RealJobs: Tara Foley

Tara Foley’s work day on Wednesday, February 10, 2010.

Remember the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) I talked about on Monday, the human rights progress report that each UN member goes through once every four years?  Well, Iran’s UPR is on Monday.  This week, Ambassador John Limbert, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran (in plain speak: the top State Department official for Iran), is visiting Geneva to prepare for the Iran UPR.

Ambassador Limbert has met with other governments and with NGOs, and has given several media interviews.  The purpose of the visit is to emphasize the need for honest and credible discussions about the human rights situation in Iran.  As the officer assisting his visit, I am able to accompany the Ambassador to his meetings.  I take notes, which I will write up in a report that goes back to Washington.

If note-taking sounds boring, it’s not.   This is one of my favorite parts of the job.  Being able to observe the interactions that happen at this level, between experienced senior officials,  is one of the best learning tools I have as I hone my skills as a diplomat.  But I also get to practice those skills myself.  At my level, I am also asked to approach other governments, NGOs, and civic groups directly to ask about plans or thoughts on a particular topic and to share the U.S. position.  Last week, for example, I had a meeting with Amnesty International and they shared their concerns about human rights in Egypt.  Yesterday, I exchanged views with a group of diplomats from other countries about our concerns regarding the human rights situation in Iran.

This recalls one of the most common questions I hear when I talk to students and friends who are interested in joining the Foreign Service or working for the government: “Yes, but do you get to make decisions?  Do you really make a difference?”  I think the answer is yes and no.  On the one hand, I can’t expect to make decisions at the Ambassadorial level, any more than my peers in the private sector can expect to make decisions at the CEO level.  That’s just not the way it works.

That said, junior and mid-level officers provide invaluable input into the policy making process.  Junior and mid-level officers are the ones on the ground in China, Pakistan, and Mexico reporting information back to Washington about what is really happening – what the host governments are thinking and what the mood of the public is.  In this way, working-level diplomats have the opportunity to inform U.S. foreign policy.  We also have the opportunity to influence foreign policy through the discussions and debates we have internally with our colleagues and bosses.  In addition, as the personal face of U.S. foreign policy, we influence how foreign audiences understand that policy through our personal interaction with them.  Every day when I go to work, I speak on behalf of the United States and represent the American people.  That’s an honor.

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