Sunday, February 27, 2005

Bush vs. Putin

President Bush galloped into his second term waving the flag of freedom, his Second Inaugural Address and his State of the Union Address brimming with idealistic references to America's mission to bring the light of democracy and freedom to the four corners of the globe:
As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny and despair and anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends. So America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East. We will challenge the enemies of reform, confront the allies of terror, and expect a higher standard from our friend. To cut through the barriers of hateful propaganda, the Voice of America and other broadcast services are expanding their programming in Arabic and Persian -- and soon, a new television service will begin providing reliable news and information across the region. I will send you a proposal to double the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy, and to focus its new work on the development of free elections, and free markets, free press, and free labor unions in the Middle East. And above all, we will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, so those nations can light the way for others, and help transform a troubled part of the world.

America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace -- a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman. America acts in this cause with friends and allies at our side, yet we understand our special calling: This great republic will lead the cause of freedom.

According to some historians, the Founding Fathers viewed the Constitution to be the ideal to which all governments should attain, not pretending that they themselves were without imperfection, but rather, that through a system of checks and balances, separation of power, clear demarcations between federal, state, and local governments, and stringent time limits on terms served, we would strive to lessen the flaws inherent in more traditional forms of government. And it has served us well; we are one of the few governments that can essentially change personnel almost overnight without seriously disrupting the system. The Founding Fathers recognized this and actively worked to spread this "gospel" around the globe, with some success mostly in Western Europe and Oceania in the 1800's, Asia in the mid 1900's, and Africa and Eastern Europe during the latter half of the 1900's (with some still ongoing).

But the intensity of this belief has diminished with time, as the succeeding generations (and a preponderance of the population) have not known any other form of government, and therefore do not recognize the reality that it has become.

President Bush is attempting to thrust this idealism back into our collective consciousness, to strengthen our resolve with hope and compassion instead of fear and revenge.

The question is, however, can he realistically bring these statements to bear on his foreign policy? His trip abroad last week, and especially his summit with Putin in Slovakia, was watched critically by many who were curious to see how this "first test" would either support or undercut the "Grand Promises" of his reelection addresses. Russian analysts Goldgeier & McFaul, writing for the Weekly Standard, claimed "If the president neglects to affirm his commitment to freedom with Putin at his side, Bush will be signaling that his words don't count."

Despite this intense scrutiny, President Bush managed to surprise almost everyone, by bluntly asserting (despite all the "diplomatic niceties") that Russia was not fulfilling certain "fundamental" principles of democracy. Nearly all of the following questions focused on democracy, "I think it's very important that all nations understand the great values inherent in democracy," answered President Bush. Even a question specifically framed to give Putin a place to stand was taken by Bush. Despite a relatively successful summit, with progress made concerning stances on North Korea and Iran, the outcome of the meeting was defined by the subsequent press conference, in which Vladimir Putin appeared to have been deeply humiliated.

In the final analysis, however, this should not cause irreparable harm to our relationship with Russia. Putin will likely do some damage control and haranguing when he returns to Moscow, even perhaps firing a few journalists, but ideally will do some reflection on preventing a further rollback of democracy in Russia, and regaining much of the support that he has gradually lost.

Bush has started laying his cards on the table, can he keep up the momentum?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Who's Pocketing this Money?

After over a decade of overlooking the "required fees" charged to Japanese Companies by the Philippine Embassy in Japan to permit new recruits to come work in Japan, Tokyo is upset by the economic and political repercussions. Entertainment companies were forced to pay an twenty-thousand dollar (not yen) "deposit" per recruit plus paperwork fees before Manila would issue the new recruit a "performing artist certificate", which in turn was required to obtain the entertainment visa to work in Japan.

These fees were unique to the Philippine Embassy in Japan, and were supposedly used to reimburse Philippine women who complained of non-payment by their employers in Japan. It is uncertain if any women ever claimed that their wages were unpaid during the past ten to fifteen years the fees have been in effect.

As an indirect result of these outrageous fees, many "entertainment workers" are being forced into the sex industry. In a bid to remove themselves from the United States human trafficking watchlist, Tokyo's Foreign Ministry is requesting that the fees be suspended, in hopes that the foreign workers will not be coerced by their employers in an attempt to recoup some of their investment.

Naturally, the Philippines is protesting this move; somebody has made a killing over this - $20,000 per recruit times 80,000 recruits in 2003 alone comes to $1.6 Billion Dollars per year. With this level of largesse going on, perhaps the Philippine Government ought to be put on the trafficking watchlist, if it's not already there.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Taiwan Question

The question of Taiwan regularly makes international headlines, and has been a major obstacle in the development of US-Sino relations. Beijing blames Washington for continually interfering in a domestic issue; Taipei complains that the U.S. ought to help more, and Washington states that this issue should be resolved peacefully.

