A Letter From Iraq to My Overwrought Colleagues

Posted by John Matel
November 7, 2007
PRT Activity in Baghdad, Iraq

In his first posting, John writes an open letter to his Foreign Service Officer colleagues about the controversial issue of directed assignments in Iraq. The issue raises an interesting question, "Should diplomats and other non-military personnel be forced to work in an active war zone"?

John Matel is a career Foreign Service Officer (FSO) who is currently serving as the team leader of the Provincial Reconstruction Team embedded in Al Asad, Al Anbar Province.

I just finished reading a news article discussing some of my FSO colleagues' vehement and emotional response to the idea that a few of us might have directed assignments in Iraq . To my vexed and overwrought colleagues, I say take a deep breath and calm down. I have been here for a while now, and you may have been misinformed about life at a PRT.

I personally dislike the whole idea of forced assignments, but we do have to do our jobs. We signed up to be worldwide available. All of us volunteered for this kind of work and we have enjoyed a pretty sweet lifestyle most of our careers.

I will not repeat what the Marines say when I bring up this subject. I tell them that most FSOs are not wimps and weenies. I will not share this article with them and I hope they do not see it. How could I explain this wailing and gnashing of teeth? I just tried to explain it to one of my PRT members, a reserve LtCol called up to serve in Iraq . She asked me if all FSOs would get the R&R, extra pay etc. and if it was our job to do things like this. When I answered in the affirmative, she just rolled her eyes.

Calling Iraq a death sentence is just way over the top. I volunteered to come here aware of the risks but confident that I will come safely home, as do the vast majority of soldiers and Marines, who have a lot riskier jobs than we FSOs do.

I wrote a post a couple days ago where I said that perhaps everyone's talents are not best employed in Iraq . That is still true. But I find the sentiments expressed by some at the town hall meeting deeply offensive. What are they implying about me and my choice? And what do they say to our colleagues in the military, who left friends and family to come here and do their jobs? As diplomats, part of our work is to foster peace and understanding. We cannot always be assured that we will serve only in places where peace and understanding are already safely established.

If these guys at the town hall meeting do not want to come to Iraq , that is okay with. I would not want that sort out here with me anyway. We have enough trouble w/o having to baby sit. BUT they are not worldwide available and they might consider the type of job that does not require worldwide availability.

We all know that few FSOs will REALLY be forced to come to Iraq anyway. Our system really does not work like that. This sound and fury at Foggy Bottom truly signifies nothing. Get over it! I do not think many Americans feel sorry for us and it is embarrassing for people with our privileges to paint ourselves as victims.

Comments

Comments

Mary
|
Texas, USA
November 8, 2007

Mary in Texas writes:

Mr. Matel, from the daughter of a retired U.S. Marine mustang Officer, the wife of a former U.S. Marine, and a former U.S. Marine myself (yes, I'm all 3) - thank you!!

Many of my 'growing up' years were spent in the DC area, in the 70's - and "careerists" of the State Department were there in inordinate numbers. Not an especially impressive bunch.

The comments of Joe in Alaska notwithstanding, I'm pretty sure I speak for my Dad, my Husband & myself that "we" would be honored to serve with you & 'cover your 6'.

Semper Fi'

---
Dipnote Blogger John Matel writes:

@ Mary in Texas -- Thanks. Thousands of FSOs have served in Afghanistan, Iraq and other dangerous places. I wrote this post to indicate that most of us are not like those guys at the town hall. You notice, BTW, that they were all in Washington. What does that say?

Nick
|
Illinois, USA
November 8, 2007

Nick in Illinois writes:

Mr. Matel, you deserve a beer or three.

When you sign up for the FSO, you might have to go to places that you don't want to, but that's the life you chose. You're serving this country the same way our fine fighting men and women are.

Watch your six and come home safely.

Dipnote Blogger John Matel writes:

@ Nick in Illinois -- Unfortunately, General Order 1 prevents the Marines from drinking beer and it would be bad manners to drink in front of them. Besides, they do not have any on the base. However, it is the Marine birthday on November 10. Every Marine gets a beer, and so do I, so I will take you up on the beer thing. Thanks.

