Learning from the Marines: Schoolhouses, Debate, Public Affairs, and Recognition
Wednesday, December 11th 2013
I am increasingly persuaded that the effectiveness of U.S. official Public Diplomacy depends not just on messages, programs, or technology, but also on the strength and health of the Foreign Service. This article is more about the Foreign Service than about Public Diplomacy per se, but these factors need to be part of the whole picture.
In one of her President's columns last year, Susan Johnson of the American Foreign Service Association wrote about "Marine Corps Culture and Institutional Success." Let me pick up on the general theme. After a career in Public Diplomacy, the State Department detailed me to be the Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD) to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Conway, from 2006 to 2008. It gave me a chance to see the Marines "up close and personal." The Foreign Service is not the Marine Corps, for sure, but there are lessons we can learn from the Corps.
Here are a few:
· The Marine Corps is zealous for continual professional learning over a full career, and it values and invests in its "schoolhouses" to institutionalize its professionalism and its lessons learned. Anyone who thinks the Marines are all brawn and no brain should visit The Basic School with its emphasis on decision making; the Center for Advanced Operational Cultural Learning, which trains Marines to understand how they will encounter people from different cultures; and the Marine Corps Command and Staff College for its emphasis on planning and integration of all the elements of national power. Here's the point. Compared to the Marine Corps, how does the Foreign Service Institute measure up? Does the Department provide continual professional education and development over a career?
· The Marine Corps cultivates professional debate and even dissent, using the Marine Corps Gazette as a vehicle for the expression of opinion and new ideas. It so values contention over ideas, responsibly stated, that contributors to that journal are honored even when junior opinions make senior eyes roll, or when opinions are strongly contrary. Compared to the Marine Corps, I submit that the culture of the State Department, and even the daily use of language, mutes debate and vigorous discussion. We have no professional forum quite like the Marine Corps Gazette.
· Any department or agency can learn lessons from how the Marine Corps cultivates Congress and the public using smart public affairs. The State Department deploys Public Diplomacy overseas, and it communicates foreign policy decisions at the daily briefings, but does it really use Public Affairs to promote itself and its mission to the American people?
· Units of the Corps always pause to welcome new members, honor those who have done well, and give a proper farewell to those who retire. In the Marine Corps, medals are awarded one-on-one, or to a few individuals at a time. Contrast this with Embassy award ceremonies, which have become too large, too impersonal, and too hurried. To my mind, this shows the Department's low regard for recognition. Here's one more story: I attended the presentation of a military medal by a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to his POLAD at the Pentagon. The general said in passing, "and I know the Department of State will do the same as you retire." The POLAD quipped, "if they do give me an award, I'll receive it in the mail." He didn't mention that the Department no longer provides medals with its awards, in the interest of economy.
Again, the Foreign Service is not the Marine Corps. A-100 is not boot camp. Our internal culture is civilian, not military. If we regard diplomacy and Public Diplomacy as professions, however, there's much to be learned from the professionals who wear the globe and anchor.