As briefly mentioned in an earlier article, U.S. involvement in the Korean War was in response to the implementation of the policy of containment. China's rush to assist North Korea antagonized Washington to such a degree that the previously-overlooked "rebel province" of Taiwan was able to successfully plead for "protection" from imminent takeover by the Red Army. On December 1, 1954, a Joint Statement was issued which welcomed Taiwan under the containment umbrella: "This treaty will forge another link in the system of collective security established by the various collective defense treaties already concluded between the United States and other countries in the Pacific area. Together, these arrangements provide the essential framework for the defense by the free peoples of the Western Pacific against Communist aggression."

During the Nixon administration in the early 1970s, a dialogue with China was reestablished, and in the First of three Joint Communiques, the Taiwan dispute was reviewed. China opposed the United States interfering in their domestic issue, and Washington responded accordingly: "The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan."

The Second Joint Communique, issued January 1, 1979, Washington recognized the Beijing as the sole legal government of China, and diplomatic relations were established.

This prompted an outcry both domestically and abroad for the United States to clearly state it's position concerning Taiwan, paving the way for the Taiwan Relations Act in April of the same year, which reaffirms the United States desire for a peaceful resolution to the issue: "It is the policy of the United States:
  • (1) to preserve and promote extensive, close, and friendly commercial, cultural, and other relations between the people of the United States and the people on Taiwan, as well as the people on the China mainland and all other peoples of the Western Pacific area;
  • (2) to declare that peace and stability in the area are in the political, security, and economic interests of the United States, and are matters of international concern;
  • (3) to make clear that the United States decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means;
  • (4) to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States;
  • (5) to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character; and
  • (6) to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.

  • In 1982, during negotiations with the PRC regarding the sales of arms to Taiwan, the Taiwan Government presented the United States with the "Six Assurances", a proposed set of guidelines to be used by the U.S. in relation to Taiwan. As the six points point to the desire for a peaceful resolution to the "One China" issue, the U.S. agreed to these points.

    Shortly thereafter, the Third Joint Communique was released in Beijing, concerning the Sales of Arms to Taiwan. Beijing firmly restated its' desire for Washington to cease all assistance to Taiwan. Washington acknowledged Beijing's point of view, and reiterated that also sought a final resolution to the issue, and, in what has become current policy, firmly placed responsibility back into the hands of the Chinese: "In order to bring about, over a period of time, a final settlement of the question of United States arms sales to Taiwan, which is an issue rooted in history, the two Governments will make every effort to adopt measures and create conditions conducive to the thorough settlement of this issue."

    In lieu of a current willingness on either side of the Taiwan Straits to seek out a peaceful resolution, or even to officially recognize those in power on the other side, the United States is still bound by it's policy to provide arms to Taipei, preventing aggression on the part of the PRC. To settle this question peacefully, internally, each side, Beijing and Taipei, have to meet each other as equals, dialogue as equals, and reach a mutually satisfying decision as to their permanent future together.

    Diplomats in Residence

    I contacted my regional Diplomat-in-Residence earlier this year, and had the opportunity to meet with him/her at an introductory seminar given at a nearby university. Out of a group of twenty to thirty, I was the only one not attending that University. Although the information given was geared primarily toward individuals & students who had not yet decided to take the fswe, there were a few valuable nuggets that encouraged me to be a little more open-minded when preparing for the OA later on (yes, I'm being optimistic). Disclaimer: I have not yet taken the OA, and will abide with the non-disclosure agreement as required at that time. Several of the examples cited were significantly different from past (pre-NDA) preparatory materials found on the both the State Department or Yahoo-FSOA sites; additionally, as they were freely mentioned in an open setting, then it is obviously outside the realm of confidentiality, and should be taken at face value.

    Upon opening, the Diplomat (hereafter referred to as D.) stressed that there were no educational prerequisites to joining the Foreign Service, but that individual interest in language and regional studies were key components to success, irregardless of cone or track. [Notice they said "interest in", not "education in" or "experience in". Think 13-D's]. However, a background in certain areas could be beneficial in whichever cone is selected.

    • Political Cone - degree in Political Sciences, International Law
    • Economics Cone - International Business, Law
    • Public Diplomacy Cone - International Relations, Public Speaking
    • Consular Cone - Social Work, Psychology, Criminal Justice
    • Management/Administrative Cone - Business Management, Accounting

    Last year (2004), D. stated, approximately nineteen thousand people (19,000) took the fswe, out of which roughly three thousand (3,000) went on to the fsoa. From those that passed, 538 were hired. These numbers are quite close to the 2002 statistics quoted in an earlier post.

