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Baghdad Duty? Not Me!

It turns out that some State Department employees are not pleased about the possibility of being forced to serve in the new Baghdad Embassy, and our RWC (Readers Who Comment) are not uniformly sympathetic. There are two unusual things about Karen DeYoung's report on a town-hall style meeting of Foreign Service officers in which they expressed their concerns. First, because of an audiotape, she heard what was actually said. Second, our RWC have engaged in a somewhat more measured conversation about the story than the usual mudfight that occurs on almost all Iraq-related articles, although they do repeat the usual arguments about the wisdom of the war, whether the nation is made safer because of it and the actions of the key personalities (President Bush and Secretary of State Rice).

As with the entire Iraq situation, this issue has several facets. Some readers point to the fact Foreign Service officers know as a part of their employment that they can be sent anywhere. The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq has told Washington he needs better people than he has so he can do his job. But the place where they would work, the new embassy under construction inside Baghdad's Green Zone, not only has security issues but also the look of a rather large government boondoggle, with shoddy workmanship, cost overruns, etc., as Glenn Kessler reported recently.

We'll start with jhherring who provides a strong summation in writing that "It is difficult to feel excessively sorry for the Foreign Service personnel, who after all did compete for a slot in a highly prestigious organization- and who knowingly signed on to agree to directed service... But.....if the bulk of the Foreign Service staff feels that the Embassy in Baghdad is excessively large, that the mission cannot be accomplished, etc, what does that say about how the war has been conducted thus far? What does it say about how the perspectives of the professional service corps have been ignored by those making policy decisions?"

pali2500 sees this as part of a larger picture, saying, "After screwing up the Justice Department, the BushCo incompetents are now screwing up the Foreign Service. As long as mercenary thugs are needed to protect diplomats, no diplomats should go."

martiniano observed that "Some problems are difficult to solve. This one is easy: quit..."

But John_D said, "The issue here is one of getting the people with the right skills to work in the Embassy in Iraq. Above all, they need to know the language, or they won't be of much use over there... The State Department can order people to go... but the people with real skills and knowledge do have alternatives... The State Department won't want to lose too many of them all at once."

And jobrie18 asked, "how come all these state people weren't complaining when they sent military people to iraq? no problems unless it is their fanny on the line, eh?"

Frishoo complained about Post coverage, saying, "Iraqi civilian and US troop deaths are WAY DOWN yet the Post barely mentions it. More proof that this paper and its liberal lemmings really want defeat." [The only recent reference I could find on that point in a quick search of the Post was an editorial from editions of Oct. 14. That editorial quoted an Associated Press story and other sources.]

VirginiaConservative, who makes it a habit to read Iraq-related stories as soon as they are on the web site and file comments quickly that defend the administration, wrote that that "...I would imagine a lot of their [Foreign Service officers'] spineless behavior is due to the potential of Blackwater having to use the same rules of engagement which have resulted in the deaths of so many US servicemen... to go out and about with Blackwater defanged is not appealing to even the most deranged of leftist in the State Department."

elgrunir replied, "So they're 'spineless,'... As to the name-calling... most of us left "spineless" (and "chicken," etc.) behind in the fourth grade."

Pelado1 said that "...I'm retired military and I have worked in a number of embassies. I have found, as a rule the state department personnel are prima donnas and complain about any post and treat the military... with disdain. Their bitching now about forced assignments shows that they didn't take their oath seriously."

Samplex offered "Two thoughts: 1. It will be interesting to see how the administration tries to square the circle - We're making progress, but State Department diplomats perceive a 'death threat' equivalence to being posted there? 2. For the first time, mainstream soldiers may begin to fear that they are being used by the administration...
At this point, it's hard to even know who to pin blame on. America's foreign engagements are in utter disarray."

DannyP1 raised a point often heard in cost-of-Iraq comment streams iin writing, "All that money for an embassy, yet not even a 3rd of that can be used for health care? Way to go Republicans, keep marching us towards a civil war in America"

We'll give the last word to OldProgessivefromWisconsin. who said, "I believe we heard the career diplomats speaking here. They are tired of the Bush appointees making a laughing stock out of our once well respected State Deptartment. Diplomacy went out about seven years ago. Condi doesn't have any long-term or short-term strategy to do anything... Living in a 'prison' no matter how new or how big is still a prison. Living with blood thirsty mercenaries day and night can't be the highlight of a dimplomatic career."

