||U.S. Diplomat's Letter of Resignation
February 27, 2003 <> New York Times
The following is the text of John Brady Kiesling's letter of resignation to
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Mr. Kiesling is a career diplomat who
has served in United States embassies from Tel Aviv to Casablanca to
Dear Mr. Secretary: I am writing you to submit my resignation from the
Foreign Service of the United States and from my position as Political
Counselor in U.S. Embassy Athens, effective March 7. I do so with a heavy
heart. The baggage of my upbringing included a felt obligation to give
something back to my country. Service as a U.S. diplomat was a dream job. I
was paid to understand foreign languages and cultures, to seek out
diplomats, politicians, scholars and journalists, and to persuade them that
U.S. interests and theirs fundamentally coincided. My faith in my country
and its values was the most powerful weapon in my diplomatic arsenal. It is
inevitable that during twenty years with the State Department I would become
more sophisticated and cynical about the narrow and selfish bureaucratic
motives that sometimes shaped our policies.
Human nature is what it is, and I was rewarded and promoted for
understanding human nature. But until this Administration it had been
possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my president I was
also upholding the interests of the American people and the world.
I believe it no longer.
The policies we are now asked to advance 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.
We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of
international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course
will bring instability and danger, not security.
The sacrifice of global interests to domestic politics and to bureaucratic
self-interest is nothing new, and it is certainly not a uniquely American
problem. Still, we have not seen such systematic distortion of intelligence,
such systematic manipulation of American opinion, since the war in Vietnam.
The September 11 tragedy left us stronger than before, rallying around us a
vast international coalition to cooperate for the first time in a systematic
way against the threat of terrorism. But rather than take credit for those
successes and build on them, this Administration has chosen to make
terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely
defeated Al Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally.
We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind,
arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The
result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of
shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that
protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government. September 11
did not do as much damage to the fabric of American society as we seem
determined to so to ourselves.
Is the Russia of the late Romanovs really our model, a selfish,
superstitious empire thrashing toward self-destruction in the name of a
doomed status quo? We should ask ourselves why we have failed to persuade
more of the world that a war with Iraq is necessary. We have over the past
two years done too much to assert to our world partners that narrow and
mercenary U.S. interests override the cherished values of our partners. Even
where our aims were not in question, our consistency is at issue. The model
of Afghanistan is little comfort to allies wondering on what basis we plan
to rebuild the Middle East, and in whose image and interests.
Have we indeed become blind, as Russia is blind in Chechnya, as Israel is
blind in the Occupied Territories, to our own advice, that overwhelming
military power is not the answer to terrorism? After the shambles of
post-war Iraq joins the shambles in Grozny and Ramallah, it will be a brave
foreigner who forms ranks with Micronesia to follow where we lead.
We have a coalition still, a good one. The loyalty of many of our friends is
impressive, a tribute to American moral capital built up over a century. But
our closest allies are persuaded less that war is justified than that it
would be perilous to allow the U.S. to drift into complete solipsism.
Loyalty should be reciprocal. Why does our President condone the swaggering
and contemptuous approach to our friends and allies this Administration is
fostering, including among its most senior officials. Has “oderint dum
metuant” really become our motto?
I urge you to listen to America’s friends around the world. Even here in
Greece, purported hotbed of European anti-Americanism, we have more and
closer friends than the American newspaper reader can possibly imagine. Even
when they complain about American arrogance, Greeks know that the world is a
difficult and dangerous place, and they want a strong international system,
with the U.S. and EU in close partnership.
When our friends are afraid of us rather than for us, it is time to worry.
And now they are afraid. Who will tell them convincingly that the United
States is as it was, a beacon of liberty, security, and justice for the
Mr. Secretary, I have enormous respect for your character and ability. You
have preserved more international credibility for us than our policy
deserves, and salvaged something positive from the excesses of an
ideological and self-serving Administration. But your loyalty to the
President goes too far.
We are straining beyond its limits an international system we built with
such toil and treasure, a web of laws, treaties, organizations, and shared
values that sets limits on our foes far more effectively than it ever
constrained America’s ability to defend its interests.
I am resigning because I have tried and failed to reconcile my conscience
with my ability to represent the current U.S. Administration. I have
confidence that our democratic process is ultimately self-correcting, and
hope that in a small way I can contribute from outside to shaping policies
that better serve the security and prosperity of the American people and the
world we share.