Saturday, February 27, 2010

"What's that, Lassie? Little Timmy's trapped in a well... and can't deliver his demarche?!"

So, two weeks isn't much time in which to develop a really informed opinion about Political work -- but if there was one thing Consular taught me, it was to make unshakable, irrevocable decisions based on a minimum of data and in a very short time frame. So here's my take (we'll call it a "first impression" to give me an out later).

1. The single biggest difference between POL and CONS is the the source of motivation for the work. The pressure source for POL is completely polar to that of CONS. All the motivating pressure in CONS comes from below: there's a person with a problem standing in front of you, and now what are you going to do about it? All the pressure in POL, however, comes from above: someone has made a problem for your boss, and what is your boss going to make you do about it? You can see how in CONS, you might have more of an idea about how your onward action has a direct bearing on the situation. You can also see how 'urgency' would have a slightly different coloring from one office to another:

CONS: This is urgent! [Read: Someone is in danger!]

POL: This is urgent! [Read: Washington wants this real bad like!]

I do admit that 'urgent' in CONS often means "I really want to go to my third cousin's husband's niece's christening," but then you get to use your own discernment to dissect the 'urgent' nature of the case; i.e., "Yes, so sorry -- passports take two weeks to renew." I don't think it would be very wise to (at least openly) dissect 'urgent' in POL on your own, though having done so in CONS now makes me sincerely doubt the 'urgency' of anything not involving the immediate need for a tourniquet.

There are also times in POL, however, when no one is putting pressure on you;* then it's up to you to put pressure on yourself. And we all know how well that went for you in grad school.

2. It's much harder to measure your productivity in POL than in CONS. There's no 11C report to run at the end of the day and taunt your slower colleagues with, mainly because there aren't any real widgets to move or beans to count. I suppose you could track numbers of cables written or business cards collected, maybe number of Codels hosted... in CONS one of the potential pitfalls is turning everything into a numbers game, but in POL I'm guessing one pitfall is going the opposite extreme and denying that numbers matter at all. Ideally in any job you want a nice balance between quantity and quality: efficiency. I haven't yet received my POL work requirements statement (you have 45 days from your start date to set these up), but I'm super curious how they'll be phrased given our essentially widget-less environment. "Write five catchy subject lines"? "Don't lose anyone's luggage"? "Set up a semaphore station so Post can transmit cables even when ClassNet goes down"? (I guess that last one is more of an IT job...)

3. There aren't any FSNs in POL. Well, I mean, there are, but not physically in POL -- they're way over there, in the unclassified part of the building that you never think to step foot in. You probably have no idea what they're doing. In fact, you, PolOff, said to have your fingers on the proverbial pulse of the country in which you're stationed, can go pretty much all day without even seeing a Jordanian. Try that in CONS, and the FSNs will come find you and feed you things.

4. Which brings me to the next big difference: there is a serious lack of food culture in POL. The Human Rights Officer brought in doughnuts today to celebrate having finally finished the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, and the doughnuts just SAT THERE all the way through our staff meeting. I once brought in six dozen cookies to the Consular section, and those suckers were gone in less than two hours. Today was Consular Leadership Day, and I understand they had no fewer than three cakes. Three cakes!

5. No one in POL is going to suggest you buy a "Political Leadership Tenets" Junior Spaghetti Tank.

*I'm sure this also happens occasionally in CONS, but I honestly can't recall any such moments.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


My time in ACS came to a close today, and now I'm suddenly POL -- or in other words, I've abruptly gone from being the last person evacuated from post in the event of a disaster, the one most necessary in a crisis, to being the first one on the plane. Three years of consular work, over. If you think that's a weird feeling, you're right. Luckily, I've got a long weekend ahead of me to settle into the idea.

I've been trying to reflect on the things I've learned in consular. Maybe more patience. Definitely more humility when dealing with rules and bureaucracy. I've stretched the 'E' side of my personality, for all you MBTI fans. Those are all good things. It's been a heavy three years though. This last year in particular, it seemed like I was proverbially sprinting nearly the entire time, to the point where returning home at night was merely a stage setter for an epic struggle between my desire to sleep and my desire to eat. That part I won't miss. But watching the FSNs 'sprint', too -- that part I won't forget. If I'm ever in a position of management, I hope I can make things better for them.

So, sure, POL work. Bring it on. We'll see what I learn this time.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Super Oblivious

The super bowl happened, and I had no idea.

Which might be the best thing ever about living overseas.