All comments on the State Department article are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  November 1, 2007; 9:50 AM ET
 
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Posted by: zgtdprgvji | December 27, 2007 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) are the professional diplomats of this country. They represent the best and the brightest and carry out US foreign policy. They undergo rigourous training in foreign languages, and serve around the world where their unique qualifications are needed.

In cases like Baghdad, it would not make sense to force FSOs to go. That is why State implemented a Hard to Fill program, so that regular civil servants can go overseas once in their careers and get a taste of what our professional FSOs do. They should be the ones to go to Iraq, or other places, but only if there are no FSOs willing to go. This has worked for the past 20 years ,with civil servants going to Haiti, Nigeria, even Korea. Iraq should not be the exception. Further details can be obtained from www.afsa.org, the professional exclusive labor union of Foreign Service Officers.

Posted by: robert a. | December 22, 2007 2:19 AM | Report abuse

The Foreign Service should be eliminated. There is no need for a separate personnel system for our diplomats. The State Department is full of qualified individuals willing to serve where the needs are greatest, but only a select group (the foreign service) gets first pick. When they refuse, then the others are assigned. This is a disgrace.

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Posted by: Dallas Mullen | December 21, 2007 9:06 AM | Report abuse

It is insulting to call FSOs civil servants. We are separate and apart from the general civil service and have to past the most rigourous Exam in the Federal Government.


If there are unfilled slots, civil servants may be allowed to fill them on a temporary basis, That is how Bagdad should be staffed, not with Foreign Service Officers.

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Posted by: Tyson Montgomery | November 22, 2007 2:22 AM | Report abuse

if foreign service officers really must serve anywhere in the world, why do they pay them more to serve in hardship posts?

They should pay everyone all the same salary regardless of where they go.

Posted by: dca | November 21, 2007 5:15 PM | Report abuse


I wouldn't want to condemn anyone for not wanting to pull duty in Iraq.
However, I think Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who have shopped the carpet bazaar in the Green Zone, and believe things are going so well, should apply for the posts.
Optimism is what is needed. I believe these two gentlemen would jump at a chance to re-visit Iraq, and perhaps stay for a month or two.

Posted by: Ken | November 5, 2007 12:01 PM | Report abuse

The overwhelming posts say that the war in Iraq is illegal, that it is lost and that Iraq is very dangerous. WHy should the State Department Officials be forced to go into a war zone?

I support their refusal. I am aware that they agreed to be sent anywhere when they joined up but that does not mean that their lives should be put at risk.

They should stick to their guns.

Posted by: Robert James | November 5, 2007 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I think it represents this administrations'
last-ditch effort to force more support
for Iraq, someone's getting a boot in
their behinds to go and do something that
a lot of the country already feels is
questionable, but the other option besides
working for the Decider is to hit the road.
Didn't they basically used to sell these
diplomat jobs on eBay or something?

I don't know, I think it's all an ugly
fraudulent mess, I think they've pissed
away a lot of money on it all, and I don't
blame anyone for refusing to go and be
a part of the Big Show.

Posted by: Bert | November 3, 2007 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Not exactly Profiles in Courage, but then again, maybe the State Department folks fully understand what an ever-growing majority of Americans are slowly realizing - that we invaded the wrong stinkin' country to begin with:

www.asecondlookatthesaudis.com

Posted by: Bill in Chicago | November 3, 2007 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Watching that FS guy complaining about a "death sentence" and whining about "who will take care of my kids" made me sick. How about the children of dead soldiers. Who will take care of them? Soldiers join the military knowing that they may be sent to battle anywhere, FSO's are soldiers of a different sort, but still must go where they are asked. Unlike the military, they can quit whenever they wish.

Posted by: TLS | November 3, 2007 3:03 AM | Report abuse

When are all you clowns in America gonna' wise up? The world, and especially Iraq hates us, and who can blame them? I am so ashamed of my country yet things get even worse. How could that happen? Arrogance and conceit, yet short on brains. We LOST CLOWNS, threw away a fortune in blood and money attempting to steal Iraq's oil vs. buying it. Our corrupt State Dept. is part of that crime. Burn baby burn. The sooner we realise our cruel folly, the sooner we'll start to heal. But I predict we'll be rightfully hated for at least a generation. The Bush Family has been a curse on America. Hi! Idiot James Baker lll - you too!

