Protecting Diplomats, Promoting Diplomacy: A Paradox of American Power

The architecture of diplomacy has changed from stunning and utilitarian to blast-resistant and aloof.  But the paradox remains that US diplomats face serious threats and yet rely on access, interaction, and face-to-face dialogue in order to do their jobs.

Diplomacy is a dangerous profession. You cannot exert influence by whispering in diplomatic code to your government counterparts behind closed doors. You do not spread American values — especially in places where passions are high, governments fragile and guns plentiful — by remote control from Washington. You have to get out from behind the walls and engage with people. We know this can put us in harm’s way; our people in the Benghazi consulate knew it. And they did their jobs anyway.

That is because, hokey as it sounds, the people who represent us overseas really do believe they can make a difference. They confront violent behavior and strong passions with American leadership, smart power and peaceful means.

We must make that work safer.

via In Libya and Elsewhere, Our Diplomats Deserve Better –


5 thoughts on “Protecting Diplomats, Promoting Diplomacy: A Paradox of American Power”

  1. I really respect diplomats because they basically act as the boots on the ground for the government. The recent murder of U.S. diplomat to Libya Christopher Stevens and his three staff members highlights the type of danger these men and women face as they serve the United States in unstable countries. When hatred for America arises in a country with an American embassy, those buildings are probably the first places protesters hit in order to demonstrate their anger. They’re the closest unruly demonstrators can get to attacking America Because of this, embassies worldwide are stepping up security measures, as shown in this article:

    Government leaders get criticized when they make mistakes and praised when they’ve done well, but we don’t often hear about diplomats.People in political office can glean information about a country’s leaders, issues, history, economy, and people through reading reports, but nothing compensates for having someone in the country who can experience it first hand and deliver real time information to leaders back home. I find it admirable that people are willing to put themselves in this potentially dangerous position to serve our interests abroad.

  2. The events at the United States Embassy in Libya are incredibly tragic and unfortunate. However, I do not think building higher walls and encouraging structured, formal and secure meetings versus “casual stops to converse with everyday Libyans” in order to protect our diplomats is the answer.

    The reasons are: First, this response could have the opposite effect that is desired. By limiting the casual encounters our diplomats have with civilians, opportunities for forming relationships that could promote respect and protection will decrease. Secondly, too much security and to many regulations on our diplomats will defeat the purpose of having ambassadors. We need to have people representing America in an official way where they can be seen. Where they can develop a reputation among everyday civilians in all countries no matter the ensuing threats. In fact, the countries where these threats are most present may be where we need to have our diplomats presence most.

    Now- It should be clear that we should not be naive in what we expect our diplomats to do. Certainly, we should always consider their safety. However, it may simply be the nature of the beast that such a job comes with a large risk. Absolutely every American Ambassador should be recognized for the sacrifice they make to promote peaceful relationships.

  3. The question we should consider is whether this tragedy could have been prevented. Three events that I remember in the last few years, point out a pattern that I think our diplomatic missions and the administration need to be aware of and incidentally can help us protect American diplomats abroad.

    The first event began with the Danish cartoonist and his portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad. The second was the threatening of the American Christian preacher to burn the Qur’an. Finally, we are experiencing and will continue to experience the effects from the youtube clip depicting the Prophet Muhammad as charlatan, a womanizer and a thug.

    In all of these cases there was a violent reaction. The Danish embassy in Pakistan was bombed. The Danish Embassies in Syria, Lebanon and Iran were burned. Other European buildings were also attacked.

    There was a murder attempt on Jakob Scharf (one of the cartoonists).

    In relation to the Koran burning, there were violent protests in Afghanistan. In fact, there was a $2.4 million bounty placed on Terry Jones (the preacher) in Pakistan.

    Now, we have an ambassador dead. The riots have spread to over 20 countries. The Consulate in Libya was overrun. The Embassy in Egypt was attacked. The Embassy in Yemen was attacked. The Embassy in Tusisia was attacked. German and British Embassies in Sudan were attacked. This list goes on. Read the article to see just how far reaching this has been.

    So back to the main question. Could the U.S. have done something to prevent this? Freedom of speech is important to us and must be protected. Consequently, there is little we can do to Americans who use their freedom of speech to spread religious intolerance. But maybe a direct statement by the administration to American citizens about their usage of their freedom of speech rights might be a good idea.

    I do believe that Ambassador Steven’s life could have been spared, and this is why. There is obviously a pattern here. Generally, we see that when important/sacred religious/ethnic symbols are criticized or attacked, Muslim fundamentalists react violently. Notice this is not a general statement about Muslims, only those that are extremists.

    The U.S. has hoards of intelligence officers who should have red flagged the current Youtube video and forewarned our diplomatic missions in the Middle East. I have yet to see any reports that this was done or that our diplomatic missions were ready for such a reaction. We have multiple bases in the Middle East that we could have drawn troops from to increase security. Maybe, I am being unrealistic about our reaction time, but then again maybe not. In any case, let us hope that we learn from these three events so that we can be more alert and ready in the future.

  4. Being a diplomat is for sure a risky career. Of course in some place like France and UK, being a diplomat can be an entertaining job, since the embassy always have some social activities (presidential’s official visits, and luncheons with heads of state, and etc). But, being a diplomat in a embassy in a country political unstable is consider a job for the brave.
    These diplomats not only have to defend the ideals of their country amid the turmoil, but they also have to be careful to not arise unnecessary riots.
    Many diplomats can end up dead in the middle of these process. For example, the Algerian diplomat was killed by Mali rebels in the town of Gao.(
    Another example is the Brazilian diplomat that was killed in Iraq during a bombing (
    There are many other examples, but the lesson that we take from this is that being a diplomat is a dangerous and rewarding profession.

  5. I recently went to breakfast with a friend who was running late and he apologized saying that he needed to contact his father who works at an overseas embassy to get an update on his safety. His comment was a concern to me. Diplomats should have an increase in security measures. Yes, they have courageous jobs. Yes, they understand that they are putting themselves in potentially volatile situations. These unstated stipulations and understandings do not mean that diplomats should have to tough it out. I think that the US could have helped to prevent this unfortunate event, or at least made it less severe with its deadly consequences.

    Back in 2009, the Commission on Wartime Contracting warned the State Department about using lower-priced private security contractors. In February 2011, the State Department’s performance evaluation report acknowledged that they could not meet the additional training recommendations and that they needed to increase training capabilities for embassies around the world.


    Shame on those who let diplomatic security be overlooked. It should not take a violent attack or the loss of lives to bolster diplomatic protect.

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