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Horrible Bosses: Internal Tension at the U.S. Mission in Geneva

After years of serving in Africa, you finally  get a nice cushy assignment at the U.S. Mission in Geneva, with your own staff, a large budget, a fancy title, and you don’t even have to worry about the regular office bureaucracy. It should be a dream job. Except your boss is a former used tire salesman who despises the UN and hates the Foreign Service. And because this is your last assignment and you know you don’t have a chance for promotion, you don’t feel at all constrained in letting your feelings be known, as undiplomatic as they may be. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy tour… 

Beauveau B. Nalle served for 30 years in the Foreign Service beginning in 1956, before he was the Counselor for Refugee and Migration Affairs, his final post before retirement. He was interviewed by Thomas Dunnigan beginning April 1994.

See also NSFW FSOs and other Moments under Diplomats Behaving Badly.


“He was a used tire salesman. He hated the Foreign Service, he hated Foreign Service people.” 

NALLE: Now I’m in Europe, after 30 years in the Foreign Service, in a developed country, and bored to death.

[I was] Counselor for Refugee and Migration Affairs at the U.S. Mission in Geneva, which was a very anomalous kind of job. I was in the Mission but not of it. The Mission is run by IO [Bureau of International Organization Affairs].

However, my office is not run by IO. I did not report to IO, I had my own budget, I reported to RP, the Office of Refugee Programs. My own budget, my own administrative staff, everything, except that the Ambassador was my boss and that I went to staff meetings. I participated in all the embassy goings-on.

But I had a $500 million budget for refugee programs….I had three FSOs [Foreign Service Officers], seven locals. It was a very busy job. I was primarily dealing with the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees]….

I might dwell, if I could, on the political appointee there. He is the fourth political ambassador I have worked for and he epitomizes everything that is wrong with political appointees. The others I worked for—[Ambassador Clarence Clyde]Ferguson, Jr. was an intelligent, thoughtful, hardworking, receptive man.

[Ambassador Robert] Strausz-Hupé — I did not get along with him at all. I did not agree with his political opinions, and I didn’t agree with the way he was handling Turkey. I would have disagreed with him if he had said it’s black, I would have said it’s white. But he was an able, intelligent, and ill-tempered mean little man. I watched him at an archaeological ruin translating the Greek and Roman inscriptions on the stones which not many career ambassadors could do today…

Well, this one was [Ambassador to the U.S. Mission in Geneva] Gerry Carmen and his claim to fame was that he had been Chairman of the Republican State Committee of New Hampshire and had delivered New Hampshire to Ronald Reagan. He was a used tire salesman.

Everything that was wrong could be wrong. He hated the Foreign Service, he hated Foreign Service people. I have watched him twist and torture his Admin Officer till the guy had tears running down his cheeks.

The Admin Officer was no genius but he was perfectly competent. He had the mission running and running well. He was saving money, he was doing a good job, he just wasn’t very dynamic.

[Carmen] could speak no French. I suppose that’s all right, I don’t speak that much myself, but I can get along. He held the UN in contempt. He was an anti-UN guy. As I say, he hated FSOs, FSO people, he hated the diplomatic life.

He was the laughingstock of the diplomatic community in Geneva. My colleagues would come up to me and make jokes about him and I had to defend him, as much as the thought filled me with horror.

He got after me one time. My predecessor had quit because of him. They’re on a round-the-world tour inspecting refugee camps and my predecessor, Carl Beck, sent a cable from Bangkok where they were, saying that he wanted an immediate transfer because he could no longer get along with [Carmen]. Those relations were such that he had to leave.

And the Department sent back a soothing message saying, “Yes, of course, as soon as you get back to Geneva we’ll arrange for your transfer.”

Carl cabled them back and said, “You guys don’t understand. I want a transfer. Now. From Thailand.” And they gave it to him.

“I stood up and said, “Make your own fucking phone calls, Mr. Ambassador,” and I walked out of his office.”

I got into a fight with Carmen one time. He wanted to do some inspecting of refugee camps in Africa, which we all thought was probably a good idea to get him out of Geneva for a couple of days, if nothing else. But he wanted to go to Washington first and he wanted me to pay for his ticket out of my RP budget.

I said, “Mr. Ambassador, I really can’t do that. We can get down to Africa from Geneva very quickly and easily, Swissair flies down there every day.” But no, he wanted to go into Washington first.

“Well,” I said, “I really can’t do it.” I said, “I’ll write a first person cable, I’ll put your case to them in the strongest words I can, you can sign it, read it, do whatever you want. But I cannot pay for the ticket until I have written orders.”

