This Global Life: Hanover Retired Diplomat Says Diplomacy Has Great Value

Raymond Malley at his home in Hanover, N.H., on Feb. 7, 2014. Malley has written a book about his foreign service with the U.S. State Department. It was issued by the State Department as part of a series of conversations with diplomats. 
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Raymond Malley at his home in Hanover, N.H., on Feb. 7, 2014. Malley has written a book about his foreign service with the U.S. State Department. It was issued by the State Department as part of a series of conversations with diplomats. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

To convey how frequently the career of a diplomat is misunderstood, Raymond Malley, who retired from the Foreign Service in 1982 after a nearly 30-year career, tells a story told him by a friend at the State Department.

When an admiral was contemplating stepping down from the U.S. Navy, he put out word that he’d like to follow up with a cozy sinecure as an ambassador, to which the diplomat responded that when he retired he hoped he could be appointed to a position as an admiral in the Pacific fleet. The point being that diplomacy, which sometimes takes a back seat to military might in the American mindset, is a skill and an art requiring years of training and experience.

“It’s a very delicate profession not appreciated by most people,” Malley said in an interview in the Hanover home he shares with his wife Josette Malley, a former officer with the World Bank.

Malley’s life in the Foreign Service, and his afterlife as a consultant to the South Korean corporation Halla Business Group, is the subject of the book My Global Life, the self-published transcript of an interview that Malley did for the Diplomatic Oral History series. The series comprises nearly 2,000 transcribed oral interviews with diplomats and a few celebrities that are posted to the Library of Congress website.

The interviews, the majority of which concern American diplomacy post-World War II, are conducted under the auspices of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, an independent, nonprofit organization based at the State Department’s George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Va.

The typical reader is someone entering the Foreign Service or going to a new posting, who refers to the interviews for information on a country’s culture and political system or overviews of such international organizations as the U.N., NATO or the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. There are also primers on genocide, drug trafficking, intellectual property rights and that perennial tug-of-war, the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In Malley’s case, he was interviewed four times, two hours at a time, by a fellow diplomat. The interviews covered his upbringing, education and entrance into the Foreign Service, before leading into his work as an administrator of American aid throughout Asia, the Asian subcontinent and Africa.

The first obligation of a diplomat, Malley said, is “to pursue policies of the president, and this is very important, do it within the law.” While the Secretary of State attracts the lightning rod of publicity and criticism, the “great bulk of the routine work is carried out by civil servants. Ninety percent of the work in the State Department is ongoing,” regardless of which administration holds power.

“The public doesn’t realize we have vast interrelationships with all parts of the world,” he added. A topic like the killing of the American ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012, lassos the headlines and the commentary, and becomes the proverbial political football, but such high-profile cases do not reflect the majority of State Department operations, many of which involve trade and aid with other countries.

There have been significant changes since Malley was in the Foreign Service in the 1970s and 1980s, however. Focus has shifted more to the Middle East and the Pacific, and the threat of terrorism has changed how diplomats do business. “When I was in Africa and Afghanistan, I could go about relatively freely. It’s impossible now,” Malley said, although he added that the threat comes just as often from kidnapping for ransom as it does from ideologically driven terrorism.

Malley, now 83, is a product of the Depression, World War II and the Cold War, and sees the world through that lens. In his view, although the attacks of Sept. 11, 2011 were shocking, the menace of terrorism can be overstated when compared to the threat that was posed by the Soviet Union, with its vast store of nuclear weapons. “Terrorism is a relatively modest threat, and we have to combat it and we do, but the American public exaggerates it,” Malley said.

Although his surname has an Irish ring, Malley is actually of French-Canadian descent (the name was probably spelled Mallet). He was born to Canadian parents in Cambridge, Mass., where he grew up. After getting a degree in journalism at Boston University, he went into the Air Force, and from there to the University of Geneva in Switzerland, where he got a master’s degree in international studies. By this time he was married to his first wife Rita Malley, and had a son.

He earned a second master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, outside Boston, where he specialized in international economics, finance and trade. A job followed at Texaco, and then in 1961, early in the Kennedy administration, he was asked to join the Development Loan Fund, one of two extant foreign aid programs. Later that year the DLF and the International Cooperation Administration were merged into the U.S. Agency for International Development, known popularly as USAID.

