Often, when college students major in foreign affairs, they are asked, “What do you want to do with that degree?” When they say they want to join the State Department and to get a job as a diplomat with the hope of becoming an ambassador, they often receive a curious look and a turn in the conversation. After all, what’s creative or exciting about being in a small developing country and being the mouthpiece of bureaucrats back in the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department? As Prudence Bushnell wrote in the Sept. 13, 2012 New York Times:
We must make that work safer. The reasons for violence change with time and place but the human effects are the same. For two years before we were blown up in Nairobi, Kenya, my team and I fought (“nagged” was the word State Department colleagues used) to have security threats and vulnerabilities addressed. We were too close to the street, an easy target. Washington’s assessment was that things were O.K. Anyway, I was told, there was no money for a more secure embassy. What was Washington’s assessment of our consulate in Benghazi? We may not like the image of American diplomats working out of fortified boxes, but we cannot let them work in buildings that can be overrun by attackers. This is a lesson our government still hasn’t learned since 1979 in Tehran.
Defending embassies and consulates is tricky business. Should the guards be from the country whose compound it is or from the host country? Would the U.S. feel comfortable with Egyptian or Libyan troops guarding its facilities? Would the Egyptians or Libyans want hundreds of American soldiers surrounding their embassies and consulates?
Whatever the answers, it’s a tough job, and we owe much gratitude to those staffing our foreign outposts.