WHEN CONGRESSMEN GO ABROAD
by Patrick Killough [12-12-98]
What are CODELS?
"CODELs" are a topic whenever old Foreign
Service Officers (FSOs) gather.
"CODEL" is U.S. State Department shorthand
for "CONgressional DELegation."
The more important to American foreign
Policy an Embassy or Consulate is,
the more it is visited by Congressmen.
Before retiring in 1991, I worked my
share of CODELs. My memory most often
returns to those during my very first
tour abroad. I was then a Vice Consul
of the American Consulate General in
Being helpful to CODELs is an important
responsibility of an American
Ambassador or Consul General and his staff.
Some few Congressmen abuse
their trips abroad, making them thinly
disguised holidays or shopping
jaunts. Most Congressmen, however, are
serious professionals. The
legislators go overseas to learn about
the area visited, to oversee
allocation of U.S. Government resources
and to ponder how Congress might
support or oppose executive branch activities.
Hong Kong in 1964-65
In 1964-1965 diplomatic relations with
Communist China were not yet in
view. Since 1949 the American post in
Hong Kong had been the premier U. S.
Government listening post for the mainland.
China hands old and young were
there taking the Red Dragon's measure.
The post's staff was larger than
that of many embassies.
Before the Viet-Nam war, CODELs came to
Hong Kong in manageable numbers and their focus was on either regional
trade or mainland China. But after the Tonkin Gulf incident of 1964 and
the subsequent open-ended Senate
resolution, America's defense of the elected
government of South Viet-Nam
against the Communist North quickly cost
many more lives and much more money. On Capitol Hill it therefore
seemed time to go to Viet-Nam. Congressmen would usually break their flight
in Hong Kong.
Normally, the American Consul General would
go in person by car and ferry
to Hong Kong's Kai Tak airport to receive
the visiting Senator or
Representative. If that very senior Foreign
Service Officer could not go in
person, then on rare occasions he sent
his equally high ranking Deputy.
There were no exceptions.
Hale Boggs, M.C.
In 1965 almost one-fifth of both Houses
of Congress came through Hong Kong en route to and from Saigon. Some came
in groups. Some traveled alone. But on the long Thanksgiving Day
weekend of 1965, five CODELs at once came through the small British Crown
Colony. The Consul General and his Deputy could not cover so many bases.
So trainee Vice Consul Patrick Killough was ordered to fill in, go to the
airport and meet the Majority Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives,
the Honorable Hale Boggs (Democrat of Louisiana).
That may have been the first time that
so low ranking an officer was sent
to meet a CODEL. But once Congressmen
began flooding through Hong Kong en route to and from Viet-Nam, the exception
became the new rule.
My wife Mary and I spent much of that long
weekend with the Congressman and his aide, Argyll Campbell. I think of
that witty, gracious gentleman, Hale
Boggs, every time I watch his daughter,
Cokie Roberts, on ABC Television.
His widow, Lindy Boggs, is now the U.S.
Ambassador to the Vatican. Mr.
Boggs told us that he was one of five
members of Congress who met weekly
with President Lyndon Johnson. Mary took
him shopping. We both took him to
a cocktail party organized by an expatriate
New Orleans businessman whom we knew. We went with him to church on Sunday,
driving in our tiny red
three-wheeled fiber glass automobile.
For Thanksgiving dinner, Boggs and all
the other Congressmen in town went
to the home of Consul General and Mrs.
Edward Rice, high above the harbor.
State Department "cables," as electronic
messages in print are called, have
as their signature the last name of the
principal officer of an overseas
post. Hale Boggs had found it amusing
that the official cabled invitation
from Hong Kong through the State Department
to him had ended, "Consul
General cordially invites Representative
Boggs to his home for Thanksgiving
Dinner. Rice." With a big smile, Boggs
told Mary and me that he had "sort
of expected a Thanksgiving Dinner to have
turkey, not rice, as its main
Senator John Tower
If a CODEL came through Hong Kong en route
to Viet-Nam, it normally also
came back our way. The Consul General,
or increasingly frequently a more
junior designee, would meet the
Congressmen at the airport, take them to
their hotels and perform other chores
as needed. In 1965 and 1966 most
Congressmen were visiting Viet-Nam for
the first time. They may have acted
detached on their way in. But it was another
story when they headed home
afterwards. I recall Senator John
Tower of my home state of Texas. On the
way to Viet-Nam he had been professionally
concerned, cool, not visibly
engaged emotionally. But in Hong Kong
afterwards, I spent over an hour with
Mr. Tower in his hotel suite. He talked
about the war. He was shocked,
depressed and moved. He sobbed, recalling
body bags holding corpses of
American soldiers. After another two years
American public support of that
war would fall off decisively. But the
first hard questioning dates from 1965 and 1966 when many Congressmen visited
Viet-Nam for the first time.
I was part of the American Embassy in South
Viet-Nam in 1970-1971. Like the
Congressmen, I wanted to see for myself
what was happening in that unhappy
land. I served during the Nixon draw down
of American forces. Later, while
posted to Karachi, Pakistan, I was one
of 100 Vietnamese-speaking Foreign
Service Officers selected to go back to
Viet-Nam and monitor the truce. But
the outlook for permanent peace quickly
turned hopeful. The number of FSOS detailed for temporary duty in Viet-Nam
was therefore cut by 2/3 and we married men were not sent back.
I support official overseas visits by members
of Congress. For it is one
thing to stay home and read about a country.
It is something very different
to see it, be assaulted by its aromas,
catch its spirit and speak if only
for a little while with its people.
for Asheville TRIBUNE