    Preparing for the FSWE, according to D:

    Although "the list" is extensive, there are three focus areas which are key:

    1. The World Since 1945; Cliff Notes are good. [+1 point for Renato!]
    2. English Composition & Essay. Two words to describe your writing should be "clearly" and "well", and it shold not be too long. In the FSO world, if you are in Peru and four Americans are injured in a bus accident, you will have to cable an incident report to the State Department. They don't care about the history of the bus company, or Peruvian accident statistics since 1673, just what happened, why, and what is being done. In other words, Keep To The Point: Intro, Body (2-3 supporting paragraphs), Conclusion.
    3. U.S. Government (branches, structure, history, etc.)

    Then on to FSOA:

    The applicants should find out in late July if they are eligible to move on to the Oral Assessment (it takes a long time to grade nineteen thousand hand-written essays), which would be scheduled between September and March of the following year. The Diplomats-in-Residence generally plan on conducting prep sessions in September and October; as that is when most people try to take their orals. The OA is comprised of three sections:

    1. The Group Exercise - it could budget or financial, or even a crisis or contingency planning that needs to be dealt with. They want to see how well you work together with others.
    2. The Structured Interview - Why do you want to join the FS? How do your skills and background make a good fit with the FS? What would you do if twenty-five American citizens were arrested for demonstrating? What would you do if a [noticeably] deranged individual came in demanding to give up his citizenship and passport?
    3. Case Management - you are given a mess/mass of information and you have to make sense out of it: So-and-So (the Ambassador, the Secretary of State) wants to know...
    Another Way In:

    Another option for students is to apply for the Pickering Fellowship, which assists with college, pays a salary/stipend, and requires a five year commitment to serve as a JFSO, during which you must take and pass the FSWE. Traditional hires (via The Register) are not held to any contract or time commitment other than the regular tenuring limitations.

    Summer internships are also available, for Summer 2006, but most positions are not paid, although they do generally pay travel and housing expenses.


    I would estimate that a majority of the information was not new to me, but it was definitely a good thing to have introduced myself to D., associating a face with the email address, and knowing that they would be able to answer any additional questions that I might have further down the road. Assuming a passing score on the written exam (fingers crossed), I will be remaining in contact with him/her with regards to Oral Prep Sessions.

    Monday, February 14, 2005

    Why the Uproar?

    Pyongyang's assertion that they possess nuclear weaponry should not have come as a shock; analysts have been saying for years that the DPRK have the uranium, the technology, and the intent to weaponize. So what's the big deal?

    Have they actually constructed a reliable delivery system? Do they believe that disclosure in this manner would pressure the U.S. into bilateral talks? Is this their way of thumbing their nose at China and Russia, demanding equal status? Or are they predestined to become the Pariah State poster child of the 21st century?

    The country affected the most by this information is the People's Republic of China. The Washington-Pyongyang confrontation in 2002 over an alleged uranium enrichment program caught Beijing off guard, and they appear to be suspecting that the DPRK are a bunch of ungrateful louts. Beijing is the only powerful friend that North Korea has now, and supplies a preponderance of energy (oil) and food supplies to Pyongyang, primarily out of respect to their 1961 mutual security agreement, possibly to maintain the DPRK as a "geopolitical buffer zone". During the 1950-1953 Korean War, Beijing stood firmly behind Pyongyang, as Washington began to implement the policy of containment in the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese paid dearly for their assistance, losing an estimated 300,000-500,000 soldiers, which went unappreciated by the North Korean government. Additionally, their intervention annoyed Washington to such a degree that even Chiang Kai-Shek's corrupt-slash-discredited-slash-exiled government on the overlooked island of Formosa was able to successfully appeal for protection under the auspices of being anti-communist. Hamish McDonald, in the aforementioned article, quotes Chinese Scholar Xiao Ren [please don't tell me it's spelled '小人'!]: "In the eyes of many people in China, had there not been the Korean War and China's forced involvement, there would not have existed a Taiwan question today," assuming that the United States would have quietly ignored Chairman Mao finishing off a few ragtag counterrevolutionaries and the remnants of a deposed government, who certainly had not been welcomed with open arms in Taiwan (2-28, anyone?). Beijing will not be so willing to sacrifice themselves a second time for North Korea.

    Beijing has the most to lose should North Korea continue to stockpile. The PRC has been the driving force behind the six-party talks, and thus has a vested interest in its' success. Additionally, the disruption of the "nuclear-free Korean peninsula" would give Japan, Pyongyang's most hated enemy, an impetus for building their own nuclear shield. Currently, Tokyo is "protected" by the United States "nuclear umbrella", although some hardliners are pushing for self-reliance. Allowing such free proliferation of nuclear weapons to develop in Asia is something neither Beijing nor Washington are eager to see happen.

