Our Impoverished Diplomats

Southern author and economist, DAVID L. COHN points out that the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world, pays its foreign representatives so poorly that the best qualified of them, unless they have private means, are unable to afford the most influential posts.

The rich United States treats its Foreign Service career officers with pinchpenny niggardliness. It thereby, to its disgrace, exacts heavy sacrifices of devoted men and sharply lessens our diplomatic effectiveness.

Annually, at the expense of their families’ welfare, these men spend upward of $200,000 of their own money in extending official hospitality to foreigners for the nation’s benefit. Large sums are spent by men in such ambassadorial posts as London, Paris, Rome, posts open only to the wealthy because the salaries and allowances attached to them fall far short of the needs. These posts are in effect bought by rich men who contribute liberally to the winning political party in a presidential election. They are therefore nearly always barred to the career diplomat, even though he be the embodiment of franklin, Talleyrand, Metternich.

How does this affect us in the field? In Paris the informed knew that the young officer being removed from our embassy there was exceptionally able, that his removal was the country’s loss. Speaking of him. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “When I was in Paris ... I had luncheon with some prominent French people; they said what a tragedy it was that this fellow had gone. They said, ‘Why did you take this man away?’ ”

He was removed because he had gone broke doing his job. Mr. Dulles continued: “He just could not afford to live there. He had already gone into debt and had neglected the education, health, and dentistry of his children. ... So we had to pull out one of our most effective persons. . . . He spoke French perfectly and was our best at the operating level, the best counterpoise to the activities of the Soviet Embassy.”

Thus the land of the $80 billion budget removed an able diplomat from an important post to one politically inconsequential, because it would not spend money to enable him to do his job well.

Like Paris, like Rome. At our embassy there an officer recently spent $1500 of his own funds entertaining official guests for the benefit of the United States. He is without independent income and has a family of four.

Why do these men make such sacrifices? It is because they cannot bear to see America poorly represented, because it pains them that thencountry should appear cheap and shabby in the eyes of foreigners, because they are professionals with the passion of their kind for perfection.

The whole difficulty stems from inadequate “representation allowances appropriated by Congress. These are funds to cover the cost of hospitality tendered for America. They are not compensation for individuals. No personal advantage accrues from them.

For fiscal 1957 these allowances were only $800,000. But although living costs are rising everywhere and our competition with the Communist world grows daily more intense, Congress sharply reduced the allowances for fiscal 1958 to $600,000. For fiscal 1959 they will be $750,000. This is less than the appropriation of two years ago, yet more men are in the field, and the need for money becomes acute.

The $600,000 allowance for 1958 was spread thin. It was distributed among eighty diplomatic missions, two hundred consulates, and approximately sixteen hundred officers. Since it was insufficient, almost no one had enough money to meet his minimal responsibilities. What are these responsibilities?

Our Foreign Service officer ought to cultivate local leaders in all spheres so that dealings might progress on a friendly, informal basis if the need should arise. Occasionally he must entertain these leaders and acquaint them with visiting Americans. He should, moreover, be able to talk lengthily and informally with local nationals about matters of common interest away from their offices. This is especially important in Oriental countries. In Japan, for example, even businessmen conduct much of their business in teahouses and restaurants, and many Japanese regard as vulgar the foreigner who insists upon doing business in the office.

These activities require more money than the $600,000 presently provided. Many American corporations spend larger sums entertaining customers and currying good will. Corporate expense spending, it is estimated, is now about $5 billion a year. This is equivalent to one sixteenth of the whole federal budget and is deductible from taxable income. But the same government that is so lavish with businessmen’s expense spending grudgingly grants pennies for the same purpose to the men charged with the awesome duties of discharging the nation’s foreign policy and winning good will for it against intense Communist competition nearly everywhere.

Let us see how this policy affects one consulate general. Its consular area contains 12 million people. It is located in a key city of more than one million people, engaged in shipping, manufacturing, trading. Aside from routine tasks such as issuing visas, the consulate interprets to Washington local political and economic trends, advises and entertains visiting American industrialists. calls upon and entertains local officials, businessmen, labor leaders, and all who may be useful to America in its economic competition with the West and its economic-political competition with the Communist world.

The consulate general has a representation allowance that, in the opinion of Congress, is large enough to permit it. among other things, to maintain close, friendly contacts with hundreds of persons at all social levels. It is $345 a year, or about 90 cents a day!

Our consul general does not aspire to funds sufficient for the task. He merely longs for ample “lunch money.”With it he could take local leaders to lunch and, he says, “do a little brain picking. I could entertain them for entertainment received and develop close contacts with labor leaders, teachers, and professional people, all of whom are important in opinion formulation.”

The people here, as in huge areas elsewhere, are largely illiterate. For most of them the purchase of a radio would be unimaginable. “But,” observes our consul, “here the personal approach pays rich dividends. Marvels can be achieved provided one enjoys personal friendships in the right places; lacking such friendships, the best laid plans may fail.” How much personal approach, in terms of lunches, dinners, donations to local charities, may be had for 90 cents a day?