Christopher
|
Iraq
November 7, 2007

Christopher in Iraq writes:

Thanks for your letter, John. Quite frankly, I love being here.

As to my whiny colleagues - are you guys diplomats, or are you chickens?

Rosamond
|
California, USA
November 8, 2007

Rosamon in Californa writes:

The State Department pulls their diplomats out of dangerous zone. It should not be sending them into peril.

Dipnote Blogger John Matel writes:

@ Rosamon in California -- Our job is to help build the structures of peace. We cannot always do that work best only where peace and order are already firmly established. It is still dangerous here, but not nearly as bad as you may have been led to believe.

Dan S.
|
District Of Columbia, USA
November 7, 2007

Dan in Washington, DC writes:

@ Neil in North Carolina -- I work in the State Department as a Civil Service employee. The oath of office that you provided is one that all U.S. government employees take, including Civil Service employees, Foreign Service employees, etc., and not an oath that is only for U.S. Foreign Service Officers.

In regards to U.S. Foreign Service Officers being obligated to serve worldwide wherever the Department assigns them, this requirement for members of the U.S. Foreign Service is based on U.S. law, specifically 22 U.S.C. 3901(a)(4), which was included as part of the U.S. Government's Foreign Service Act of 1980 as passed by Congress and signed into law by the President.

In regards to worldwide availability, the Foreign Service Act of 1980 in part states the following (see Sec. 101.1 (a) (4) for specific worldwide availability requirement):

"SEC. 101.1 FINDINGS AND OBJECTIVES.--
(a) The Congress finds that-- (1) a career foreign service, characterized by excellence and professionalism, is essential in the national interest to assist the President and the Secretary of State in conducting the foreign affairs of the United States; (2) the scope and complexity of the foreign affairs of the Nation have heightened the need for a professional foreign service that will serve the foreign affairs interests of the United States in an integrated fashion and that can provide a resource of qualified personnel for the President, the Secretary of State, and the agencies concerned with foreign affairs; (3) the Foreign Service of the United States, established under the Act of May 24, 1924 (commonly known as the Rogers Act) and continued by the Foreign Service Act of 1946, must be preserved, strengthened, and improved in order to carry out its mission effectively in response to the complex challenges of modern diplomacy and international relations; (4) the members of the Foreign Service should be representative of the American people, aware of the principles and history of the United States and informed of current concerns and trends in American life, knowledge-able of the affairs, cultures, and languages of other countries, and available to serve in assignments throughout the world; and (5) the Foreign Service should be operated on the basis of merit principles."

Additional guidance regarding this requirement for US Foreign Service employees to be subject to worldwide assignment for U.S. Foreign Service employees is found at the following web address as part of the Department's "Foreign Affairs Handbook," (or "FAH") which is one of the policy / regulation documents for managing the US Department of State: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/89586.pdf

The section of the State Department regulations found in the Foreign Affairs Handbook addressing worldwide availability for U.S. Foreign Service employees reads as follows:

"3 FAH-1 H-2423.1 Worldwide Availability
(CT:POH-115; 08-31-2005)
(State only)
(Applies to Foreign Services employees)
a. 22 U.S.C. 3901(a)(4) is the legal basis for this subsection; these provisions of are amplified in 3 FAM 2424.
b. We may assign you to any position, on a worldwide basis, as we determine necessary in the best interests of US foreign policy and the efficient functioning of the Service.
c. The decision of an assignment panel (3 FAH-1 H-2425.3), or of the DG on review or appeal (3 FAH-1 H2425.3-1) is binding upon you. If you refuse to accept such a decision, you are subject to disciplinary action, including separation from the service per 3 FAM 4300."

So that's the worldwide availability requirement for U.S. Foreign Service employees in black and white (or white and black, given Dipnote's unique display format! :-) )

laura
November 8, 2007

Laura writes:

Your comparison of a FSO and a Marine is silly.