Posted by: Bruce M Smith | November 2, 2007 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Ellie, thank your husband for his service. Thank you for your support. Good luck and Godspeed to you both.

Posted by: Panhandle Willy | November 2, 2007 2:45 PM | Report abuse

In response to "poseidonsdream" defense of the FSO. What you described was what happened to US citizens in New Orleans post Katrina. (without the gubment paycheck or bennies). The diplomatic corp is a stepping stone to more lucrative private sector careers down the road.

They take their chances on their station duty. They might get Dublin or Dubai or they might get Baghdad. It's a crapshoot. They need to do their duty or get out.

Posted by: WhatThe | November 2, 2007 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who refuses to go should be FIRED on the spot. If you "don't believe in the policy", get out. You don't get to stay on the inside, whine, and demand to be sent to Paris. Hit the road, toad.

Posted by: Lugo | November 2, 2007 8:25 AM | Report abuse

Two comments:

1. I agree wholeheartedly with the FSO's who don't want to go to Iraq.
2. Their only honorable recourse is to resign immediately.

Posted by: GeorgiaSon | November 2, 2007 7:10 AM | Report abuse

As a Foreign Service Officer, I have to take strong exception to the portrayal of my colleagues as spineless unpatriotic cookie pushers, etc. I won't deny there may be one or two losers, but overall, the Foreign Service is a sterling group of true professionals who join at least in part because of a strong patriotic public service desire and a wish to make a difference. Those criticizing the FS should take a step back and realize that service overseas, even in the most apparently glamorous of settings, has its price. Foreign Service officers and their families make huge sacrifices daily, and are rarely recognized much less lauded for them. Comparing us to the soldiers dying in Iraq is a false comparison. We did not sign up for military duty, were not trained to fight in a war zone, have a completely different service culture and sets of demands and expectations. But to question our patriotism is just too much. Many of my colleagues have died for their country in out-of-the-way backwaters, died in horrific ways, along with their family members. All of us face this threat daily, since there is really nowhere in the world one is safe any longer. Foreign Service officers and their families have died recently in Nairobi, Karachi, Islamabad, Baghdad, Taipei. We get rare tropical ailments, malaria, intestinal parasites, cancers, heart disease, and more. We are exposed to violence of all types, some of it uniquely anti-American. We brave sub-standard health conditions, lack of adequate medical care, lack of power, clean water, safe vegetables and fruits, exposure to pesticides long banned in the US, and more. We do all this miles away from our families and friends, missing out on family milestones. We do all this bravely and uncomplainingly, out of a sense that what we are doing matters. We ask for nothing more than fair treatment and a thoughtful policy. Unlike the military, we can speak up if we feel we are being used as cannon fodder. In fact, I would argue it is not only our right but our obligation to speak up. If this delicate balance has been broken it is not by us, the core of the FS, but by our leadership. Our leaders owe it to not only the valiant officers and their families serving their country far from home, but to the American people, to articulate a clear and concise vision and policy.

Posted by: poseidonsdream | November 2, 2007 6:27 AM | Report abuse

"FSOs ... are not trained to fight or operate in a wartime environment. As the speaker said in the town meeting, in the 60's FSOs were given 6 months of training to serve in a post that was not nearly as dangerous as Baghdad. Now we ask FSOs after only two weeks of training to operate with "contractors" in remote areas."

The FSOs don't need the same training they needed during Vietnam because the Diplomatic Security Service has evolved to protect them. The DSS agents are the ones going through the months-long wartime training in order to properly protect the diplomats. Yes, the Green Zone is dangerous for everyone, but DSS worries about safety so the FSOs can do their jobs. (And you'd better believe the FSOs don't complain about the aggressiveness of the contractors and DS agents when they're actually out in a convoy needing the protection.)

Posted by: Ellie | November 1, 2007 11:46 PM | Report abuse

My husband is on his second, voluntary, assignment at the Baghdad embassy with the State Dept. Everyone we know who has applied to or joined the department within the last few years has known it's inevitable that they will spend some time in Baghdad. Better to volunteer and go on your own terms as much as possible.

