A Call to Conscience

An Ozark E-Zine

The Diplomat who quit over Nixon's Invasion of
Cambodia asks Americans on the front lines of Foreign
Service to resign from the "Worst Regime by far in the
History of the Republic."

By Roger Morris, originally published on www.CommonDreams.org

Dear Trustees:

I am respectfully addressing you by your proper if
little-used title. The women and men of our diplomatic
corps and intelligence community are genuine trustees.
With intellect and sensibility, character and courage,
you represent America to the world. Equally important,
you show the world to America. You hold in trust our
role and reputation among nations, and ultimately our
fate. Yours is the gravest, noblest responsibility.
Never has the conscience you personify been more

A friend asked Secretary of State Dean Acheson how he
felt when as a young official in the Treasury
Department in the 1930s, he resigned rather than
continue to work for a controversial fiscal policy he
thought disastrous -- an act that seemed at the time
to end the public service he cherished. "Oh, I had no
choice," he answered. "It was a matter of national
interest as well as personal honor. I might have
gotten away with shirking one, but never both." As the
tragedy of American foreign policy unfolded so
graphically over the past months, I thought often of
Acheson's words and of your challenge as public
servants. No generation of foreign affairs
professionals, including my own in the torment of the
Vietnam War, has faced such anguishing realities or
such a momentous choice.

I need not dwell on the obvious about foreign policy
under President Bush -- and on what you on the inside,
whatever your politics, know to be even worse than
imagined by outsiders. The senior among you have seen
the disgrace firsthand. In the corridor murmur by
which a bureaucracy tells its secrets to itself, all
of you have heard the stories.

You know how recklessly a cabal of political
appointees and ideological zealots, led by the
exceptionally powerful and furtively doctrinaire Vice
President Cheney, corrupted intelligence and usurped
policy on Iraq and other issues. You know the bitter
departmental disputes in which a deeply politicized,
parochial Pentagon overpowered or simply ignored any
opposition in the State Department or the CIA, rushing
us to unilateral aggressive war in Iraq and chaotic,
fateful occupations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

You know well what a willfully uninformed and heedless
president you serve in Bush, how chilling are the
tales of his ignorance and sectarian fervor, lethal
opposites of the erudition and open-mindedness you
embody in the arts of diplomacy and intelligence. Some
of you know how woefully his national security advisor
fails her vital duty to manage some order among
Washington's thrashing interests, and so to protect
her president, and the country, from calamity. You
know specifics. Many of you are aware, for instance,
that the torture at Abu Ghraib was an issue up and
down not only the Pentagon but also State, the CIA and
the National Security Council staff for nearly a year
before the scandalous photos finally leaked.

As you have seen in years of service, every presidency
has its arrogance, infighting and blunders in foreign
relations. As most of you recognize, too, the Bush
administration is like no other. You serve the worst
foreign policy regime by far in the history of the
republic. The havoc you feel inside government has
inflicted unprecedented damage on national interests
and security. As never before since the United States
stepped onto the world stage, we have flouted treaties
and alliances, alienated friends, multiplied enemies,
lost respect and credibility on every continent. You
see this every day. And again, whatever your politics,
those of you who have served other presidents know
this is an unparalleled bipartisan disaster. In its
militant hubris and folly, the Bush administration has
undone the statesmanship of every government before
it, and broken faith with every presidency, Democratic
and Republican (even that of Bush I), over the past
half century.

In Afghanistan, where we once held the promise of a
new ideal, we have resumed our old alliance with
warlords and drug dealers, waging punitive expeditions
and propping up puppets in yet another seamy chapter
of the "Great Game," presuming to conquer the
unconquerable. In Iraq -- as every cable surely
screams at you -- we are living a foreign policy
nightmare, locked in a cycle of violence and seething,
spreading hatred continued at incalculable cost,
escaped only with hazardous humiliation abroad and
bitter divisions at home. Debacle is complete.

Beyond your discreetly predigested press summaries at
the office, words once unthinkable in describing your
domain, words once applied only to the most alien and
deplored phenomena, have become routine, not just at
the radical fringe but across the spectrum of public
dialogue: "American empire," "American gulag." What
must you think? Having read so many of your cables and
memorandums as a Foreign Service officer and then on
the NSC staff, and so many more later as a historian,
I cannot help wondering how you would be reporting on
Washington now if you were posted in the U.S. capital
as a diplomat or intelligence agent for another
nation. What would the many astute observers and
analysts among you say of the Bush regime, of its toll
or of the courage and independence of the career
officialdom that does its bidding?

