. To me, as I understand dissent as it is presented in Hannah’s work, this points in a good direction; namely, that diplomats made it their mission to mull over, reevaluate and reconsider policy, and look for ways to push things in a productive direction. That said, as we all know, there are myriad examples of precisely the reverse of this, and these are the focus of scandal (or what should be).

hpschd July 8th, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 63

I meant to ask if there are any examples of a dissenter being undermined in this manner by an administration while on assignment.

I’m looking forward to all the stories in your book. I’m library-dependant and there’s only one copy here, and it’s in the main branch and doesn’t loan out. I’ll request another copy for circulation.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 65

Excellent suggestion, I’ll pick it up!

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:11 pm
In response to gregvargo @ 57

I may be wrong–but I’m pretty sure Ed Lansdale had a State Department cover. And he was at least one of the sources for The Quiet American.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:13 pm

One thing that struck me about the cables in cablegate was how anonymous many of them were. This contrasts with the memos and reports featured in my book, which made a point of breaking through the bureaucratic layers. It’s easy to imagine that we were the first to read some of the cablegate memos:)

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:14 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 54

To the question of the instructive value of the cables, absolutely, they have it. As Columbia’s Gary Sick reminded us shortly after their release, if you study international relations in any capacity, it’s your duty to peruse as many cables as fir your area of interest. For me, the cables elucidate US policy in certain arenas (through its application), reveal how it is that diplomats abroad and at home negotiate their understandings of the national interest, and how they go about securing it, warts and all. And finally, I think it was instructive in the sense that the cables reveal the extensive bureaucratization of the State Department, and the more humdrum aspects to the life and work of a FSO. In these respects, and others, there’s no question of their value, to my mind.

gregvargo July 8th, 2012 at 3:14 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 69

My favorite! I feel like it’s a wonderful portrait of bureaucratese among other things.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:15 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 70

…which takes us back to Michael’s earlier question about strategies for expressing dissent. In the case of Kennan, for example, it was a matter of finding high-level readers who would spread his views.

CTuttle July 8th, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Eikenberry’s cables were some doozies…!

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:17 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 70

Agreed! Though through the din of anonymity, there are cables which demonstrate a certain flamboyance of style. I’ve puzzled over whether this is an expression of boredom at being locked up in the embassy with hours of paperwork still to complete, or if this is an effort to establish “voice” in reporting for attracting attention and gaining influence.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:18 pm

The bureaucratic quality of today’s State Department writing was underscored by the National Security Archive’s “Guide for Reading a State Department Memo.” The fact that diplomatic writing would have to be translated to the public is pretty striking. Then again, there is something to be said for safe inside discussion. This is what was attacked by McCarthy and his henchmen in the 1950s–which is partly to blame for the subsequent malaise.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:18 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 54

Kevin, where do you come down on these questions and observations?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:19 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 74

Indeed! Ellsberg frequently underscored those in his public talks about the lack of transparency in US foreign policy.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Or perhaps a little bit of both. “Bartelby the Scrivener” is instructive here–a classic tale of the caged bureaucrat looking to make meaning of his life.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:24 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 78

Very good point. And might I add, George Kennan would be smiling at your reference to Melville in this context! :-)

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:24 pm
In response to hpschd @ 67

Thanks. And maybe you can get the library to purchase another copy!

CTuttle July 8th, 2012 at 3:27 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 78

It’s rather ironic that our Nobel Peace Prize Prez, who vowed to be the ‘most transparent’, has waged the most prolific war on whistle blowers, and, even vastly expanded the ‘pixie dust’ of State Secrets to squelch all independent inquiries…! 8-(

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:27 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 78

Hannah, on the question of transparency, what’s your take on the public’s appetite for it? I know this is tricky terrain, but I’m struck by the warm reception Kiesling and Joe Wilson receive in their public dissent on the one hand, and the deep disdain many people feel for WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning for publishing what more often than not should have been declassified information to start with. Is it the case, do you think, that it’s simply a matter of who is delivering the goods, or are Americans, as a population, still conflicted about the appropriateness of secrecy?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:29 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 82

Yes. But but does the electorate seem to care? And if not, why not?

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:30 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 84

Which ties in with my question above, perfectly, I think.

hpschd July 8th, 2012 at 3:31 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 81

I have so requested.
There is also an ebook download program – Overdrive, where an ebook version can be ‘borrowed’ for up to 3 weeks.
I’ll suggest that as well.

These book salons are my favorite feature of FDL. I try to reserve the featured books in advance.

It is a great privilege to be able to talk with authors about their books.

As in this discussion, recent relevant events can be connected with published work.

Thank you so much for being here.
and thanks to Michael Busch too, the host can really help.

gregvargo July 8th, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Isn’t there substantially differing treatment in the media which would have to be credited with molding their reception?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:32 pm

I guess my last response predicted your question:) Context matters here, I think. There was a lot of pentup hostility toward Bush at the time of Kiesling’s resignation. In contrast, Obama gets high marks on foreign policy, relative to the economy. But judging from my students (who are on the whole VERY left) state secrecy is a very vexed issue. In part because we assume the secrets are really secrets–which in many if not most cases isn’t really true.

