John Brown, a veteran of more than two decades in the Foreign Service, informed Secretary of State Colin Powell in a letter Monday that he was leaving the department immediately "because I cannot in good conscience support President Bush's war plans against Iraq." He joins a fellow Foreign Service officer, John Brady Kiesling, who also resigned this month in protest of the administration's policy.
In an interview Wednesday with Government Executive, Brown said the Bush administration is pursuing a narrow-minded strategy in Iraq, jeopardizing relationships with long-time allies around the world.
"The failure to imagine what other people might think" of U.S. policy, Brown said, "is absolutely parochial in its assumptions." Brown said the administration has taken the stance that "if [other nations] don't think like us, there's something wrong with them, or they're evil."
Brown, who is 54 and has spent most of his 22-year Foreign Service career in Eastern Europe and Russia, said the U.S. has done long-lasting damage to its relations with Europe. "I think it's going to take years to fix this," he said. "In the long term, it's a failure to recognize that we're just one nation among nations; we're not the center of the universe."
Brown said many of his Foreign Service colleagues share his opinions. "There is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction" at the State Department over both the current policy and a perceived decline in the role of diplomacy in shaping foreign policy, Brown said.
A department spokeswoman said that, to her knowledge, the only officials to voice their dissent publicly so far are Kiesling and Brown. Kiesling officially resigned this month but informed Powell in February of his intentions. He was assigned to the U.S. embassy in Greece.
Brown said Kiesling's resignation provided the final push for him to leave State and to make his views known publicly.
For four days, Brown said he sat at his computer writing his letter and debated whether he was making the right decision. He consulted a few friends, but deliberated mainly in private. Brown knew he would be eligible to collect federal retirement benefits if he resigned. However, he had no job prospects lined up, other than a contract to write a book that is still in its preliminary stage.
Finally, on Monday, Brown sent his letter via e-mail. Brown also forwarded copies to various news media organizations. He said he wasn't sure until the "very last minute" that he wanted to leave.
The State Department had no comment on Brown's departure.
Kiesling said in his resignation letter that he no longer believed he was "upholding the interests of the American people and the world" by supporting the president's policies.
"Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security," Kiesling wrote. He added, "We have not seen such a systematic distortion of intelligence, such systematic manipulation of American opinion, since the war in Vietnam."
Brown said he has received a number of messages expressing support this week, several from Foreign Service officers. Other people have told him they're glad he's leaving, because based on his views he would be an ineffective promoter of the official U.S. message.
Despite the conditions of his departure, Brown said he felt privileged to serve in the diplomatic corps, and said he would encourage young people to join the Foreign Service. He acknowledged, though, that it would be harder for a mid-level officer, with less career tenure, to speak out in such a public manner.
Foreign Service officers may privately voice their disagreement with official policy through a "dissent channel," said John Naland, president of the American Foreign Service Association. They can send classified messages and documents to support their position to the Secretary of State, he said. The practice began during the Vietnam War.
Naland said that if an officer still can't support a policy after pursuing those channels, he or she has no choice but to resign. In 1993 and 1994, four Foreign Service officers resigned in protest over the Clinton administration's reluctance to take military action in the civil war in the former Yugoslavia.