Ajani Husbands just recently became a Foreign Service Officer and plans to share his experiences as a new FSO here on Dipnote.I, Ajani Husbands, do solemnly swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. On November 2, 2007, I completed my A-100 class, the class that serves as an introduction to diplomacy and is required for all incoming Foreign Service Officers, the United States’ front lines of diplomacy in international affairs. During the seven weeks of training, I asked myself, ”What does it mean to take the oath?” Does it mean that I am bound to protect and defend U.S. foreign policy, even if I stalwartly disagree with it? Does it mean that my priorities lie with protecting and defending the interests of the particular Presidential Administration for which I work, even though Administrations will change as many as six times during the average duration of a diplomatic career? The answer is a staunch yes and valiant no.
The oath requires me to defend the Constitution and the principles of the United States. For me, those principles entail defending the promise of democracy, which guarantees an equal voice for all citizens. We continuously strive toward that goal.
In terms of international relations, this oath means that I will defend the interests of America while helping to promote a more stable, prosperous, and equal world for all. This does not mean that I necessarily agree with all policies in place. At the same time, it does mean that I believe it is our job to promote these universal principles and to seek the right policies to advance our agenda. .
Quite simply, I do not believe I will always agree with U.S. foreign policy. What I am starting to see, however, is the delicate balance between policy and activism that spurs change across the globe.
One of my favorite examples of this is the issue of divestiture from the South African Apartheid regime in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Across the United States, student groups, activists, grassroots organizations, and several politicians all demanded that the United States immediately divest from South Africa in order to show its disapproval of Apartheid. During a visit to South Africa, I went to the famed Apartheid Museum (perhaps the most uplifting museum in the world for those who have not visited). As part of the museum, there is an exhibit that requires you to walk through a hallway of barbed wire and discarded weapons on your right and on the left, television monitors loop footage of anti-Apartheid activists being brutalized. At the end of the hallway, you have the option to curve around into another hallway behind the barbed wire and discarded weapons. This particular hallway consists of large windows that allow you to look out at the entirety of the previous hallway, the barbed wire and the television-monitors, all at once. Inside the hallway itself are documents depicting negotiations between the Apartheid regime and leaders of the anti-Apartheid movement (Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and many more). The secondary hallway serves to ask the question “What role would you have played during the movement?” Some chose to be amongst the barbed wire, others chose to be at the negotiations table, yet both sides were infinitely crucial to the eventual overturn of the Apartheid regime.
Until recently, I considered only the “on the ground”, physical resistance aspects of fighting Apartheid. At a recent luncheon, an Ambassador mentioned that the State Department consciously chose to stay in South Africa so as to have leverage against the Apartheid regime. This decision came despite the firestorm of public outcry to divest from South Africa. I firmly believe that the reason Apartheid fell is not solely because of the State Department’s role in negotiations with the Apartheid government. Nor is it solely due to the activists worldwide who brought attention to this issue. Apartheid fell because of the existence of both aspects of the struggle, each side wanting to secure a better existence for South Africa’s citizens.
If I had faced the brutal repression of the Apartheid regime, I cannot say in which hallway or path I would have chosen, physical, activist-style resistance or negotiations. Nonetheless, I am convinced that both can be useful to achieve the desired goal. There are many foreign policy issues that are the focus of numerous civic groups, student groups, nongovernmental organizations, and many more. These activists rally, march, and resist in order to raise public awareness about their issue of concern. At the same time, unless there is movement addressing these issues on a policy level as well, the ability to enact meaningful legislation is minimal. That is why I chose to be a Foreign Service Officer.