    Russia, although usually sympathetic with North Korea, issued an unequivocal statement regarding Pyongyang's bid to withdraw from the talks, stating their concern that Pyongyang might have "made the wrong choice" and called for pressure to "do all we can to keep that state in the treaty framework".

    In 2000, Thailand, the Philippines, Italy, Australia, the E.U. among others established diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, initial goodwill gestures in response to North Korea's apparent interest in rejoining the international community. It might assumed that the sudden increase in status and the inflow of funds and investments may have emboldened Kim Jong-il to assert his self-reliance to the dismay of his "big brothers" in Beijing and Moscow.

    Beijing has had past success reasoning with Pyongyang. During the crisis of 2002, Beijing contemplated their military options, but rightly concluded that any pre-emptive strike would not reach the DMZ in time to prevent an attack on Seoul. In 2003, the oil lifeline that supplies the DPRK was turned off for "technical reasons" for a period of three days, and soon afterward, the North Koreans showed a willingness to attend the six-way summit in Beijing.

    One North Korean official stated that the continued presence of U.S. troops along the 38th Parallel was one of the primary reasons for withdrawal from the negotiations. This actually begs a tantalizing question: since China, as a condition of their 1961 mutual defense treaty, has continued to provide weapons and technology to the North Koreans, would they respond positively to a gradual reduction in forces to the point of complete withdrawal? I think this could be a tremendous opportunity for the Beijing to save face, as they would appear to be justified first in supplying weapons and now in pushing for disarmament, which currently puts them in an awkward position. However, demobilization could not be done unilaterally without the approval of Seoul or Tokyo, without damaging relations with our strategic allies.

    On our own, there are not a lot of good options, however, the ball seems to be in China's court for now, but at least we are still in the game.

    Thursday, February 10, 2005

    One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

    In another remarkable step toward democracy this year, Saudi Arabia has allowed limited elections of municipal councils, the first open elections in Riyadh in over 1500 years of history. Some critics of the election say it's merely a concession by the ruling Saudis to pacify democratic reformists, and that the handful of council members elected will have no real clout (half are elected, the other half appointed by the monarchy). Turnout was also limited, with about 150,000 of the eligible 600,000 men casting their ballots.

    But small steps are necessary and welcomed by the supporters of Crown Prince Abdullah's reform concessions, and point to the proposed plan by the Saudi government to gradually phase in democratic processes: next month southern and eastern provinces will have their turn to vote, followed by the western and northen provinces in April. If all goes smoothly, the government has hinted that provincial elections could be held within four years, and that they might be willing to open separate polling stations to allow women to vote as well.

    Conversely, the President's so-called "Axis of Evil" coalesced as North Korea suspended its' participation in the six-way conferences, claiming possession of nuclear weapons as a necessary deterrent to U.S. aggression. These claims were met with scepticism, but undeniably show Pyongyang's intentions. Some analysts believe that with the World briefly distracted with Iran's sabre-rattling, North Korea may be using brinksmanship in an attempt to receive additional concessions to return to the talks.

    Hmm. Pyongyang won't play, uses positional bargaining and dirty tricks. Sounds like they could use a copy of "Getting to Yes".

    As already mentioned, Iran's defensive rhetoric has made headlines recently, with President Mohammad Khatami in Tehran claiming that the entire country [of Iran] would become "a burning hell" for anyone daring to invade. At this moment the chances of war are slim, with sanctions by the U.N. Security Council more likely. However, Secretary Condoleeza Rice, did not discount the possibility, stating that unless Iran faced up to its' obligations to halt its' nuclear program, that "next steps were in the offing, and I think everybody understands what the 'next steps' mean," adding that for the time being, the U.N., the United States, and the IAEA were still committed to resolving the issue diplomatically.

    Wednesday, February 09, 2005

    Israeli-Palestinian Ceasefire

    The formal ceasefire between Israel and Palestine is the culmination of about three weeks of an unofficial ceasefire. Despite the claims of Hamas and another militant group to be not bound by the agreement, everybody is undoubtedly tiring of the violence, and to spark off a new round of bloodshed would be unpopular. Both sides have pledged to end hostilities and have made significant concessions, including, but not necessarily limited to, the release of political prisoners, the handover of up to five West Bank towns, beginning with Jericho, a moratorium on targeted killings against individuals unilaterally determined to be "wanted" by Israel, and a gradual withdrawal of troops.

    Sharon made his intentions clear when he addressed the Palestinian people:

    "I assure you that we have a genuine intention to respect your rights to live independently and in dignity. I have already said that Israel has no desire to continue to govern over you and control your fate."