We are in a diplomatic crisis and it's no wonder, if the older, more experienced FSOs have no interest in getting their hands dirty and helping to solve the problems. The administration may have ignored the top diplomats, but sitting in D.C. complaining about it isn't going to solve the problems. Get over it and stop playing politics. Get to Baghdad and do your job. Your duty to the country should supersede feelings toward the administration.

Posted by: Ellie | November 1, 2007 11:38 PM | Report abuse

I'm disappointed that these foreign service officers are willing to take an oath and then walk away when the going gets tough. Lots of our military officers disagree with US policy and practices in Iraq, but you don't see officers bellyaching like these FSOs, and you certainly don't see them telling the Army or Marine commanders that they won't "cheerfully walk the gangplank for an administration that totally ignored their advice on Iraq".

"Who will take care of our children?" -- Well, who'd take care of them if you got hit by a bus tomorrow?

Grow a spine, or resign.

Posted by: Bob | November 1, 2007 9:33 PM | Report abuse

This isn't about a Secretary of State who lacked the leadership and courage to conduct this town meeting herself before going to the press, or about a Director General who may have a thankless task, but also had the option of resigning before carrying out such a dangerous and inhumane policy. Despite Mr. Thomas's outburst of "Don't you or anyone else tell me I don't care about my colleagues, its not even about his ego.

Nobody is concerned about whether Mr. Thomas or Secretary Rice credibly care about them, and everyone realizes that telling the press before you tell your own people means they don't, and its useless to dwell on it further. Maybe this is the spineless behaviour associated with the Department?

Here is what people care about, what shocks them: an Administration which believes its citizens are expendable resources and is ready to send them, unprepared, into a situation where they might die. Maybe this is not only spineless but dangerous in terms of showing the world how desperate the adminstration is.

What Mr. Thomas is asking -- and I say Mr. Thomas because Secretary Rice is conspicuously absent in all of this -- is not covered by worldwide availability. If FSOs were all serving unconditionally on this basis, why wouldn't Mr. Thomas and his colleagues just keep all our Embassies and Consulates under threat open? For example, why did the State Department bother to close the U.S. Embassy in Baku for a day or two this week? After all, the people serving there signed up to be available worldwide. Shouldn't they have been available for work on Monday? Isn't Jack Croddy a dramatic old crank, advancing a quaint idea about how in any other situation, an Embassy facing the same threats as the one in Baghdad would be closed and evacuated?

How many of the people who call the foreign service spineless would welcome the idea of being fired from their job after 20 plus years of service just before they collect a pension? Mr. Thomas qualifies for a 25 year pension in 2009 - is that why, when confronted with an unconscionable policy, he decided not to resign? Is it fair to ask someone to make a choice like this between Iraq and a 25 year career? Their family? Their health? Their life?

How many people who describe the foreign service as spineless have gone back to work at an office that was closed the day before because it was unsafe to work there? How many of them have gone to work in an armored car, received a bomb threat by phone on the job, provided massive relief after natural disasters in terrible conditions, evacuated refugees, visited Darfur, worried about their kids being soft targets at the local American school, had parasites living in their bellies, contracted malaria or heard the colleagues tell them what it was like to survive the 1998 bombing of their workplace? I suppose the average Washington Post reader normally endures through at least one of these challenges annually in their commute to Tyson's corner and back.

The military goes into Iraq armed and trained. The foreign service officer does not.

The next time you loose your passport overseas, adopt a baby overseas, loose a loved one abroad, or have an exchange student stay in your community, think about what worthless work the foreign service is doing for you. The next time you read about breakthroughs in negotiations with North Korea, think about what spineless people are representing your country in those talks.

There are many good people in the foreign service and stretching it thin like this not only shows an appalling indecency towards the value of their lives and service, but more alarmingly reveals to the entire world the extent to which we have trashed our global preponderance. And perhaps that's the most dangerous thing of all.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 1, 2007 8:46 PM | Report abuse

I'm not real sympathetic for the FSOs. I've been to the sandbox twice...didn't 'volunteer' either time but went because the orders said go. FSO's are professionals that serve the executive branch of the US Government...end of story. They took an oath, they're well paid for it, so by definition they went into foreign service with their eyes wide open. If they are selected to go and refuse, they should be 'let go'...end of story.