A Marine (or any soldier in the armed services) is trained for a war setting and war situation. It's bad enough that President Bush invaded and is now occupying Iraq (the wrong country in the war on terror) without forcing FSOs to serve there. What's next, forcing U.S. civilians to live there too?

If you don't mind being there, that's fine for you. Objection to serving there says nothing about you and your choice. Don't take it as a personal insult, this is not an issue about you!

Dipnote Blogger John Matel writes:

@ Laura -- Actually I do not like it here. I will be glad when my time is done, but it is something we should do. I am not trained for war. I do not carry a gun and I am not a very good shot in any case. As a diplomat, my job is to create connections among people and work for the arts of peace. We diplomats here are being asked to do our jobs. The Marines have their own. What we share is the duty to do what we have agreed to do.

LuckyPawn
|
Tennessee, USA
November 7, 2007

LP in Tennessee writes:

What's to ponder?

When you give your 'service' to County, especially the State, I would think there are no limits to the time, place, setting or assignment and duty task.

I joined the USAF, ended up pulling targets on an Army base in OK then entered "Inter Services" started by Green, Boykin and Wilson. It wasn't a question of anything beyond my 'Joining the Military Service in Good Faith'. I was in Nam before the next few months were out, but I came in under the USAF.

You go where you’re needed, when you’re needed and how you’re needed. You’re working for the Greater Good of the State and Country, not a family business -- and you chose to do so. I believe it’s in the contract regardless.

jim
|
Texas, USA
November 8, 2007

Jim in Texas writes:

An artificial war created for the profit of a few well connected individuals can only be partially disguised. That primal fact tends to surface on a regular basis. This is one of them.

Dipnote Blogger John Matel writes:

@ Jim in Texas -- I am profiting from the experience, but I think the world is more complicated than your analysis indicates.

JP
|
California, USA
November 7, 2007

JP in California writes:

Since I'm too busy working, all I can do is echo the sentiments of the military mom and others who view you "FSO's" as pathetic wimps.

I can't imagine signing up for your job and not knowing there might be some risk involved. I'm trying to think of the right word for what I think of you turd-bureaucrats, who are, unknowingly, proving once again how pathetic [most] civil servants are. Disgust.

John
|
Kuwait
November 7, 2007

John in Kuwait writes:

Problem: Unarmed diplomats being sent to Iraq.

Solution: For those diplomats who want to exercise their right to keep and bear arms, issue Glock 26s, ammunition, and two spare magazines and train the diplomats in the proper use and safety procedures for firearms.

Has anyone raised the issue with the Ambassador that his policy against arming diplomats makes said diplomats easy pickings for insurgents?

Look at the incident of the kidnapping of the soldiers in Karbala earlier this year. On January 20, 2007, a group of gunmen attacked the Karbala Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala, captured four American soldiers, and subsequently killed them. Diplomats could be next.

I think the Ambassador is violating FSO's Constitutional rights, to wit, the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution, partially quoting here, which says the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Why do certain people feel it is perfectly ok for the government (in this case an Ambassador) to ban weapons, but if the Ambassador told you to vote a certain way, the media would be all over them for violating your freedom of conscience?

I'm willing to go, but it is my right to carry a firearm, especially in a war zone. FSO's had guns in Viet Nam, in Beirut in the 1980s, etc. But now they can't have them in Iraq? To me that is the outrage which is going unreported.

Stay safe and best wishes.

Mark
|
Colorado, USA
November 7, 2007

Mark in Colorado writes:

Thank you for your efforts, your honor, and your integrity. We do hope more will follow in your footsteps, not so much just in location, but in the spirit of patriotism. Lead well sir, and Bless you.

William
|
Texas, USA
November 7, 2007

William in Texas writes:

Poor, poor FSOs. Are their martinis half empty? Not chilled to satisfaction? What an impressive lot.

NIck
|
Kansas, USA
November 7, 2007

Nick in Kansas writes:

As a retired FSO who served in Vietnam, I understand how many of my colleagues (and their families) fear the danger of a war zone. FSOs, unlike the military, can always opt out of an assignment by resigning or retiring if they do not wish to go into a hazardous assignment. That right cannot be abridged. But, still the Foreign Service has needs to fill in places like Iraq. Even if 60% to 80% of FSOs who are involuntarily ordered to Iraq in the end suck in their gut and fear and go, perhaps there is a different way to approach this type of problems over the longer term.