"Let me begin by stating the obvious," Sen. Jack Reed,
D-R.I., said at the Abu Ghraib hearing the other day.
"For the next 50 years in the Islamic world and many
other parts of the world, the image of the United
States will be that of an American dragging a
prostrate naked Iraqi across the floor on a leash."
The senator was talking about you and your future.
Amid the Bush wreckage worldwide, much of the ruin is
deeply yours.

It is your dedicated work that has been violated --
the flouted treaties you devotedly drew and
negotiated, the estranged allies you patiently
cultivated, the now thronging enemies you worked so
hard to win over. You know what will happen. Sooner or
later, the neoconservative cabal will go back to its
incestuous think tanks and sinecures, the vice
president to his lavish Halliburton retirement, Bush
to his Crawford, Texas, ranch -- and you will be left
in the contemptuous chancelleries and back alleys, the
stiflingly guarded compounds and fear-clammy,
pulse-racing convoys, to clean up the mess for
generations to come.

You know that showcase resignations at the top --
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or flag officers
fingered for Abu Ghraib -- change nothing, are only
part of the charade. It is the same with Secretary of
State Colin Powell, who may have been your lone
relative champion in this perverse company, but who
remains the political general he always was, never
honoring your loss by giving up his office when he
might have stemmed the descent.

No, it is you whose voices are so important now. You
alone stand above ambition and partisanship. This
administration no longer deserves your allegiance or
participation. America deserves the leadership and
example, the decisive revelation, of your

Your resignations alone would speak to America the
truth that beyond any politics, this Bush regime is
intolerable -- and to an increasingly cynical world
the truth that there are still Americans who uphold
with their lives and honor the highest principles of
our foreign policy.

Thirty-four years ago this spring, I faced your choice
in resigning from the National Security Council over
the invasion of Cambodia. I had been involved in
fruitful secret talks between Henry Kissinger and the
North Vietnamese in 1969-1970, and knew at least
something of how much the invasion would shatter the
chance for peace and prolong the war -- though I could
never have guessed that thousands of American names
would be added to that long black wall in Washington
or that holocaust would follow in Cambodia. Leaving
was an agony. I was only beginning a career dreamed of
since boyhood. But I have never regretted my decision.
Nor do I think it any distinction. My friends and I
used to remark that the Nixon administration was so
unprincipled it took nothing special to resign. It is
a mark of the current tragedy that by comparison with
the Bush regime, Nixon and Kissinger seem to many
model statesmen.

As you consider your choice now, beware the old
rationalizations for staying -- the arguments for
preserving influence or that your resignation will not
matter. Your effectiveness will be no more, your
subservience no less, under the iron grip of the
cabal, especially as the policy disaster and public
siege mount. And your act now, no matter your ranks or
numbers, will embolden others, hearten those who
remain and proclaim your truths to the country and

I know from my own experience, of course, that I am
not asking all of you to hurl your dissent from the
safe seats of pensioners. I know well this is one of
the most personal of sacrifices, for you and your
families. You are not alone. Three ranking Foreign
Service officers -- Mary Wright, John Brady Kiesling
and John Brown -- resigned in protest of the Iraq war
last spring. Like them, you should join the great
debate that America must now have.

Unless and until you do, however, please be under no
illusion: Every cable you write to or from the field,
every letter you compose for Congress or the public,
every memo you draft or clear, every budget you
number, every meeting you attend, every testimony you
give extends your share of the common disaster.

The America that you sought to represent in choosing
your career, the America that once led the community
of nations not by brazen power but by the strength of
its universal principles, has never needed you more.
Those of us who know you best, who have shared your
work and world, know you will not let us down. You
are, after all, the trustees.

Roger Morris

Roger Morris served on the senior staff of the
National Security Council under Presidents Johnson and
Nixon until resigning over the invasion of Cambodia.
An award-winning investigative journalist and
historian, he is the author of several books,
including "Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an
American Politician." He is currently completing a
history of U.S. policy and covert intervention in
Southwest Asia.