Soldiers can get court martialed if they refuse to go. FSO's can't...but they still don't get to refuse service subject to the needs....and get away with it. An FSO's only recourse should be retirement, if qualified, or resignation. Revolt is a firing offense...no questions asked.

Rep. Pelosi ought to be tarred and feathered for somehow tacitly agreeing with the revolutionaries. If this is allowed to stand and sets a precedent, she'll be singing another tune when it happens, which it will, to a Democratic administration--in case anybody thinks danger in Iraq is magically going to evaporate if a democratic appointed SECSTATE is running Foggy Bottom in Jan 08. Rep. Pelosi's statements and non-support of the executive branch on this point, regardless of who is president, demonstrates what I've thought about her from the beginning. She is a lightweight in over her head who engages mouth before engaging brain.

To Duhman who said FSO's mission is to foster and promote peace...really? I think, and I'm sure FSO's will back me on this, that FSO's administer and promote the foreign policy of the USA. They work for the OFFICE of the presidency...not the president. Personal loyalties don't play at the level we're dealing with here...none of them would appear to be political appointees. To think the US Government would actively be playing one department against the other as a matter of policy is ridiculous on the face of it.

Posted by: Panhandle Willy | November 1, 2007 8:06 PM | Report abuse

When you join the military, you accept that being sent to a war zone may be part of your job. Diplomats, on the other hand, are evacuated from war zones - or even areas of major civil unrest.

So considering the green zone is still getting mortared on a regular basis, I don't understand why we have an embassy in Iraq, aside from the CIA station. Add to that Blackwater being pulled out or made to operate under highly restrictive rules of engagement and I totally understand why FSO's don't want to head to Iraq. Say what you will about Blackwater, they didn't lose a single protectee in the past four years. It's probably only a matter of time until we see a US diplomat beheaded on an internet video.

Posted by: Jeff | November 1, 2007 5:53 PM | Report abuse

In every large company, organization or governmental department the work ethics, commitment to serve and job satisfaction starts with leadership from the top manager and in this case her immediate staff. The U.S. Department of State has not been so fortunate to have competent leadership since Colin Powell. I support any government employee, who today is gutsy enough to speak out, knowing well that they will be singled out for retaliation.

Posted by: Reasjustice | November 1, 2007 5:41 PM | Report abuse

I just finished reading "The Coldest Winter" by David Halberstam . At first I was a little annoyed at how much time the author spent on the politics of the Korean "police action" . In the final parts of the book he overviewed the politics that entangled us in Vietnam and the lightbulb went on in my head. Iraq is a clone of the two previous travesties. We need to amend the US Constitution so that war is no longer an availible option for promotion of domestic politics.

Posted by: Swannie | November 1, 2007 4:48 PM | Report abuse

I can understand some of the ire being leveled at the FSOs, but I believe it is based on misperceptions of the type of work most American diplomats do. First, please remember that State was excluded from planning a post-war strategy (remember? the one that was never planned at all...)

As far as getting off "their butts," many probably don't recall the two embassy bombings in the 90s. Can you recall how many FSOs were killed and injured? How many of the local Embassy staff? FSOs daily pull American citizens out of one fire or another overseas, but it is rarely reported. Meanwhile, plenty of FSOs serve on PRTs in Iraq and Afghanistan (oh, by the way, they are not permitted to carry weapons for self-defense, nor are they exempt from Federal taxes like the brave soldiers they serve alongside in a war zone). Does everyone know how many Embassies exclude accompanying families today versus 10 years ago? How many more Embassies are considered hardship and danger assignments than 10 years ago? What that does and what that means for the effort of FSOs to protect their families and their family values?

This discussion cannot be useful if it is solely a compare and contrast exercise between the State Department and DOD. It is certainly the right of the State Department to fire diplomats who refuse to serve in Iraq. I hope Congress will use its constitutionally protected and mandated oversight role to consider how many experienced FSOs will remain when this exercise is through. And I hope more Americans will work to become more informed about the work of the Foreign Service before casting unfair aspersions. Certainly there are fair criticisms to be leveled against the State Department and Foreign Service. Calling America's diplomats chicken is not one of them.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 1, 2007 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Militaries are trained for and go to war.
Diplomats are trained to promote and foster peace.
Big difference. No one should call anyone spineless. Two different missions that should not be confused.

