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Interview: John Brady Kiesling Explains Why He Is Resigning From The State Department

All Things Considered: March 7, 2003

Diplomat Details Reasons for Resigning over Iraq



Mr. JOHN BRADY KIESLING: Dear Mr. Secretary, I'm writing you to submit my resignation from the foreign service of the United States and from my position as political counselor in US Embassy Athens effective March 7. I do so with a heavy heart.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

With those words, John Brady Kiesling ended his 20-year career with the State Department. He's the first diplomat to resign in protest over US policy toward Iraq. His resignation letter continues.

Mr. KIESLING: 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.

BLOCK: Mr. Kiesling was most recently the diplomatic counselor at the US Embassy in Athens. Before that, he served with the State Department in Armenia, Washington, Morocco and Israel. He told us his displeasure with US policy toward Iraq grew more intense last fall.

Mr. KIESLING: Gradually over time, seeing the debacle at NATO, the increasing friction, the venom that was being spread around, and realizing that the interests of the United States were taking second fiddle to a bureaucratic battle in Washington, and that began to sicken me at a certain point. And I began to feel that I could not do my job representing the policies that I was called upon to represent. And once you come to that conclusion, you have to either ask to be moved or to resign.

BLOCK: Do you think, though, that other folks within the State Department would say, `Mr. Kiesling, you're there in Athens. You're not seeing the intelligence that we're seeing here. We know that this is a very real, credible threat.'

Mr. KIESLING: It's true that I'm not a specialist on this. I do know from bitter experience that intelligence is never a science. It's always an art. Everyone wears certain filters. Everyone looks for certain things. This administration is looking for evidence that Saddam is trying to do us in. My fear is that we're actually seeing ourselves in a mirror and saying, `Oh, my gosh, we have this irrational desire to do in Saddam, therefore he must have an irrational desire to do us in.'

BLOCK: You include in your letter a phrase in Latin, which I had to look up. I've learned that it's said to be a favorite saying of Caligula.

Mr. KIESLING: (Latin spoken) from the Latin playwright Aeschylus.

BLOCK: I wonder if you could tell us what it means.

Mr. KIESLING: `Let them hate so long as they fear,' the idea being that the United States, because we are so powerful, because the world knows that they cannot let us go totally off the reservation, will follow along and do what we demand, because they're afraid of us. And this fear of the United States is probably the worst thing I've experienced. Living in Greece, a country that we supported for decades--we have some problems in our history with Greece--but that the Greeks should be afraid of us, afraid of a democratic country that's supported human rights around the world, that's been a beacon in the past. And it's not just the Greeks. A lot of people are afraid of us now, and I don't know if Americans understand that, but it's pretty appalling.

BLOCK: As you listen to the debate at the Security Council, are you getting the sense that you are not a voice in the wilderness, that these views that you're expressing in your letter of resignation are widely shared?

Mr. KIESLING: I think they are widely shared. I was impressed, particularly last night, with the journalists questioning President Bush. The questions they were asking were exactly the questions that I was trying to raise in my letter. Is Saddam so much of a threat that we should take on the incredibly dangerous consequences of unilaterally removing him? One problem that I think people in Washington may not understand is that we have no credibility or legitimacy in the Arab world. That may be unfair. I mean, our motives are much better than the Arab world gives us credit for, but if we attempt to impose democracy on Iraq or anywhere else, that democracy will last only as long as we are committed to being there and holding it up. We have to be very serious in recognizing that there's some things the United States cannot do simply because of the image we have, and I think we should correct that image before we go out and try to save the world.

BLOCK: Mr. Kiesling, thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. KIESLING: Pleased to have been here, and I hope this is helpful.

BLOCK: John Brady Kiesling was the political counselor at the US Embassy in Athens. His resignation from the State Department over US policy to Iraq is effective today.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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