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To the Secretary

Leaked Embassy Cables and America's Foreign Policy Disconnect

Mary Thompson-Jones (Author)


A former American diplomat reveals a disconnect between Washington policymakers and those who work in US embassies.

When the world awoke on November 28, 2010, and read the first of the 251,287 State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini warned, “It will be the September 11th of world diplomacy.” The WikiLeaks scandal certainly stirred tempers around the world, but it was not the implosion that many leaders expected: rather, it shed a new spotlight on the work of the U.S. foreign service. In To the Secretary, Mary Thompson-Jones explores the most fascinating and overlooked of these cables to offer an unparalleled window into the day-to-day work of U.S. diplomats, demystifying the lives of those who implement America’s foreign policy across the globe.

From the story of Bulgaria’s Aleksi “the Tractor” Petrov to disappearing ballot ink in Ukraine, a Honduran coup d’état, or disaster relief for a devastated Haiti, To the Secretary depicts the work of ambassadors and foreign service officers through their firsthand narratives dealing with crises, corruption, and testy world leaders. Negotiating distinctly un-American customs and corridors of power, these shrewd brokers in embassies from Argentina to Zimbabwe worked tirelessly to promote American diplomacy in a world frequently hostile to the United States.

To the Secretary also reveals the disconnect that diplomats face at home, guided by conflicting approaches from multiple Washington stakeholders intent on their own agenda, often unaware of realities on the ground. In an honest assessment of America’s foreign policy challenges, Thompson-Jones describes the deepening gulf between decision makers in Washington and their diplomats in the field. From misinterpreted analyses of anti-Americanism to Washington’s unwillingness to send resources to support diplomatic activities that could make a difference, To the Secretary shows what policymakers can learn from diplomats abroad—and how this can strengthen America’s place in an unstable world.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • July 2016
  • ISBN 978-0-393-24658-2
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 384 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“Mary Thompson-Jones has used the trove of WikiLeaks cables to provide a fascinating account of how diplomacy really works from the bottom up.” — Joseph Nye, Harvard University, author of Is the American Century Over?

“Mary Thompson-Jones joined the foreign service in early 1989, one of the most fascinating moments in recent world history. With To the Secretary, Thompson-Jones gives us a through-the-keyhole view of high-stakes diplomacy, the quiet drama of secret cables, and the endlessly fascinating real-world problems that diplomats on the front lines of conflict zones and backstage political battles face every day. Via the WikiLeaks scandal, Thompson-Jones illustrates emergency responses within the foreign service and the role it played in steadying a teetering tower of foreign policy secrets.” — Ian Bremmer, president, Eurasia Group

“For students of diplomacy, and also for diplomats themselves, the WikiLeaks documents including reports from U.S. foreign service officers was a fortunate revelation. Whatever the embarrassment they caused, they demonstrate, as Mary Thompson-Jones masterfully shows in her expert and fair analysis, why American foreign policy should be, but too often is not, shaped by the perspectives, knowledge, and perceptions of experienced diplomats in the field.” — Alan K. Henrikson, director of diplomatic studies, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

“Captivating. . . . In Ms. Thompson-Jones’s capable hands, the WikiLeaks cables, however maliciously and haphazardly leaked, offer an opportunity to examine American diplomacy in near-real time.” — Nicholas Gallagher, Wall Street Journal

“This amazing book should be on the reading list of every course on international relations, diplomacy, and U.S. foreign policy. Beautifully written by an experienced diplomat, it brings to life actual challenges that officials at American embassies face daily, by presenting revealing quotes from 251,287 leaked telegrams on subjects ranging from crises to corruption.” — Ambassador (ret.) William A. Rugh, Tufts University

“A breezy, informative profile on foreign service that serves as an inviting primer for prospective diplomats and their admirers.” — Kirkus Reviews

“This well-organized and readable book amply succeeds in fulfilling one of Thompson-Jones’ main objectives—to use the words and stories of Foreign Service officers to ‘demystify their work.’” — Publishers' Weekly

“As a former career diplomat in the State Department, Thompson-Jones offers an insider’s richly detailed understanding of how these diplomatic institutions work. . . . Not just highly readable, but even—nota bene—surprisingly entertaining. . . . [An] informative read about the nature of contemporary American diplomacy, in the field and back at home.” — Kenneth Anderson, Lawfare

“Highly recommended for students of diplomacy and those seeking knowledge about recent American foreign policy.” — Library Journal

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