Readers’ Comments

“Mr. Kralev provides a vibrant, accurate description of what American diplomats actually do — something little understood by their countrymen… The author took advantage of his job as a journalist covering the State Department, which entailed traveling tens of thousands of miles with the secretary [of state]. The narrative flows smoothly. If you are interested in an honest, often surprising account of America’s ‘first line of defense,’ here it is.” – William C. Harrop
“Anyone who is considering joining the service should read this book first. I think it provides a realistic view of what you’ll be doing, and not all of it is glamorous, adventurous, travel… This is also an excellent book for anyone who is curious about how American diplomacy works (or doesn’t). I particularly appreciated the section on consular work and the frustrations involved in helping American citizens…” – Jay L. Porter
“As a practicing Foreign Service officer, I found this to be one of the best books on the Foreign Service that I’ve read. If you want a good overview of what the foreign service does, this book is for you. On the other hand, I often found myself wanting to say to the author, ‘Wait, that has not been my experience…’ All that being said, I found it a great read!” – Anne E. Grimes
“Thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Kralev has clearly spent a lot of time with many various members of the Foreign Service — from multiple secretaries of state down to the lowliest Foreign Service officer. He does a good job of detailing the work of many various departments and ranks, as well as how embassies function overseas…” – Matt Connelly
“As a student of foreign policy and international affairs, it is worrisome that the Foreign Service is so poorly understood by outsiders. This book fills the necessary void by detailing — in very human terms — this diverse career. This is one of very few books that should be required reading for anyone considering the career, or for anyone with a stake in U.S. foreign policy.” – Patrick Pratt
“Terrific read for anyone interested in the fundamentals of foreign policy. Kralev gives us insights into the State Department not normally viewed by the general public. His extensive research and knowledge of the subject matter come through in vivid colors. A must-read for anyone interested in the Foreign Service!” – Frank M. Young
“I recommend the book to anyone engaged in international affairs and business, education, journalism — and indeed for any Americans who want to understand how today’s Foreign Service has in many places abroad come to resemble an army of diplomats confronting guerrilla movements, terrorism, nation-building, and other dynamics of the post-9/11 world, in addition to their traditional tasks of political and economic reporting, consular work, and administration…” – H. Kenneth Hill

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One Response to Comments

  1. John Louton says:

    I was a Foreign Service officer from 1986 until 2006, serving in Zambia, India, Albania and China (i.e., Taipei, Beijing and Chengdu). Candidly, most of my State Department superiors were unimpressed with me, but the local nationals with whom I worked and I cooperated very well together. Be they local government officials, members of the judiciary, academics, journalists, business leaders, we worked together. Many of these people remain friends to this day. Some have even visited my wife and me at our home in retirement. Yet, by anybody’s judgement, my FS career was mediocre at best. Why? Because I was viewed as having “gone native.”

    One example: I was serving in Beijing when the U.S. accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia. The ordinary citizens were so angry, the attacked the US Embassy. The Embassy’s American staff was ordered to remain at home. The day after the attack, the embassy’s political officer (a very “successful” FSO who later served on the National Security Council) called me and said, “My Chinese staff tells me you have the best contacts of anyone in the embassy. Can you tell me what you’ve heard from them about this incident?”

    I replied, “I haven’t heard from any Chinese friends in the government, but our friends in academics…” He interrupted me and said, “Get one thing clear right now: They are not your friends. They are your contacts.”

    I responded, “Did it ever occur to you that your staff believes I have the best contacts of anyone in the embassy because they are my friends, not my contacts?” He hung up and never spoke to me again.

    In short, the real problem is the State Department’s personnel policy. First, if we really want knowledgeable, well-qualified people, one’s entire career ought be focused on a single country, or no more that a small region (e.g. Southern Africa).

    Second, stop moving people about every 2-3 years. Currently, about the time an officer has a modicum of understanding of the parameters of her/his assignment, she/he is reassigned.

    Third, when I was in the FS, Washington was the best, if not only, assignment for career advancement. Granted, one could argue that Washington is where the decisions that truly impact our policies toward a given country are made, but currently those policy decisions are based on quite ill-informed reporting from our constantly moving embassy reporting officers. As a comparison, when I was a Ph.D. student in Chinese at the University of Washington, one of my major professors was Helmut Wilhelm. His father, Richard Wilhelm, one of the best China scholars of the 20th century, was the German ambassador to Beijing from 1896 until 1934.

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