    The overtures of peace are not without benefit to Israel; Egypt and Jordan are planning on returning ambassadors to Israel following their 2000 diplomatic withdrawal in protest of Israel's perceived excessive use of force.

    Mubarak, the key representative who summoned Sharon and Abbas to the summit, expressed hope for further peace in the region, hinting that Syria and Lebanon may also be on the verge of a breakthrough in their talks as well.

    President Bush has invited each of the two leaders, Sharon and Abbas, to visit him separately during the spring of this year, in hopes of getting back on track of achieving results in the so-called "Middle East Roadmap".

    Certainly a fragile, but promising new beginning.

    Monday, February 07, 2005

    Haloscan Comments & Trackback

    I've added the free HaloScan trackback system to streamline my references to other sites as well as tracking outside links to my own posts. This allows bloggers (and others) to know when someone has referenced or commented on their article in another blog, as well as giving the readers a link to similar articles.

    The only annoyance is that I've lost the original comments that people have already entered on my site, due to HaloScan's automatic code insertion (beta for Blogger or BlogSpot users). Apologies to Renato & PrinceRoy; I have "cut & pasted" archived copies of your posts to the new HaloScan comment links, for continuity. Thanks for your patience during this transition period.

    For more basic information on the concept of trackback and how to use it, take a look at SixApart, HaloScan, or Wikipedia.

    --- text below added by HaloScan's Auto-install for Blogger ---

    Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

    Sunday, February 06, 2005

    Two Coups in One Week

    Two coups in one week in two different countries on two different continents. This seems highly unusual, and I might never have noticed the significance had I not been more attuned to International Relations in my fswe preparations.

    The first to occur (last Tusday) was an unusual "royal coup", in Kathmandu, Nepal, in which King Gyanendra dissolved the government, seized power, and threatened action against any strikes or revolts, in an attempt to quell the long-running Maoist insurgency that he believed was "on the verge of taking power". See also here. The U.S. has called on King Gyanendra to immediately restore democracy.

    The second, a military coup, happened on Sunday in Togo, when their ruling leader, "Mr. Eyadema" died of an apparent heart attack. Togo's constitution states that in the event of a "power vacuum", the Speaker of Parliament is to run the country for 60 days, during which elections must be held. The current Speaker of Parliament had been in Paris, and was not permitted to return, instead the son "Mr. Eyadema", a certain "Mr. Gnassingbe" was sworn in by the high army command. Togo had been under sanctions by the EU since 1993 for what they termed "democratic deficiencies", and the U.S. has encouraged them to "move toward a full and participatory democracy".

    It's going to be interesting to see how these play out.

    Statistics & Probability

    If you are a person who finds near impossible odds to be daunting, then perhaps you ought to stop reading now!

    According to an old post (scroll down to July 17th) on PrinceRoy's blog, the statistics for Foreign Service applicants can be quite overwhelming, to say the least. For a few years (even before 9-11), the State Department's Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) strove to plough lots of new recruits into the FS to shore up the losses incurred by outgoing retirees and to deal with the increased requirements put in place as a result of 9-11. Thus, they were giving two exams a year and had only about 500 slots to fill. PrinceRoy breaks down the 2002 stats thusly:

    Takers of FSWE in 2002: 31442

    Number who passed: 9258

    Takers of FSOA in 2002: 6295

    Number who passed: 1547

    Those 1547 that passed the Oral Assessment (FSOA) were then subjected to background checks, medical checks and a Final Suitability Review, any of which can take them out of the running. The few successful candidates that make the cut are placed on the Hiring Register, ranked according to their FSOA score (plus extra points given for foreign language ability and military service). Employment offers are given from the top of the list down, so unless the OA score is relatively competitive (usually higher than the ICO cutoff scores), the name can remain on the list indefinitely. Well, 24 months, anyway, before it expires. Most successful candidates will already have begun fswe cycle again, just to keep in the running, until they get "the call".

    The upside of these numbers is that the DRI has cessated, and only one exam is given each year, which could possibly lower the numbers in the overall applicant pool.

    The downside, however, is that the DRI has still cessated, and the State Department has only about 250 positions to fill this year. Do the math.

    But PrinceRoy cites these statistics lightly, and does give a bit of encouragement when he says "only around 500 of 31442 candidates eventually made it through; that's less than 2%. If I had known those odds the day I took the FSWE, I probably never would have bothered to show up. Just goes to show anything can happen, so don't give up!"

    I think I can be in that 1-2%. Even if it takes me a few years. I'm determined to see, anyway.