In 1964, Malley was asked to go to Pakistan as part of the Foreign Service. Postings followed in Korea, India, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Botswana.

He also did a tour in Paris during the Ford administration as the deputy to a Californian who’d supported both Ford, and his predecessor Richard Nixon, and had been appointed to a top job in the U.S. delegation to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. It was a patronage job, pure and simple, and like other donors rewarded with plum assignments, the man had little to no experience with the world of economic development, or the institutions that oversee aid. To his credit, Malley said, the man recognized it and got out of the way as the professionals did the job, which isn’t always the case.

Malley left the Foreign Service in 1982 because his first wife became sick with cancer. They now had three sons. His wife died in 1989, by which time Malley had moved into consulting with companies that had contracts to provide expertise to the State Department and USAID. Numerous assignments followed, including the job with the Korean Halla Business Group, an offshoot of the Hyun Dai corporation.

He met Josette Murphy, a French woman who’d immigrated to the U.S., when they were both part of a team evaluating an aid program to seven West African countries. They wed in the late 1990s. Malley prefers to think of himself as semi-retired, and he and his wife maintain homes in both Hanover and outside Washington, D.C. They chose to move to Hanover because they liked being near a college town with a thriving arts scene in the area, and it was in New England. Both he and his wife have taught courses on international affairs, and other subjects, at ILEAD at Dartmouth College.

Like any seasoned diplomat, Malley has given a lot of thought to why the work is so necessary, but also misunderstood. Nothing irks him more than hearing that “foreign aid” is a waste of money and time.

Although politicians tend to hyperventilate about the military budget — to cut or not to cut — Malley has the diplomat’s skepticism about the money that goes to the Pentagon versus the State Department. Politicians “attach too much importance to the military as opposed to diplomacy. (The State Department’s) budget takes second place in politicians’ minds to military force,” he said.

And there’s another reason to be skeptical of the emphasis put on American military power: “There’s a tendency to want to use it,” Malley said. Which, as Americans have seen, has had mixed results.

The pattern, Malley said, is for the U.S. to go in and then find itself unable to get out. It happened in Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan. When President George H.W. Bush took the U.S. into Kuwait in 1991, Malley said, he’d consulted with Allies, went in with a coalition, achieved a military objective and then got out, which was the right thing to do, in Malley’s view.

“In Afghanistan we had to go in and eliminate the Taliban who’d attacked us,” Malley said. But once that was accomplished, “we should have just established a normal diplomatic relationship with them. Instead, we took over the country and tried to remake it against all common sense. You can’t come in and remake a culture thousands of years old. It didn’t work and we see the consequences now.”

Likewise, he added, Iraq was a mistake. “Hussein was a dictator, but to attack and destroy that country was a gross error,” he said. “It was immoral and silly, and it promoted terrorism.”

By contrast, the bulk of American assistance overseas, in the form of the building of infrastructure, business acumen, financial loans, educational materials or agricultural development, he said, “have been quite successful. On average, people are much more prosperous now than they were 50 years ago. Most of that is because of their own achievements,” with help from a range of international aid organizations.

The reason that the record in Iraq and Afghanistan has been mixed, he said, is that the U.S. has been “in the middle of a war, and it’s hard to get things done in the middle of war.”

When Americans think of what the Secretary of State and the corps of diplomats do, Malley observed, they often view the job as one in which a peace or truce is achieved. But that’s not always the case, and it is not usually the norm because there will always be groups that don’t want to reach an agreement and try to undermine treaty negotiations.

“The job of a diplomat is not necessarily to achieve peace, but to reduce the frequency of violence,” Malley said. “At a high level you’re not winning. You’re not fixing the tooth or building the bridge, you’re talking. ... Often the purpose is to have the (groups) keep on going and not explode, not get worse.”

On bad days, diplomats “confront situations in which they know they’ll fail and they know it beforehand.” What might a good day look like? Recognizing that a process is under way, and, Malley said, helping “it along in ways it wants to go.”

Nicola Smith can be reached at