We compete with the Soviet Union and Red China throughout the continent where this consulate general operates. But our representatives are at a great disadvantage in terms of the personal approach. The Soviet Union, unlike ourselves, does not dole out representation allowances according to rigid formula. It allots them according to the demands of the task. Hence the representation expenditures of its embassies, and those of its satellites, are limited only by the number of people of present or potential importance who will attend their dinners and entertainments.

LOOK at our pinchpcnny policy in the small, strategic Southeast Asian country of Laos. We have poured nearly $150 million of aid funds into it. But our embassy officers in Vientiane recently dug into their own pockets for $984 to pay for hospitality extended by them to Laotian and foreign officials.

We have also poured huge sums into neighboring Cambodia. There we are in direct, open competition with nearby Red China for Cambodia’s good will. Officers assigned to our Phnom Penh embassy recently spent $1750 of their own money for official entertaining. Last year a touring American track team visited Cambodia. In order to obtain the maximum benefit from the visit, our ambassador held a luncheon in the team’s honor to which he invited interested Cambodians. This display of patriotism on the ambassador’s part cost him $92.50.

One of fair crucial posts is at Amman, in the beleaguered desert kingdom of Jordan. In the fiscal year ending June, 1957, every officer of our Amman embassy dipped into his pocket to do his official tasks. In this period, marked by the Suez War, nearly all Americans were evacuated from Amman for five months, as were all Britons and many members of other foreign communities. The prevailing blackout and curfew sharply restricted normal contacts, but even under these conditions our Amman foreign Service officers had to use their own funds to do their work.

We have a new consulate at Kampala, Uganda, a remote African area rapidly growing in importance to us. Uganda is approaching self-government. Hence the demands upon our consulate are the greater because it must deal with the semi-autonomous government and Parliament of the kingdom of Buganda, which is destined to play a key role in determining the constitutional future of Uganda, as well as with the protectorate government and national legislative council of Uganda. Our two officers at this important, demanding post are granted a total of $500 a year (about 65 cents a day each) for representation allowance.

During the first four months of this fiscal year these officers spent $525 on essential representation. At this rate they will have to spend $1000 of their own money during the year, in addition to their $500 allotment.

Consider the plight of our consul at Tabriz, Iran. He was senior to his Turkish and French colleagues at a moment when the Shah was coming to Tabriz, and protocol dictated that our man must receive the Shah on behalf of the consular community. Protocol also dictated that he wear morning clothes for the occasion. The Shah could not know when our consul stood before him that the representative of the world’s richest people owed his morning clothes to the willingness of a local tailor to wait a year for his money.

Our government requires its officials to wear the clothes prescribed by protocol, such as tails, morning clothes, and so forth, but it does not help pay for them. Thus recently an officer with a wife and five children was forced to borrow $2500 to make essential purchases of clothing and equipment in preparation for assignment overseas. While abroad he must continue to pay income, real estate, and personal property taxes to his domiciliary state of Virginia. How much, then, of his own money can this man afford to spend for the benefit of the United States?

We are the world’s largest automobile manufacturers. Yet our diplomats use many broken-down cars. Regulations forbid the spending of more than 85000 for an ambassador’s car. The need is for a seven-passenger limousine, air-conditioned for the hot countries, with a window partition for privacy in talks. Such cars cannot be had for our top price. The State Department is therefore forced to purchase discarded cars of cabinet members, secondhand funeral-home limousines, and the old cars of foreign diplomats in Washington who are buying new ones.

Naturally, the rolling junk we send our diplomats causes them trouble. Some time ago Loy Henderson, deputy undersecretary of state, was our ambassador to Teheran. This able officer had been sent an ancient car for his use. “But,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “we had so much trouble with it that we did not dare go very far from Teheran. I recall that on several occasions when we were going to the airport to meet distinguished guests it broke down on the way and we had to transfer hurriedly to other cars.”

Our diplomats must do certain ceremonial entertaining. Everywhere they hold open house on the Fourth of July to all Americans and invited local nationals. It may consume a year’s representation allowance. The Fourth of July reception in London costs the embassy about S5700. This is $700 more than the ambassador’s $5000 representation allowance for a year.

The expense account is a fixed American business institution. But while we believe that it is a good thing for business to make friends by entertaining customers, we are only partially convinced that it is a good thing for our Foreign Service officers to do. Hence, while an American businessman in Rome may be spending hundreds of taxdeductible dollars dining his customers, down the street an American diplomat may be digging into his own pocket to pay for a pedestrian luncheon for an important Italian official. How can we entrust our diplomats with grave responsibilities and yet treat them with such parsimoniousness?

Our diplomatic corps is the basis of the operation of our foreign policy. Personal diplomacy is sometimes effective, and the politically appointed diplomat may be successful. Yet there can be no substitute for the well-trained, devoted diplomatic corps. As Senator Lyndon Johnson puts it, “A nation which does not have such a corps does not have a foreign policy.” Yet no diplomatic corps can be at its best when it lacks the best tools in abundance.