    For additional fswe review, Renato recommended a number of the "Cliff's Quick Reviews" by CliffNotes. Government, History, Economics, English usage, Composition, etc., there's something in almost every category covered by the Job Knowledge section of the fswe. You have no excuse not to do well! :)

    In my previous post, FSWE Basics, I neglected to mention a very important aspect of the Biographical Information section of the exam. The primary reason I advised the applicant to think back on your personal & occupational lifestyles is that this section is not entirely multiple choice - you have to manually list out examples to support your answers. For example, you might be asked "How many times in the past three years have you helped with planning, hosting, or organizing a Presidential Campaign?"

    a) 0
    b) 1
    c) 2
    d) 3
    e) 4 or more

    This question then would have a follow-on question: If you answered b, c, d, or e, then describe up to five of them briefly below:


    Obviously, the sample question was made up, but you get the idea. You do not want to be struggling to come up with supporting evidence the day of the exam, hence the suggestion to spend some quality time in detailed reflection.

    Friday, February 04, 2005

    FSWE Basics

    I've downloaded the 2005 fswe study guide, and gave it a quick once-over. I'll probably do the actual practice test in late February or early March. That will give me some time to do some preliminary studying, as well as time to fine-tune my studying based on my scores before facing the actual exam in April.

    There are four sections: Job Knowledge, English Expression, Biographical Inventory, as well as the Essay questions. The essays are scored only if the three other sections pass a predetermined cutoff score; however, to pass the entire exam, you also have to have a minimum score on your essay(s).

    The Job Knowledge section is essentially open to anything that has happened during the past century: treaties, economics, psychology, logic, science, technology, politics, current events, geography, trade, wars, ethnic groups, sociology, anthropology, government, mathematics, etc. This is probably the most difficult section of the exam to prepare for as it spans such a wide-ranging field of topics and information. Either you know it or you don't. Some of the questions, however, can be answered by deduction: these cannot be the answer, therefore it must be (c). You can, however focus on your perceived weak spots to try to improve the probability of doing well. My weakness is economics, but I've got a simple Principles of Economics: Crash Course by Salvatore, et al, that should suffice. As far as geography goes, I'm fairly competent, although I'll review Africa and Eastern Eurasia.

    English Expression should be fairly obvious: grammer, parts of speech, punctuation, synonyms, definitions, tense, etc. From what I've heard, most people have found this to be the most stressful/difficult part of the exam. The most recomended book to use for refreshing your English skills is The Elements of Style by Strunk and Williams. I may review a bit, depending on the results of the practice test, but I've always been confident in my English skills.

    The Biographical Inventory asks a variety of questions about things you have done, things that you may or may not do, and how others might perceive you. There are no wrong answers here, apparently, but to save stress, it has been recommended that you spend a little time thinking over your occupation and lifestyle for the past several years and think carefully about the daily activity involved as well as any big "projects" that you might have done or assisted with.

    The Essay section is the most critical, as you can not pass the test without passing the essay portion. You are asked to write one or two essays (follow the instructions!) from a list of several questions, and are graded on grammer, punctuation, spelling, train-of-thought, organization and cohesiveness, as well has how well you defend your position(s).

    Overall it can appear quite daunting, but if one has had a well-rounded education, stayed awake in class, pays attention to what they have been doing, and can formulate and defend an argument, it shouldn't be too bad. Get a good nights sleep before the exam and eat a healthy breakfast!

    Thursday, February 03, 2005

    Receiving Feedback...

    I've already begun to receive feedback about the blog, and it has been positive, with a twist of constructive criticism - I'm very pleased. It appears that other than a few obscure references to "taking the fswe" or "got my fswe results" buried deep within various personal blogs; there are no decent [read "well-documented"] step-by-step blogs doggedly following one's progress from the very beginning. This is the primary goal of this blog. I am all too aware that I could easily fail at any one of the milestones, and have to begin again next year. If that happens, it, too, will be documented, and my failure analyzed for improvement.

    Anything that could possibly be linked to the FS, or to the application process I have considered to be fair game. Weak in geography? Follow the link to the DoS mailing lists and subscribe to the Country Backgrounds list. Interested in joining a study group? Visit the Yahoo FSWE Group and locate other people in your area. There are no set formulas that will guarantee passing the fswe or the fsoa. The best we can do is to be ourselves and to learn from the world around us.

    This documentation of process (blogumentary?) is mine alone, and is to be used more for reference than for guidance. I don't claim to have any great insights or knowledge, just the simple desire to make the world a better place for all of us. Thus I would encourage any readers to learn from my mistakes and use the remainder sparingly. I have enabled comments, so correction or suggestions are gladly welcomed, but I do reserve the right to delete any and all posts that I deem to be superfluous or inappropriate.

