During my time in Afghanistan, my company tried to cut costs by mandating that when my boss and I went into Herat, we would be accompanied by only a driver rather than by a driver and a shooter. Julie and I were alarmed, because in Afghanistan at that time, it was more likely that western women would be kidnaped than killed. We felt as if we were being put at risk, and we wondered what we should do.
So I emailed Steve Hemphill.
Steve is a college friend, a State Department appointee who spent years in Iraq beginning in 2003, when on his first day, his hotel was bombed. During his time there, Steve put himself in mortal danger representing our country – in fact, his driver was killed during his tenure. I knew he could guide me.
His instruction was short and clear. “You don’t have a shooter? You don’t go out,” he said. I relayed that information to Julie, and we held our ground. As Steve had predicted, the company quickly relented.
On one of our properly escorted trips, Julie and I went to a rooftop gathering at the American consulate. There I met and talked with a State Department diplomat. He was, like Steve, not someone who would stand out in a crowd. Yes, he had graduated from Annapolis, and yes, he was obviously brilliant, but he was one of those guys who might have been overlooked as “Most Popular” in his high school class. And, like Steve, he had put his life on the line for our country.
In fact, rather than living in a closed compound, as I did, he lived in a house and moved about the city and the province with neither a driver nor a shooter. He drove himself. When he came to our compound, he drove over the only road from the camp to the city – the road that was blown up the day after he made his last trip to the camp and a week after I left for Kabul.
While I was in Kabul, I was privileged to visit the American embassy, where our State Department professionals were in danger every day, evidenced by the bombings at the embassy after I left and was safe at home.
I count these people among American heroes and myself lucky to have met them.
That is why I was distressed when I heard some commentators disparaging a foreign service professional because he drank a lot of water during his testimony during the current impeachment hearings, the third of such hearings in my lifetime. Each time, someone has shown courage in testifying to something unpopular – but the truth. John Dean revealed that Nixon had been lying, thereby obstructing justice. Monica Lewinsky, who testified only in closed depositions, told her story, which showed that President Clinton had lied, thereby obstructing justice.
Such was the case on Wednesday, when two foreign service professionals with impeccable credentials testified to what they knew about the actions now in question. One, Ambassador Taylor, a West Point graduate – number five in his class of 800 – took an assignment in the infantry, trudging through the jungles in Vietnam rather than accepting some plum job where he would be safe. He has served this country for 50 years. The other, George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasian affairs, is the third generation of his family to serve as an American civil servant, and he has done so for 27 years. Mr. Kent was the witness who drank lots of water during his testimony.
I am incredulous that a commentator would ridicule a witness who has spent his entire career in the service of this country as opposed to just reporting on the testimony. I assume the commentator couldn’t dispute what Mr. Kent said, and chose fifth-grade playground bullying behavior instead.
This kind of personal attack does nothing to educate the American public. We must insist that we hear evidence in these hearings. We must not fall into the trap of listening to and spreading smears, innuendo, ridicule, and bullying. Civil servants such as Steve Hemphill, my friend from Herat, Ambassador Taylor, and George Kent deserve much better.