Friday, November 5, 2010

Etiquette for Bodyguards

Richard Holbrooke, our Af/Pak Special Envoy Extraordinare, has been dealing with Afghanistan's President Karzai on the subject of Karzai's intention to ban foreign security contractors from Afghanistan's private sector. Yesterday, Holbrooke expressed his empathy for Karzai by telling the press about his own personal backseat experience with a foreign - i.e., American - security contractor directing his motorcade in Kabul.

Holbrooke related an episode that occurred during a trip to Afghanistan. "I was driving through the street in a vehicle. I was a little bit late to a meeting. There was traffic. The vehicle, which was armored, of course, was careening around in a way I felt very uncomfortable about," Holbrooke said. "And I said to the guy sitting next to the driver, who was cradling a big weapon -- I said, ‘You don't have to drive that way. Slow down.'... And he said to me, 'I don't work for you, sir.' And I said, 'Who do you work for?' And he just was silent again. And I was outraged. I was embarrassed. So I know where President Karzai's coming from on this."

Well, well, well. A big-name USG Envoy was dissed by a rude man in cargo pants. An uncomfortable experience, I'm sure. And I'm sure the contractor heard all about it later from his USG supervisors.

Not knowing anything about the circumstances, I am willing to trust the contractor's tactical judgment as to how fast the principal's vehicle should have been moving. But, really, we must do a better job of teaching tact-ical judgment. This is the State Department, after all, and we should always be diplomatic even when putting a VIP in his place.

Here's an example of how you do it, as told to me by a participant in one of Special Envoy Dennis Ross's visits to Beirut back in the 1990s. As Ross was about to depart Beirut, the DS agent in charge of his protective detail briefed him on the departure procedures, which involved U.S. Army helos on the embassy's tennis court, decoy flights, and a zig-zag course out of the city. Ross interrupted to question, basically, why they would zig when he thought they should zag. The sort of thing that is the protection guy's business, of course, and not Ross's.

The highly experienced DS agent in charge told Ross:

Ambassador Ross, you have a very important job. You're supposed to bring peace to the entire Middle East. I have a very humble job. I just have to get people like you in and out of places like Beirut alive. But I want you to know that I have always been successful at my job."

Point taken. Ross sat back and did what he was told.

Can't somebody teach that sort of tactful manner to our protection contractors?

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