    The best piece of constructive criticism I received today cautioned me to focus on the fswe preparation cycle rather than trying to prepare for the whole thing simultaneously. This is excellent advice as too many people tend to overestimate their test-taking skills, and prepare solely for the fsoa "filter", only to be extremely disappointed if they don't make the cut in July/August when the results are released. Two of the books on my initial recommended reading post dealt explicitly with FS Life, which are often reserved for OA prep. I read them primarily to determine if this was something I felt I could do; however, especially after reading the Realities book, I rather questioned whether this was something that I could bear to do. And this is critical, because the FS life, although filled with great adventure, is conversely filled with great stress and anxiety, especially if you will be bidding on posts as a family. I did not want to spend inordinate amounts of time preparing for a difficult exam and a stressful interview simply to discover that this was something that I had no desire to do. It requires total commitment from the beginning. I came away from the books resolved and encouraged, hence the decision to register for the exam. I think I can do this. I also feel so strongly about this resolution, that I have to list these books as must reads, so that other applicants can research and test their own desire to join the FS.

    Hopefully, this clarifies my position and my intentions. Now I can turn fully to the FSWE preparation cycle, focusing my energies on the different aspects of the exam itself. Occasionally I may reference something that deals with the fsoa, but prior to taking the fswe, it will most likely be placed there for future use.

    In conclusion, if this blog helps me in some small way to achieve my goal, then I will have succeeded; if it helps anyone else, then I am glad to have been of service, and I look forward to seeing you on the other side!

    Wednesday, February 02, 2005

    Invaluable References

    As I've started preparing for the FSWE, I've stumbled across a few books that every potential Foreign Service Officer (FSO) ought to read.

    The first is the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy by Trefil, Kett, & Hirsch (eds.) The chapters on Politics, History, and Geography are great places to start studying for the Job Knowledge (JK) portion of the exam.

    Secondly, one should read Inside a U.S. Embassy by Shawn Dorman (ed.) This book overviews the organization and different positions that are available in our U.S. Embassies and Missions, and includes anecdotal "A Day in the Life of" stories of many of these positions. An excellent resource for understanding some of the day-to-day job requirements.

    Next, Realities of Foreign Service Life by Linderman & Brayer-Hess (eds.) should NOT be overlooked. This book will hammer home what one can realistically expect to encounter in the service of the Department of State (DoS). The reader should insert himself/herself (and their family members) into these stories before getting starry-eyed at the prospects of visiting exotic countries. If he/she can't identify with this book, and accept the possibility/liklihood of it happening to them, then they probably shouldn't waste their time applying for the FS anyway. It's real, and it will knock you down if you're not prepared for it.

    Last, one should read and re-read and read yet again The United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and Amendments 11-27. Learn it, understand it, memorize it.

    Thinking about the FS

    I've been mulling over joining the Foreign Service since 1997. At that time, I was teaching English in Taiwan, and was getting my documents organized to ease the process of getting married. The Consular Officer at the embassy was quite amiable, and during the twenty minute interview, we found that we had a lot in common, background and experience-wise, and he encouraged me to think about applying to join the FS whenever I was finished teaching. Well, one thing led to another, and the intervening 7 years have seemed to coagulate into an inseparable sticky mess. I feel that now is the time, and this blog has come about as I attempt to document the process, as well as giving me a singular point-of-reference for any tidbits of information that I come across in my studies that I could feasibly need at a later time, or that might help others on a similar trek. May we all articulate our motivations and experiences appropriately!

    The journey begins by registering for the Foreign Service Written Exam (FSWE) at the U.S. Department of State website! This site also provides a basic overview of the career options and opportunities with the State Department.

    Tuesday, February 01, 2005

    Recommended (& Helpful!) Reading Lists

    Books, Publications & Periodicals that I found to be helpful:

    FSWE/FSOA Prep:

    The [Official] FSWE Study Guide.

    The Economist, published weekly by The Economist Newspaper Group, Inc. ASIN: B00005NIP1.

    TIME, published weekly by The Time Inc. Magazine Company. ASIN: B00007BK3L.

    The Week (my personal favorite), published weekly by Dennis Publishing. ASIN: B000066622.

    Fisher, R., Ury, W., and Patton, B. (ed.), Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Penguin (Non-Classics); 2nd/Rep edition (December 1, 1991). ISBN 0140157352.

    Ury, W., Getting Past No: Negotiating Your Way From Confontation to Cooperation. Bantam; Revised edition (January 1, 1993). ISBN 0553371312.

    Fisher, R., Shapiro D., Beyond Reason: Using Emotions As You Negotiate. Viking Adult (October 6, 2005). ISBN 0670034509.

    Hirsch, E., Kett, J., Trefil J., The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Houghton Mifflin; Rev&Updtd edition (October 3, 2002). ISBN 0618226478.

    Duffy, J., Economics (Cliffs Quick Review). Cliffs Notes; 1st ed edition (August 20, 1993). ISBN 0822053241.