Posted by: duhman | November 1, 2007 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I'm a State Department Foreign Service officer posted overseas in my first non-hardship tour in 20 years on the job. I served in Baghdad in late 2004, and although I am completely opposed to the Bush administration's policy there, I would go back again if called to serve. We all signed a paper agreeing to serve wherever we're needed, so I'm disappointed that many of my colleagues are opposed to the concept of directed assignments in Iraq. No FSOs have died in Iraq, so the claim that a tour there may be a "death sentence" seems a bit hysterical. It's OK for thousands of soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen (mostly soldiers and Marines) to die in Iraq, but a single FSO death would be unacceptable? FSOs can quit; our military colleagues don't have that option when they're ordered to go. I agree that State management could have handled this process better, but one positive outcome may be that some of us who are not truly "worldwide available" move on to jobs that better suit them.

Posted by: consulforlife | November 1, 2007 3:58 PM | Report abuse

All the comments about what the military should do, what the foreign service should do, what oaths people take, etc., etc. All that presupposes a normal, reality-based world. In this case (and in the Vietnam War) there is no reality. What's presented doesn't represent what is, motives are demonstrably venal and, as such, life-defining moral actions are required. When the Big Lie is exposed the system collapses. It happened to the Nazis, the Soviet Union, Iraq..it will happen here. The war was a fraud, its execution is a disaster and the folks in close (the foreign service and the military) know it. The naive and the gullible will believe the Big Lie and pay the price (and honorably so). The rest of us have to at least speak out or, if we're in the position to do so, act.

Posted by: thebob.bob | November 1, 2007 3:55 PM | Report abuse

I have to take exception to the derogatory and even slanderous characterizations of FSOs as "spineless cowards" - I believe that most, if not all, of my FSO colleagues are patriotic servants who are willing to sacrifice by serving in posts around the world that many Americans would not even want to visit. However, I think that the FSOs who are protesting this decision to enforce directed assignments are still in a state of denial. They should have seen this coming and made the proper adjustments. For myself, I didn't volunteer for Iraq because the security environment does not seem conducive to face-to-face interaction with Iraqis that is a requirement for doing my job, and because I disagree with the ban on FSOs carrying firearms in Iraq. I did volunteer to serve in Afghanistan where I can actually interact with the locals and where the security threat is somewhat reduced except for the danger from IEDs. (As my military colleagues fully realize, you learn to take a fatalistic attitude about IEDs and just cross your fingers every time you go outside the wire.)

Posted by: FSO in Afghanistan | November 1, 2007 3:46 PM | Report abuse

In response to Ben, who acknowledges that he doesn't know what advice the State Dept. offered prior to invision, if one googles, one can see that the State Dept. folks were the (only) one's who provided info saying the whole WMD thing was not such a "slam dunk" and that the adventure was not as rosy a scenario as other agancies were suggesting. The just reward for raising questions? Being pegged as disloyal. If that (as Ben says) "useless" advice were paid any attention by the "deciders," prior to invasion, perhaps there wouldn't be need for such stories.

Posted by: Joe Reeder | November 1, 2007 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Interesting that the State Department is now mandating involuntary service at the new Baghdad embassy, but that the State Department's inspector General ignored allegations of coerced labor by the embassy's contractor. Does that mean Asian laborers working for $200 to $800 a month would go willingly, but the upgrade of government workers to sometimes more than $200,000 a year means nothing? Or does it mean that the allegations of labor trafficking and entrapment in a war zone may actually have merit?

Posted by: David Phinney | November 1, 2007 3:30 PM | Report abuse

This conversation is thus far missing a very important point, which is the long-term impact the Administration's Iraqomania on the overall diplomatic readiness of our nation, and its ability to deal with (preferably to avoid) future crises. How many shrewd negotiators, how many experienced diplomats who speak Persian, or Chinese, or Russian, how many who possess unique expertise on North Korea, climate change or nuclear proliferation, will be driven out of our nation's diplomatic service because of their refusal to serve as cannon fodder in Iraq? Who will replace them? Will the State Department, in its attempt to become "more like the military", set up recruiting kiosks at the mall? And will our nation really be safer as a result?

