A disappointing call to service

Recently Susan Rice gave a speech at a graduation. The link to the speech is at the end of this article. 

I know what  National Security Advisor Susan Rice is trying to do but using divisive language instead of calling for the nation that MLK dreamed about is not persuasive and should be offensive to those who have served abroad.  Dividing American citizens into groups based on appearance is childish and does not bring unity or security. 

When I was comforting Afghans who had lost their loved ones during the war they never said if only you had darker skin pigment or were Muslim I would appreciate your intentions.  These hardened men and I just cried together and shared an embrace that was heartfelt. Me, an American officer from a very diverse ancestry background but “white” in skin color and they, Afghan fathers of varying ethnic backgrounds; we came together in their moment of need.   Working overseas for America is about relationships and trust. You don’t build trust or a sincere relationship based on personal appearances. You build it by being honest and keeping your promises.  People in dire need don’t care if you are LGBT when they are rushing up to you with a wounded gay brother, they just want competence and compassion. Our American missionairies abroad have those two qualities in spades. 

I worked for years in the Army under a leadership chain that was majority African-American or Hispanic and I never felt once that my boss didn’t understand me because he came from a different place or upbringing. I served under competent leaders and I chose role-models of all faith, color, and creed to try to improve myself. I never bought the notion that only someone that looks like me can be trusted. To me that notion is not in keeping with the Ameircan melting pot model I was raised to love and promote. 

I know that Susan Rice is trying to urge more people from more communities to join the national security sections of our government. But the problem with “diversity” in our national security career fields is not that “white men” from Ivy League schools are controlling the hiring department. The problem is simply that enough people with different sexual organs, skin pigments, and ancestry mixes that meet Susan’s definition of “diversity” are not applying for the jobs and sticking with the career field long enough to become senior leaders. 

I worked in a civilian agency in the national security world and hired and incentivized to retain the best people. I joined working groups at the agency level to figure out how to make the senior levels of the agency look more like America. This is what I found. 

-when I hired and promoted the best and brightest (which is the only way to keep America safe) I ended up with a workforce that looked a lot like America. Artificially trying to change the complexion or gender of the senior ranks is irresponsible instead of hiring and promoting the best qualified. 

-the reason we didn’t have senior people with more “diverse” looks were that “diverse” people were not volunteering for and serving in the positions and career paths that lead to the senior level.   All you can do is announce job openings and encourage people to apply,  you can’t fill out applications for people. You have to want to be promoted. 

-despite having a recruiting and hiring team that was very “diverse” looking, they were not getting volunteers that looked “diverse” to join the agency. If you don’t have 5 transgender Asian people from historically black colleges in the entry pool you certainly won’t end up with 5 in the senior executive suites. 

-the diverse people we wanted at the top were often only looking for mentors that looked like them. You are really limiting your chances to learn and get promoted if you only want to associate with people just like yourself. 

(I saw this role-model flaw all over DC and I started a mentoring program for people of diverse thought to counter this fallacy. If you are so narrow minded that you think only someone that looks and thinks like you can be a role model then you don’t deserve to make national security decisions because you are small minded and we need innovators that listen to all ideas at the top.)
The true diversity that makes America great is not the one you see with your eyes when you look at the outside of someone. It’s the diversity you hear when you listen to the words coming from the inside of people. 

If I were president I would not probably hire someone with Susan Rice’s background to be my NSA given the political nature of her jobs. She didn’t grow up in the military,  diplomatic corps, or the intelligence community. She learned about national security issues in colleges and then in the White House. I wouldn’t want to hire another person to be around me that has worked in a bubble instead of learning about the world by trying to carry out US policy abroad on interagency teams as a young leader that didn’t have enough resources.  Real-world Experience matters in national security and that means working your way up and not starting at the top. Give me a warrior that has carried a rifle under fire, an intelligence operative surviving on their wits alone in a hostile world,  or a diplomat armed only with a pen and paper in a combat zone any day. 

America works best when we build teams that share a diversity of thought. Sometimes diversity of thought comes from people who look differently but nowadays as our citizens shed the old notions of interracial and interreligious marriage I think we need to look deeper than skin color or gender to recognize diversity. 

You can’t do better than to aim for MLK’s dream and hope for a world that looks inside to someone’s character instead of outside to their skin color to understand others. 

Susan Rice speech video

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