Being a diplomat is not a safe profession
IN a smart, disheartening piece in The New York Times Magazine last month, Robert Worth surveyed the frustration of American diplomats who signed up to engage the world — even dreamed of changing it — and now find themselves encumbered by the safeguards and protocols of a risk-averse Washington. It is hard to change the world when you live in a fortress and travel in an armored motorcade.
The article was prompted, of course, by the death of J. Christopher Stevens, the ambassador killed in a Sept. 11 jihadi attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya. His death, Worth wrote, “set off a political storm that seems likely to tie the hands of American diplomats around the world for some time to come. Congressmen and Washington pundits accused the administration of concealing the dangers Americans face abroad and of failing Stevens by providing inadequate security. Threats had been ignored, the critics said, seemingly unaware that a background noise of threats is constant at embassies across the greater Middle East.
“The death of an ambassador would not be seen as the occasional price of a noble but risky profession; someone had to be blamed.”
That phrase — “the occasional price of a noble but risky profession” — struck rather close to home. It is a calculus familiar to the tribe of foreign correspondents who work, as Bobby Worth often does, in places that can blow up in your face. If diplomats are withdrawing behind blast walls and armed escorts, and if that is costing us some useful understanding of the world, is the same thing happening to those who cover the news, and with what consequences?