The first U.S. diplomats to resign their posts over administration policy toward Iraq are an impressive couple.
John Brady Kiesling, formerly based in Athens, Greece, and John Brown, recently stationed in Moscow, have each spent 20 years in the Foreign Service. You can hear the decades of dedication to civility when they speak.
The two men's verdicts are dramatic: The Bush administration has failed to explain why lives should be risked and lost to wage war against Iraq. They say the administration has failed to prove any link between terrorism and Saddam Hussein.
Instead, Washington is distorting evidence, manipulating public fears and willfully disregarding international public opinion, and the country which they both clearly love is becoming a dangerous international outlaw.
These are not opinions arrived at casually.
In his career, Kiesling has had many opportunities to wrestle with Washington. Take former President Clinton's policy in the Balkans. Kiesling was among a group of diplomats who spoke out over what they perceived as a failure to act in a timely way. But turning to Iraq, Kiesling says it became clear to him this winter that "diplomacy" was useless.
Kiesling said he could no longer in good faith convey Washington's case to his colleagues in Greece, and the administration was deaf to its diplomatic ears abroad. In his view, the administration -- which he believes is dominated by the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- is obstinate in its pursuit of war against Iraq. He wrote to Secretary of State Colin Powell on February 27, saying the United States is squandering its "international legitimacy" and serving neither its own interests nor the world's.
Kiesling's resignation -- the first [of this administration] -- will secure him a place in history, but that's clearly not what's on his mind. Aside from pondering the practicalities of providing for his wife and children after 20 years in Foreign Service, he's grappling with the profundity of what diplomatic opportunities the Bush administration has blown.
The attacks of 9/11 left the United States stronger, not weaker, says Kiesling. More than ever before, the world was ready to team up to fight terrorism in a systematic way. But Washington's disregard for the community of nations has destroyed all that.
The Bush administration appears to be on a mission to pursue world domination, he says. That's not the sort of thing that spills easily from the lips of a diplomat.
John Brown's resignation letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell echoed Kiesling's own. Brown, who resigned March 11, wrote that, "The president's disregard for views in other nations, borne out by his neglect of public diplomacy, is giving birth to an anti-American century."
The United States can be a power for good, say both men, but right now the administration is rushing headlong the other way. Efforts, which were well advanced, to resolve the Turkish-Greek conflict over Cyprus have been scuttled by current events, for example.
Both men expressed little doubt that Bush's war would proceed, but they underscored that public protest in this country and abroad is crucial, if only to pave the way for a restoration of friendly U.S.-International relations in years to come. They called on Americans to resist being manipulated by disproportionate fear. Remember, they said, "This country remains the safest place in the world."
This is Laura Flanders for TomPaine.com.
Click on the link to hear Laura Flander's complete interview with John Brown and John Brady Kiesling.