CTuttle July 8th, 2012 at 3:33 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 84

Because we’re #1…! ;-)

Ain’t it a shame how apathetic Americans really are…? 8-(

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:34 pm
In response to gregvargo @ 87

Great point, Greg. I think the NYTimes in particular lost a lot of credibility in its attacks on Assange and Manning. Pathologizing their actions rather than acknowledging their politics.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 88

I’ve noticed the same thing. I also think there’s a deeply embedded reverence for authority structures that complicates people’s thinking on issues of foreign policy (I can’t speak to the domestic side of things). When high-level members of the establishment begin to peel off from the status quo, this signals to the population that something is not well within the state. Otherwise, many people seem content to go with the flow.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Hannah, I want to return to something that came up before with respect to our social media age. You argue persuasively (in my view) that diplomatic writing, and the forms that it takes, are inextricably linked with the bureaucratization of the State Department on the one hand, and technological advancements on the other. Focusing on the second part of this again: What are your thoughts on the future of diplomatic writing, and the possibilities for dissent, in a moment where brevity trumps depth and effective communication demands messaging in 140 characters or less?

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:40 pm

I would add that foreign policy feels very distant to many people–as opposed to say, the economy. If you look at the history of protest, it tends to be sparked when people feel the impact of policy on their lives. Especially in post-draft America, these connections are harder to trace.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with that.

Kevin Gosztola July 8th, 2012 at 3:42 pm

In my coverage of the cables, I didn’t come across any names of people that I came to regard as dissenters in the State Department. However, I never read the cables in sets. I covered the cables as they were released in spurts. Only for a few stories I wrote did I look at a wide range of cables from a single diplomat in a year.

It is interesting to compare the impacts on dissenters to people like Carlos Pascual, former US ambassador to Mexico and Heather Hodges, US ambassador to Ecuador. They both are what many referred to as “WikiLeaks casualties.” They had to leave their positions because of what people read. And Gene Cretz was relocated from his position as an ambassador to Libya for a time, too, because of what the Libyan government was able to glean from cables he had written. The cables they sent apparently did not match up with what leaders in Ecuador, Libya and Mexico were hearing on a regular basis or they became suspicious of the diplomats after reading cables.

CTuttle July 8th, 2012 at 3:43 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 88

Over-classification has run amok, especially under Cheney’s minions, but, having had a clearance before, that’s always been a problem…!

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:43 pm

This is a tricky one. It’s a question about diplomatic writing, but it’s also a question about influence in the text/twitter age, right? If history is any guide, then technology changes things, but then people figure out ways to adapt. Maybe the new Kennan won’t have the gifts of the old Kennan, but will be more suited for her age.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:46 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 95

The examples you point to, Kevin, are really interesting in part because they illuminate the difference between intentional and unintentional dissent. It’s one thing to transfer someone for an act associated with insubordination, but quite another to do so simply for having a different point of view.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:46 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 97

That’s really interesting. I’ve been wondering since finishing your book about technology’s impact on the insider-outsider dichotomy you point to in your case studies. It strikes me that Wilson and Kiesling’s choice to publish their dissent channel memos in the NYT and NYRoB were directly the result of a new media landscape. If this is the case, perhaps the rapidity of modern communication and its terseness has ironically created space for dissenting diplomats to find alternative avenues for expressing their views while still operating within the traditional system.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 96

When I was researching the China Hands chapter, I was struck by some of what was said about classification during the congressional hearings on FSO loyalty. Jack Service kept trying to explain the chronic tendency to overclassify, but this didn’t sit well with the legislators intent on criminalizing his actions.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Yes, I would agree that the new media landscape does, ironically, post new opportunities for dissenters, which in turn leads the administration to crack down on potential dissent. It becomes a sort of cat and mouse game. I don’t see much evidence that you can take the new media route and be a “safe” dissenter. In other words, going public puts an end to this phase in your career. Unless the State Department can figure out yet another way to make use of it to promote their policies.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:52 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 98

I was thinking something similar. The WikiLeaks casualties were not punished for speaking truth to power, really. They were made the scapegoat for what the State Department believed was publicly embarrassing (even if they were the institution’s own internal views).

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:53 pm

On that last point, Hannah, I’m also curious about a case of high-ranking diplomatic dissent that took place after your book went to press–the resignation of PJ Crowley. How does Crowley’s criticism of the State Department fit within the framework of your cases? Was it an instance of truly trying to shape policy or was Crowley merely taking an institutional swipe at the Defense Department? If it’s the latter, does this qualify as dissent in the same way as your other cases?

BevW July 8th, 2012 at 3:55 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

Hannah, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and diplomatic dissent.

Michael, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Hannah’s website and book

Michael’s website (MichaelKBusch)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Crowley’s an interesting case. In the beginning, if you remember, he was right up there with Clinton. Only later did he begin to change his tune. I think a biographer will have to figure out why. But it does have some resonances with Bill Moyer–who touted LBJs line until he decided he had enough with it.

Michael K. Busch July 8th, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Thanks again, Bev. And a huge thanks to Hannahh Gurman, both for writing such a fine book and for taking the time to talk with us today.

Hannah Gurman July 8th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Thanks again, Bev, for inviting me to participate in the Book Salon. And thanks so much to Michael for your great questions and insights. Thanks as well to everyone who participated. This is really a fun forum!

CTuttle July 8th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Mahalo Nui Loa, Hannah, Michael, and, BevW…! Another excellent Book Salon…!

TarheelDem July 8th, 2012 at 4:01 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 100

To what extent is Congressional reaction just the sense that they should be the only ones to be able to release information? Look at the concern of the House Intelligence committee about whistle blowers. At the same time as they selective leak information.

TarheelDem July 8th, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Thanks Hannah, Michael, and commenter for a fascinating book salon.

CTuttle July 8th, 2012 at 4:03 pm
In response to Hannah Gurman @ 107

Mahalo, Hannah, I look forward to your upcoming book on Counterinsurgency too…! ;-)

DWBartoo July 9th, 2012 at 4:17 am

Superb Book Salon.

I wish I had been able to attend.

Thank you, Hannah and Michael.

Thank you Bev, as always.

Thank all of you firedogs!!!


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