    Soifer, P., Hoffman, A., Voss, D., American Government (Cliffs Quick Review). Cliffs Notes (May 29, 2001). ISBN 0764563726.

    Soifer, P., American Government and Politics (Cliffs AP). Cliffs Notes (October 3, 2002). ISBN 0764586890.

    Sullivan, J. (ed.), Embassies Under Siege: Personal Accounts by Diplomats on the Front Lines. Potomac Books (September 1995). ISBN 1574880225.

    Grove, B., Behind Embassy Walls: The Life and Times of an American Diplomat. University of Missouri Press (June 17, 2005). ISBN 0826215734.

    Berridge, G., Talking to the Enemy: How States Without Diplomatic Relations Communicate. St. Martin's Press (July 15, 1994). ISBN 0333556550.

    Linderman, P. & Brayer-Hess, M., Realities of Foreign Service Life. Writers Club Press, 2002. ISBN 0595250777.

    Dorman, S. (ed.), Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works for America. American Foreign Service Association; Second edition (February 2003). ISBN 0964948826.

    Ball, G. W., Diplomacy for a Crowded World. Boston: Little Brown, 1976. ISBN 0316079537.

    Berger, G. A., Not So Silent Envoy: A Biography of Ambassador Samuel David Berger. New Rochelle: Hampton, 1992. ISBN 0963564102.

    G. R. Berridge, Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 2nd ed. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave, 2002. ISBN 0-333-96929-4 (pbk). With online updating at

    Craig, G. A. and Gilbert, F. eds., The Diplomats, 1919-1939. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994. ISBN 0691036608.

    Dockett-Mcleod, W., Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett: A Biographical Sketch of America's First African-American Diplomat. 1994. ISBN 1420836269.

    Eban, A., Diplomacy for the Next Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. ISBN 0300072872.

    The Foreign Service in 2001. Washington, D.C.: Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, 1992. LCCN 93-136602.

    Freeman, C., Arts of Power: Statecraft and Diplomacy. Washington, D.C.: US Institute of Peace, 1997. ISBN 1878379658 (pbk.).

    Freeman, C., The Diplomat's Dictionary. Washington, D.C.: US Institute of Peace, 1997. ISBN 1878379666 (pbk.).

    Hare, P.J., Diplomatic Chronicles of the Middle East: A Biography of Ambassador Raymond A. Hare. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Washington, D.C.: Middle East Institute, c1993. ISBN: 0819189359.

    Hutchings, R. L., American Diplomacy and the End of the Cold War: An Insider's Account of U.S. Policy in Europe, 1989-1992. Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, c1997. ISBN 0801856205.

    Jeffreys-Jones, R., Changing Differences: Women and the Shaping of American Foreign Policy, 1917-1994. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, c1995. ISBN 0813521661.

    Locke M and Yost C.A. eds., Who Needs Embassies: How U.S. Missions Abroad Help Shape Our World. Washington, D.C.: Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, 1997. ISBN 093474291X

    Macomber, W., The Angel's Game: A Handbook of Modern Diplomacy. New York: Stein and Day, 1975. ISBN 0812817915.

    Mak, D. and Kennedy, C.S., American Ambassadors In a Troubled World: Interviews with Senior Diplomats. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992. ISBN 0313285586.

    Mattox, H.E., Twilight of Amateur Diplomacy: The American Foreign Service and Its Senior Officers in the 1890s. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1989. ISBN 0873383753.

    McGlen, N.E. and Sarkees, M.R., Women in Foreign Policy: The Insiders. New York: Routledge, 1993. ISBN 0415905117.

    Nicolson, H., Diplomacy. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Institute of Diplomacy, 1989. ISBN 0934742529.

    Ryan, H.B., A Brief History of United States Diplomacy. Arlington, VA: Association of Diplomatic Studies and Training, 1996. LCCN 97-218035. ASIN B0006FB940.

    Simpson, S. and Boichel, M.R., eds., Education in Diplomacy: An Instructional Guide. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University, 1987. ISBN 081916481X.

    Spain, J.W., In Those Days: A Diplomat Remembers. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1998. ISBN 087338606X.

    Stearns, M., Talking to Strangers: Improving American Diplomacy at Home and Abroad. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996. ISBN 0691011303.

    Steigman, A.L., The Foreign Service of the U.S. — First Line of Defense. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1985. ISBN 081330167X.

    Thomson, K.W., Traditions and Values in Politics and Diplomacy: Theory and Practice. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1992. ISBN 0807117420.

    >> Related Reading


    Comprehensive Post Index

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    • Feeling Intimidated? - 20050715
    • For Diplomacy to Succeed... - 20050810
    • Thoughts on the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA) - 20051116

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    • Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! - 20050315

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