There are supposedly 48 slots open in the embassy of the United States in Iraq for the next year and there aren’t the volunteers in the State Department to fill them. At what was billed as a “town meeting” of approximately 300 concerned employees, one staff member, a Mr. Jack Croddy, was quoted as saying this assignment was “potentially a death sentence.”
If one considers three State Department employees reportedly killed in four and a half years adequate evidence of this “death sentence,” you would have to agree with Mr. Croddy. Of course, on a statistical basis one might be equally endangered in many other supposedly safe employments. But to clear up the three deaths: One is said to be an embassy political officer (possibly a CIA case officer on assignment) and the other two were State Department security personnel. Heroes all!
The State Department job in Baghdad and throughout Iraq certainly is different from many other postings around the world and (in the best of times) it would be hoped they could have been filled with willing volunteers rather than “draftees.” This is not a new problem. It existed in the late 1960’s in Vietnam. It was essentially an anti-war statement then and it’s the same today.
Places like the Sudan, Lebanon, Colombia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are just a few of the key and difficult posts, in which Foreign Service officers do not demand special treatment and hold “town meetings” to whine about their possible assignment. But now for being assigned to Iraq there is this demand that a decades old regulation be rescinded that gives State the power to order its FSO’s anywhere.
Nobody appears willing to admit that the State Dept. has become completely polarized politically to an extent that hasn’t existed since the Vietnam War. Furthermore, this polarization has been played on by committed Democrats within the professional staff aiming to enhance their possible future roles in a Democrat presidency.
The State Department always has had political partisans among its professional ranks. This is a fact of American government service, but there has been an unwritten code of behavior when your chosen political party is out of office. In theory, and most times in practice, a staffer’s domestic political leaning does not enter into job performance. Every young FSO learns early on that presidential administrations come and go, but the day-to-day work of the various desks, bureaus, and departments must continue unimpeded.
For the most part it’s only when one reaches a higher rank that political orientation comes to be a factor. In the meantime there is always room for the judicious passing of information and opinion to both the press and other government agencies. This has become an unfortunate fact of life at all grade levels throughout the government.
What is different today is the vehemence of the reaction of FSO’s to the “directed assignment” of personnel to Baghdad. The concept that a Foreign Service officer is the leading echelon of the civilian arm of the country’s foreign political/economic defense structure — and as such holds a particular responsibility to serve where ordered — appears to have been set aside. More important, it appears, is a desire to demand special dispensation not available to the other members of the national security team or indeed their own compatriots assigned elsewhere abroad other than Iraq.
The standard operating procedure is that each FSO has several choices for his/her next assignment. The problem is that the regulations allow that in matters of manpower necessity individuals can be assigned directly without their choice considered. Two hundred fifty officers have received notices that they are eligible for assignment to fill nearly fifty slots in the Iraq.
This was the action that brought about the now highly publicized outcry and group protest characterized as a “town meeting.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with her usual ignorance of foreign political operation and administration, immediately jumped into her ever-present spotlight by condemning the State Department’s personnel plan as an example of the ineptness of the White House policy in Iraq.
The media-exploited “revolt” was a manifestation of anti-war sentiment played out within the Foreign Service ranks via the issue of personnel assignment, but it wasn’t simply that. There has been antagonism toward Secretary Rice ever since she replaced her perceived more dovish predecessor, Colin Powell. This supposed division of view played well into the easily exploited concept of “pro-Bush” versus “anti-war” alignment.
The State Department is clearly divided and morale is low because of political divisions. However, there are scores of Foreign Service employees serving in Iraq right now and it’s sure that they would prefer to be back in Foggy Bottom. It’s time for some fifty of their brothers and sisters to stand up to replace them. If not, it would be a good idea for these slackers in Washington to find other employment. They dishonor our diplomatic service and the many who have gone before serving under debilitating and dangerous circumstances.