He said, “Oh Beau, you fancy pants State Department guys.” Those are his very words. “You fancy pants State Department guys, call somebody, your hotshot friends back in Washington, they’ll cut a deal.”

I said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Ambassador, I need written orders from the Department.”

And he said, “Come on, call one of your friends, they’ll take care of it for you. Nobody has to know about this.”

I lost my temper. I stood up and said, “Make your own fucking phone calls Mr. Ambassador,” and I walked out of his office. From then on he practically never bothered me. He’d kid me at staff meetings, “You all watch out for Beau, he has a quick temper.”

And I looked down at him one time and I said, “Yes, sir, I do,” and I smiled at him. But I mean, what he did for the United States was disaster piled up on chaos.

Q: By the way, did he go to Africa? 

NALLE: No. He couldn’t stick it to Washington. And then he forgot. Another thing — AID [United States Agency for International Development] had bought some German trucks, Mercedes trucks, for use in their refugee operations in Sudan. This is long before I got there. But shortly after I got there, I got a phone call from the Ambassador in his office upstairs and he said, “Beau, what’s this truck deal?”

I’d only been there a couple of days, I said, “Mr. Ambassador, what truck deal are you talking about? I’m not familiar with it yet.”

He said, “AID has a lot of German trucks.”

I said, “I don’t know about it, let me check. I’ll get back to you.”

So I pulled out the file, John Campbell, my assistant, and I looked through it. We discovered that AID needed trucks, they had gone to all the major American truck companies with the specs that they had, the American truck companies don’t build trucks like that.

AID went to Mercedes. Mercedes, said, ”Yes, sure, we can give you 50 of those next week.” AID got a Congressional waiver on the purchase of foreign goods. Went ahead and bought the trucks.

Well, it turned out that they weren’t all as good as they were all cracked up to be, they kept breaking down. So the cost of maintenance was getting pretty high and there was a lot of cable traffic.

And Carmen got on to it and he got on to me. And kept badgering me about these trucks and I kept saying, “Mr. Ambassador, AID signed the trucks deal before I got here.” He put it on grounds that it was sort of my fault that AID bought these trucks.

I said, “They bought the trucks before I ever got to Geneva. It looks like it’s a pretty bum deal but there it is. They complied with the law, the law provides that under certain circumstances AID can go outside of U.S. channels for procurement. They got the necessary Congressional waiver. That means that the Congressmen from Detroit, and Michigan, and General Motors, Chrysler, Ford either didn’t object or voted in favor. There’s nothing more that could be done of it.”

Every staff meeting almost for two years, he’d beat me about on head and shoulders about these trucks. I just got to the point where I didn’t pay any attention to it.

“So I quit. I knew I was going to be selected out, I said, screw it and came home.”

He gave a series of conferences on the free enterprise system, which were actually not bad conferences. But he wanted me to provide funds out of my representation funds for these conferences.

“Mr. Ambassador,” I said, “I’m in the refugee business, I’m not in the free enterprise world. I’m all for it but I can’t misuse representation funds.” He got after me, and after me, and after me.

Finally, [Deputy Chief of Mission] Ron Flack said, “Beau, I don’t want to tell you how to run your business, but you can be in real trouble if you don’t come through with something for the Ambassador’s conferences.” So I signed a voucher for I think $150 or whatever. I never got caught but if an inspector got hold of it, I think I’d have been medevac’d [medical evacuation] back. Carmen would never have given me a hand.

So I quit. I knew I was going to be selected out [not promoted to the Senior Foreign Service], I said, screw it and came home.

I went through the retirement seminar and they gave you that little card…. They gave me this little card that said blah-blah-blah, always performed, loyal, valuable, honorable service.

I looked down on it and I discovered they spelled my name wrong.

But you know, would I do it all over again. I’m 100% certain I would. I had some wonderful times. Did I make any friends? I don’t really think so. I don’t think Foreign Service people make friends….

More to the point, did I or did any of my colleagues, did I ever make foreign policy? Never. I don’t think I saw a Secretary of State more than two times in my life. I carried up ambassadors up to see Dean Rusk. The last thing he wanted to do was to muck around with a bunch of Africans. He had other fish to fry.

He’d always say when the meeting was over, “Mr. Ambassador, it’s been wonderful to see you and please remember, anytime you have any problems whatsoever, don’t hesitate one instant to call Mr. uh — Mr. uh –” He’d look at the briefing paper. “Mr. Nalle here, your desk officer will be very glad to help you out.”

You don’t, except with very rare occasions, really get involved in the policymaking business.