This point marks the end of the first twelve years, the nucleus and the core of my foreign service career. I was one year away from retirement eligibility, assuming 50 years old and taking my military time into consideration. But in fact there would be eight more years of service and a year, more or less, of administrative leave with pay before my retirement at the end.
The final eight years of my foreign service career were pretty stellar until the very end. We can compress it to a single paragraph. It began with assignment, in 2004, as special assistant to the Bureau of Administration Assistant Secretary and includes assignments as special assistant to the Under Secretary of Management, Arabic language training at FSI, deputy management counselor in Cairo, chief of staff in Baghdad, DCM and Charge d’affaires in Damascus, and NEA/RMA office director.
I summarized it all into this note I sent to a long lost prep school classmate:
I am one to talk. After Bissau, Luanda and Accra, I returned to DC to work East Africa issues. Then I took a job in Cairo. Cairo morphed into Baghdad. Baghdad morphed into Damascus. The Islamic civilization trifecta. I started to wonder how I would survive without hearing the call to prayer throughout the day! Finally I am back in DC. There is no call to prayer in DC, only the low frequency rumbling of the federal bureaucracy, grinding human souls into inanimate dust.
It all ends with my last assignment, 2011-2012, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Maghreb (North Africa), a position from which I was unceremoniously but conveniently, shamefully, ingloriously and inaccurately removed on December 18, 2012 as part of an over-zealous Department response to unfounded fears of Congressional fallout from the Benghazi ARB report.
Here is a note I wrote to my poetry group, The Breakfast Club, at the time:
“Dear Breakfast Clubbers: I thought about you all as I poured the second cup of french-pressed goodness and decided to share in this forum some life reflections. I have had a lot of free time since my dismissal at State on December 18. Still on the payroll, but with no desk and no secretary to order my life, I have been free to take long morning walks, hit the DC think tanks after breakfast, and work on writing projects in the afternoon. The passage of time has given me a clearer understanding of the whole administrative process that envelops me. It (this administrative leave period) was only supposed to last for a few days until Clinton could testify before Congress. But she got sick and had to postpone so my release was delayed until after her testimony, now scheduled for January 24.
My actual piece is this whole Benghazi drama is actually quite small. I was responsible for North Africa, but because Libya was so sexy, several more senior folks carved parts out, including people VERY well connected to the Clinton machine. Of course, they couldn’t be fingered, so it rolled down to me, unconnected me, in a most undignified and uncollegial way.
In a letter to the senior politicos who made this decision, leaked my name to the press, and executed this decision, I told them the way they treated and were treating me was shabby, thuggish and third worldly, and that I actually held the third world in a higher regard, having spent most of my career there. They didn’t like that. But my, wasn’t it poetic!?
The whole thing is further complicated because my small part has become a chink in Clinton’s armor, and, consequently, in Obama’s armor, since they both “signed off” on the findings of the Benghazi ARB, whose official unclassified report, by the way, mentions neither my name nor my position as deputy assistant secretary for the Maghreb. Unfortunately for me, any effort to extract me from this mess, to exonerate me, to clear my name, risks exposing Clinton and Obama managerial weaknesses, not to mention policy flaws that the political opposition would love to exploit.
The Clinton machine is focused on 2016, already. The Obama machine, as it has for the past four years, lacks any true foreign policy focus. This is Washington, baby. The buck never stops; it never even slows down. I have decided to share with the Breakfast Club, and any ModPoers who lurk therein, this inside view of Washington policy making.
I will get through this: they use tough, resilient material to make the Maxwells and Hairstons down in piedmont North Carolina. There will be poems written, and memoirs, and maybe even a slick movie. Yeah, a Spielberg slick movie. “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.” –Omar Khayyam. p.s. Keep up with the latest by occasionally checking out my poetry blog: http://poemsbyray.blogspot.com
People have asked me if my demise were somehow racially determined. I have never “traded” on my race. I never had to. I grew up in a very nurturing community, an “African village” of sorts in Greensboro, NC. We lived less than an hour’s drive from the farming and rural communities where my parents, and their parents, and their parents, and their parents were raised. All the way back to Great Grandaddy Caswell and Great Grandmama Emily and Great Grandaddy Dick Rankin and Great Grandma Mary and Great Great Grandma Harriot on Daddy’s side, and Great Grandma Sallie and Great Grandpa Tom and Great Great Grandma (Big Mama) Rhodie and Great Great Grand Papa Nelson and Great Great Grandpa Sonny and Great Great Grandma Mariah on Mama’s side and everybody in between all lived their lives and died right there in Guilford County, NC and Pittsylvania County, VA. The farms and plantations where generations of my enslaved ancestors lived and labored are also inside that one-hour radius. One could say, from a spiritual level, that I grew up under the watchful eye of multiple generations of African ancestors. It feels sometimes they are still watching over me. May they all rest in peace.
For me, doing the work was always sufficient, beginning in my village, then on the track and in the classroom at Woodberry and extending over a succession of submarines and ships where I proudly served and institutions where I studied. I never claimed victimhood nor projected guilt onto others. I am of African descent and my affirmation of my Africanness and my Americanness have worked out more to my benefit than to my detriment over the course of my life and professional career. Uniting me with my ancestors, both heritages have given me confidence and strength and developed in me a well-built internal honor code. I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors. I stand – on holy ground. That’s my opinion and has been my guiding principle. I have always been “black and proud.” But race in and of itself is a merely a social construct, plain and simple. Don’t forget it.
In 2020, we live in an extreme racially-charged atmosphere. In most election years we watch evidence emerge of forces that display and give rise to divisive tendencies in society. Politics reign. Stir up and excite the masses to get their vote. It seems more intense this year but that is because of widespread opposition to the government in mainstream and social media. Information warfare is being waged in every town and hamlet, in every city, at every internet node.
For better or for worse, the State Department and the Foreign Service do not exist in a vacuum. The same ills that exist in broader American society are normally distributed across all USG agencies and institutions, including the Foreign Service. To believe otherwise is being naive, if not intentionally dishonest.
That’s it, y’all. That’s all she wrote.
The next and final part (bonus) highlights the twelve months I spent in Iraq in a thoughtful and perhaps philosophic way. Sit back, pop some popcorn, and enjoy!
Prologue and beginnings Part 1 – Foreign Service Exam and Oral Assessment
Part 2 – A-100 and reassignment training
Part 3 – Embassy Bissau – the first year
Part 4 – Embassy Bissau – the second year
Part 5 – The London Embassy
Part 6 – The Ops Center
Part 7 – Embassy Luanda, Angola
Part 8 – Embassy Accra, Ghana
Part 9 – Domestic Assignment – AF/EX
Part 10 – Epilogue: the final eight years
Part 11 – Bonus: Reflections on War and Peace in Iraq