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.


meanderingmemos said...

All so true! I'm finishing up two years in Cons and will transfer Posts this summer, changing to a Pol job. I'm looking forward to the change in pace, but there are some things I'll miss - the constant interaction with terrific LES and the ever-present snacks top the list :) Good luck getting started in Pol!

melanie. said...

this was such a great post. one of the things i love about cons is the fact that i do get to interact with the "real" people of the country everyday. a ceo will have an interview after an illiterate farmer.

also, yeah, food! it doesn't happen in my one officer, one les, one part-time efm job, but at my last post, heck yeah! food parties were huuuuge!

Geraldine said...

Do you have any more time for yourself??

NoDoubleStandards said...

Love it. The observation about "food culture" is spot on!

Lee said...

careful babes, you don't want your rater reading this

Katie said...

This is funny! I think Public Affairs has aspects of both, but we are also ALL about the food. Our LES are so great and also, apparently, very hungry.

Digger said...

I am really happy to hear that about Public Affairs sections...I definitely missed the food when I moved to the political section from consular.

Charles said...

Not to be a naysayer, but there is a different sort of pressure in POL work, and that is when you realize YOU are supposed to be the expert on complex (and sundry) issues, especially in a foreign language! Looking stupid or at least uninformed on strategic relations between the US and the host country, often in front of a crowd of host country leaders, really is just not fun. So when everyone else is out of the office and you are asked to brief Washington on issues x, y, and/or z this afternoon, it can lead to heart palpitations.

But yes, perhaps less food. : )

A Daring Adventure said...

It's Friday, and that means that the Third Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up - and you're on it!

Here is the link:

(If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)


MJ said...

Look, Jordanian favorable views of the US are at record highs (25%):

Katie said...

What can I say? It's been a really productive two weeks for me in POL.

A Daring Adventure said...

Jhumpa Lahiri is quite possibly one of my most favorite authors!

(Just saw that you were reading Interpreter of Maladies and wanted to say that.)

I LOVE her. Her voice is just so wonderful.

Katie said...

The book was a Christmas gift from my youngest sister. I'm enjoying it, though so far POL hasn't afforded as much time for reading (for pleasure) as I had hoped!