I cannot understand how any diplomatic establishment can properly function w/o FSNs (Foreign Service National) staff. They are the ones who know the things and people we need to know. They have the profound understanding of the place that none of us sojourning diplomat can match, even after taking the area studies course at FSI. Here in Iraq have very competent bicultural specialists, but they often are drawn from the expat Iraqi community or from other regions. W/o FSNs, diplomats too often go into situations nearly blind and sometimes we don’t even know it. I do not have FSNs. BUT we are getting some.
All I needed do was seek and I have found. We evidently have the capacity to hire local staff; we just neglected to use it. Actually, I suppose during the recent hostilities, security did not permit it. But now the situation has improved and we can. I can hire five (5) FSNs. They are calling them locally engaged staff (LES) but what do I do care what they are called if they do the jobs I need done? I cannot use them in my “home” office, since there is nothing at Al Asad but the base and a lot of dust. The population centers are scattered around an AO (area of operation) the size of South Carolina. Given my unique geographical situation, I will need to be a creative. Fortunately, I have extensive experience in managing telecommuting from my time at IIP. I do not have to see them every day for them to be productive.
I figure I can hire one FSN in each of my five regions: Al Qaim, Hit, Haditha Triad, Rawah/Anah and Rutbah. I modified a public diplomacy job description to correspond to our peculiar needs. Essentially, this person would keep abreast of local affairs & relationships, do some translation via email and advise us on local developments. This will help us immensely. It will address our current problem of keeping up with written translations. Beyond that, we just don’t know lots of simple things. For example, I have no idea how much things really cost. When we plan an event or consider a project, local vendors routinely quote prices that would shock customers at Whole Foods, Brooks Brothers or the Sharper Image. A casual look around does not indicate the general prosperity that would support such aspirational prices, but I have no practical baseline. It is like going onto the used car lot and telling the salesman that you really need a car, you have a pile of money and you will rely on his expertise to set the price. I know we pay more because of our rigid governmental requirements and because we are rich Americans. I can tolerate that within reason, but in this bargaining culture I doubt if we get much respect by appearing grotesquely stupid. Local knowledge will help. FSNs will have that knowledge and then I will too.
Anyway, I am very excited about this development. I owe most of my success at overseas posts to my FSN colleagues and I want to be successful here too. W/o FSNs, I felt like a guy up the creek w/o a paddle. I will get them on board quick as I can, so that they are up, trained and fully functioning by … about the time I leave.
BTW – the picture up top has nothing at all to do with Iraq. It is Mariza’s graduation day at UVA. Just looking through the pictures on my computer and thinking of home. Kids are big; UVA is green.