How I Almost Became a State Department Foreign Service Officer
But fortunately, it didn’t quite work out for me -- and thank God for that, for had I become a State Department Foreign Service Officer (FSO), I almost literally could have gained the whole world, but in the process probably would have sacrificed my immortal soul. And as the gospels and then later Thomas More (in the marvelous A Man for All Seasons) told us -- that’s a bad bargain.
Here is the story of my near-successful application to join the FSO. I tell it here because it reveals a lot about how the State Department functions and how powerful it is.
Becoming an FSO is the dream of many college-educated Americans. It’s one of the greatest jobs one can aspire to. In the first place, it enables one to see the whole world, and at taxpayer expense. Who doesn’t want a literally all-expenses-paid trip to anywhere in the world?
Secondly, FS officers wield real power. And if one rises through the ranks, one might eventually become a master diplomat rivalling Talleyrand or Nesselrode. One can become an ambassador. Or better yet, maybe even another Antony Blinken or John Kerry or Madeleine Albright. A real mover and shaker.
“Many are called but few are chosen.” In this case, many present themselves for service, but few make it through the various levels of testing and examination.
The first level of testing was a written examination. Only about 15% of the applicants make it through that level -- and I was one of them. I’m a bright boy; what can I say? And furthermore, I was a bit older at the time than the average applicant; probably my greater knowledge and maturity helped me.
So it was on to the next level of examination. And it was here that I failed -- by one little point! I think they scored me at 87 when 88 was their minimum; something like that. I very nearly made it through this level, and had I passed it, I’m confident I could have breezed through their remaining background investigations and interviews.
Here is what I remember of Level 2. There were five candidates, and our interviewer was a bow-tied Yalie. God, how State is lousy with Yalies!
In the morning, he interviewed us separately. And I remember he gave me a mock problem. He said, you (meaning, Yours, Truly) are a Foreign Service Officer who is assigned to an embassy in a third world country. This country is mismanaging its natural resources. Your assignment is to approach the proper officials in this country to inform them that they are mismanaging their resources, and to tell them what they need to do to correct this unfortunate situation. So, said the bow-tied Yalie to me, now tell me how do you intend to handle this problem. What will you say to them?
I asked him, why is it my job or the job of the embassy of the United States to tell a sovereign country how to manage its own resources?
And he answered, because they are using American funds to mismanage their resources. They either directly receive American foreign aid, or indirectly receive American money if their resource projects are funded with money from the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank or the United Nations or similar such organizations. And therefore, the government of the United States does in fact have a vested interest in this matter.
So I turned around and said to him, well, in the first place, I understand the working principle here. “He who pays the band gets to call the tune.” You are saying, because they are misusing money that ultimately comes from the United States, we therefore have a real claim as to how they use that money. I understand that and agree with it.
But now, you also mean to tell me that the United States borrows money -- here I meant, the deficit and the public debt -- in order to turn around and give it to foreign countries, all so that the United States thereby can gain a say in how they manage their resources.
I asked him, how does that make any sense at all? I don’t now remember how he answered that.
And of course, it doesn’t make sense, but in my now-mature wisdom, I think I get it anyway.
The State Department is in the business of using taxpayers’ dollars to buy influence in the rest of the world, for its own Deep State purposes, and for its own allies in the private sector, who hope to enrich themselves at the taxpayers’ expense and the expense of foreign countries. It’s pretty clear this is what Hunter Biden and Hillary Clinton were up to overseas, just to name two such actors. It’s dirty and corrupt. No wonder so many people in the world seek revolution on America.
So then it was on to the afternoon session. This time the bow-tied Yalie had all five of us candidates together. And this was our assignment.
All of us were working out of the same embassy, again in third world country X. And we were weighing how we should best aid country X with foreign aid. Here was our problem: We had five worthwhile projects to consider. Each candidate was given one project. Each was asked to study it, and then defend it.
Each project was worth $20,000, so the value of all five projects was $100,000. But our problem was, we had only $60,000 cash. We could approve three projects, but would have to drop the other two. We didn’t have enough money for all five. So our joint problem was, we had to sit down as a group and discuss the merits of each project, then decide among ourselves which three of the five projects would make our cut, and which two would have to fall by the wayside.
The bow-tied Yalie was taking notes the entire time, observing, weighing, and scoring our work. He wanted to see the interaction hard at work.
I gotta say, I was brilliant -- but too brilliant for my own good. I dominated the discussion. As a lawyer might, I ably defended my own proposal, and found reason to trash each and every one of the other four! Hey, that’s what the Devil’s Advocate does in Catholic canonization proceedings, right? I figgered, I was doing my job.
After it was all over, the bow-tied Yalie took me aside and told me that he’d flunked me by one single point. Despite my obvious abilities, he found, I just wasn’t “diplomatic” (his word) enough to be a suitable FSO. In other words, I had a big mouth! Too blunt and outspoken. I’d never be able to fit into their culture.
And I gotta say, he was right. I would have been miserable at State. Either I would have had to sell my principles and my soul by keeping my big mouth shut when I knew something wrong was afoot, or I would have had to resign in protest.
The bow-tied Yalie was right. State was a bad fit for yours truly. The bow-tied Yalie did me a favor by declining my application.
Image: US Gov