Posted by: PatriotRealist | November 1, 2007 2:24 PM | Report abuse

My wife's coworker, a mother of three,a Navy reservist, not in a deployable unit, received orders this last week to report in three weeks for training at an Army base, then to go to Afghanistan to fill an ARMY billet for a tour greater than a year.

No one offered this lady the chance to decline or quit.

I have limited sympathy for high paid FSO's with hardship allowances and perks being told to get off their asses and do what they agreed to do.

Must be nice to be told you don't have to honor the oath you took. Maybe that also colors their regular sad professional performance. An exemplar being their lack of supervison of their mercenaries and then offers of immunity. Who in the Iraq embassy was in charge of Blackwater? They should be fired , not retired, ASAP.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 1, 2007 2:07 PM | Report abuse

All of the comments miss a key point. In the past, when a State department assignment was too dangerous, the embassy was closed and the staff evacuated. The State Department is not the Military. FSOs are not soldiers. They are not trained to fight or operate in a wartime environment. As the speaker said in the town meeting, in the 60's FSOs were given 6 months of training to serve in a post that was not nearly as dangerous as Baghdad. Now we ask FSOs after only two weeks of training to operate with "contractors" in remote areas. Asking FSOs with no language skills or cultural knowledge to go off relatively unprotected in a warzone to accomplish an undefined mission is almost as ludicrous as invading without a plan for occupation or an exit startegy.

Posted by: Sean S. | November 1, 2007 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm amazed at the level of dialogue here, really. It's all they're talking about now, of course. Some have talked about volunteering because they'd rather pick their time rather than be told when to leave their families. Some disagree with the policy but find it hypocritical to only resign if forced to go, rather than in the years before. Still others would steadfastly resign if forced to go to a place that would have been closed down long ago if it was anywhere else.

One last thing: FSOs, members of a quasi-civil service (with similar government pay) that are not political appointees and cannot be "fired" by the President, continue to happily volunteer to go to places that the vast majority of Americans cannot find, much less would consider visiting.

Posted by: Impressed | November 1, 2007 1:26 PM | Report abuse

So:
Our Foreign Service doesn't want to go and die in a post that can't be protected in a country that can't be secured by the military of a government that can't control it's citizens from killing each other.

The Army which will protect the FSOs has no clear objectives in its war in said country, and has no defined timeline for either claiming victory or simply withdrawing.

The FSOs of the POTUS will be paid to be posted there from a budget which our Congress can't turn off and which 75% (or more) of the representative's constituents just do NOT want.

And the boss of the FSOs (the guy at the very top) tells us that progress is being made in said country, while only 8 of its 18 'benchmarks' for success and progress have been met - even though he calls that "progress" and a "clear sign" that we need to stay for an indefinite period of time.

Someone, please: WAKE ME UP WHEN THIS IS ALL OVER.

It's making my brain hurt.

:(

Posted by: Snickers in red state/blue state PA | November 1, 2007 12:33 PM | Report abuse

As an active-duty Soldier serving with the US Army and deploying back to Iraq for a second tour in November, I feel that these diplomats need to be reminded that they serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States. As such, when the President calls the Nation to action, they serve at the will of the Nation. So serve or resign. If they question the protection of their children then it is an obvious choice to resign and let those that regard the call, destiny and will of the Nation as of parallel importance serve and shape our Nation.

Posted by: Alan B. | November 1, 2007 12:21 PM | Report abuse

I don't know what advice the State Dept provided prior to the beginning of the Iraq War, but I suspect it was rather unimportant. FSO's have a choice of going wherever the dept decides, or look for another occupation. The State Dept has been somewhat of a useless organization for many years, far before the current administration.

Posted by: Ben | November 1, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

As a retired Foreign Service Officer who served in Vietnam, the attitudes of the Town Meeting where similar to those expressed in similar meetings during that war. In sum, when you don't believe in the policy and you believe that the people in power are more concerned with their careers than your life, intelligent people stand up and speak. Unfortunately, the public is totally unaware of the fact that the Foreign Service is a most dangerous career and that year in and year out, proportionately more FSOs are killed than FBI agents. FSOs are prepared to die for their country and do. But don't expect them to cheerfully walk the gangplank for an administration which totally ignored their advice on Iraq and has never valued their service.

Posted by: Louis Janowski | November 1, 2007 12:09 PM | Report abuse

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