U.S. Diplomat's Letter of Resignation
Wed, 5 Mar 2003 21:59:03 -0500
[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 Yerevan.]
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
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
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.