Letter of Resignation
John Brady Kiesling, USA
February 27, 2003
Dear Mr. Secretary:
I am writing you to submit my resignation from the Foreign Service
of the United States and from my position as Political Counselor in
U.S. Embassy Athens, effective March 7. I do so with a heavy heart.
The baggage of my upbringing included a felt obligation to give
something back to my country. Service as a U.S. diplomat was a dream
job. I was paid to understand foreign languages and cultures, to
seek out diplomats, politicians, scholars and journalists, and to
persuade them that U.S. interests and theirs fundamentally
coincided. My faith in my country and its values was the most
powerful weapon in my diplomatic arsenal.
It is inevitable that during twenty years with the State Department
I would become more sophisticated and cynical about the narrow and
selfish bureaucratic motives that sometimes shaped our policies.
Human nature is what it is, and I was rewarded and promoted for
understanding human nature. But until this Administration it had
been possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my
president I was also upholding the interests of the American people
and the world. I believe it no longer.
The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only
with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent
pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international
legitimacy that has been America’s most potent weapon of both
offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun
to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international
relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will
bring instability and danger, not security.
The sacrifice of global interests to domestic politics and to
bureaucratic self-interest is nothing new, and it is certainly not a
uniquely American problem. Still, we have not seen such systematic
distortion of intelligence, such systematic manipulation of American
opinion, since the war in Vietnam. The September 11 tragedy left us
stronger than before, rallying around us a vast international
coalition to cooperate for the first time in a systematic way
against the threat of terrorism. But rather than take credit for
those successes and build on them, this Administration has chosen to
make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and
largely defeated Al Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally. We spread
disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind,
arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq.
The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast
misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to
weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy
hand of government. September 11 did not do as much damage to the
fabric of American society as we seem determined to so to ourselves.
Is the Russia of the late Romanovs really our model, a selfish,
superstitious empire thrashing toward self-destruction in the name
of a doomed status quo?
We should ask ourselves why we have failed to persuade more of the
world that a war with Iraq is necessary. We have over the past two
years done too much to assert to our world partners that narrow and
mercenary U.S. interests override the cherished values of our
partners. Even where our aims were not in question, our consistency
is at issue. The model of Afghanistan is little comfort to allies
wondering on what basis we plan to rebuild the Middle East, and in
whose image and interests. Have we indeed become blind, as Russia is
blind in Chechnya, as Israel is blind in the Occupied Territories,
to our own advice, that overwhelming military power is not the
answer to terrorism? After the shambles of post-war Iraq joins the
shambles in Grozny and Ramallah, it will be a brave foreigner who
forms ranks with Micronesia to follow where we lead.
We have a coalition still, a good one. The loyalty of many of our
friends is impressive, a tribute to American moral capital built up
over a century. But our closest allies are persuaded less that war
is justified than that it would be perilous to allow the U.S. to
drift into complete solipsism. Loyalty should be reciprocal. Why
does our President condone the swaggering and contemptuous approach
to our friends and allies this Administration is fostering,
including among its most senior officials. Has "oderint dum metuant" [Let them hate so long as they fear] really become our motto?
I urge you to listen to America’s friends around the world. Even
here in Greece, purported hotbed of European anti-Americanism, we
have more and closer friends than the American newspaper reader can
possibly imagine. Even when they complain about American arrogance,
Greeks know that the world is a difficult and dangerous place, and
they want a strong international system, with the U.S. and EU in
close partnership. When our friends are afraid of us rather than for
us, it is time to worry. And now they are afraid. Who will tell them
convincingly that the United States is as it was, a beacon of
liberty, security, and justice for the planet?
Mr. Secretary, I have enormous respect for your character and
ability. You have preserved more international credibility for us
than our policy deserves, and salvaged something positive from the
excesses of an ideological and self-serving Administration. But your
loyalty to the President goes too far. We are straining beyond its
limits an international system we built with such toil and treasure,
a web of laws, treaties, organizations, and shared values that sets
limits on our foes far more effectively than it ever constrained
America’s ability to defend its interests.
I am resigning because I have tried and failed to reconcile my
conscience with my ability to represent the current U.S.
Administration. I have confidence that our democratic process is
ultimately self-correcting, and hope that in a small way I can
contribute from outside to shaping policies that better serve the
security and prosperity of the American people and the world we
The above is the text of the letter of resignation sent by John Brady Kiesling to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Mr. Kiesling is a
career diplomat who has served in United States embassies from Tel
Aviv to Casablanca to Yerevan.
From The New York Times, February 27, 2003. Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company.