Specifically, I would propose that State set up a new, small, voluntary cadre of officers within the Foreign Service who sign 4 to 5 year contracts, like their military counterparts, to serve in any post to which they are assigned without the possibility of resigning or retiring. Out of our roughly 5000 active duty FSOs, perhaps we would only need a group of 500 who could be sent anytime, anywhere to serve their country in hazardous conditions and without the ability of resigning or retiring. To encourage the formation of such a voluntary corps, incentives would have to be offered. E.g., salaries might be pegged 10% above the norm, an extra week of annual leave might be given, life insurance might be enhanced, some preference on promotions might be considered, etc.

Whether or not such a corps were developed, State should probably also look at family support mechanisms that the military uses to give its personnel assurance that their families will have a circle of friends and the aid they need if the officer or soldier is badly wounded or killed in doing his/her duty. I.e. some FSOs may be less willing to take a hazardous job because they are concerned that their families may not be able to cope well if tragedy strikes.

In the end, I would tell my fellow FSOs that life in hazardous duty posts is less risky in fact than it seems from afar. It is probably safer in the Green Zone than in most of New York City or much of Washington, DC.

John M.
|
Iraq
November 8, 2007

Dipnote Blogger John Matel writes:

@ Jim in Texas -- I am profiting from the experience, but I think the world is more complicated than your analysis indicates.

@ Laura -- Actually I do not like it here. I will be glad when my time is done, but it is something we should do. I am not trained for war. I do not carry a gun and I am not a very good shot in any case. As a diplomat, my job is to create connections among people and work for the arts of peace. We diplomats here are being asked to do OUR jobs. The Marines have their own. What we share is the duty to do what we have agreed to do.

@ Rosamon in California -- Our job is to help build the structures of peace. We cannot always do that work best only where peace and order are already firmly established. It is still dangerous here, but not nearly as bad as you may have been led to believe.

@ Nick in Illinois -- Unfortunately, General Order 1 prevents the Marines from drinking beer and it would be bad manners to drink in front of them. Besides, they do not have any on the base. However, it is the Marine birthday on November 10. Every Marine gets a beer, and so do I, so I will take you up on the beer thing. Thanks.

@ Mary in Texas -- Thanks. Thousands of FSOs have served in Afghanistan, Iraq and other dangerous places. I wrote this post to indicate that MOST of us are not like those guys at the town hall. You notice, BTW, that they were all in Washington. What does that say?

@ Albert in Oklahoma -- Exactly. Although here in Anbar I tuck my Brooks Brothers shirts into Cabellaãs pants.

@ William in Dominican -- Yes. I hear from my friends that it was not a general problem.

@ Bob in El Salvador -- The Marines take care of me. There is not much fighting left here anyway. I cannot speak for everywhere in the country, but the war in Anbar is mostly finished. Besides, with all the precautions, I think we are probably safer here than in some other posts around the world.
I also do not like forced assignments. I made my choice based on my circumstances that might not apply to all. However, I think we should all be available in theory at least and we really have not call to complain.

@ Joe in Alaska -- I have experienced "actual diplomacy" for 23 years. I am a member of the career Foreign Service and was promoted to the senior FS for work I did before Iraq. I will not cast any more pearls before you.

@ Marine Mom in Virginia -- Maybe rode with your son in Anbar. The young men and women in the Marines are great. You are justifiably proud.

@ Don in Illinois -- Most of us are okay. The asses just bray the loudest. Thanks.

@ TRO -- Thanks. Please see above.

@ Jonathan in Texas -- I am proud to be FS and proud of most of my colleagues most of the time. We do serve our country and most of us are willing to serve in hard or difficult places. Please see what I wrote to Don above.

@ David in Japan -- Thanks.

@ James in South Korea -- Please see above to Jonathan. The Marines, BTW, have done an excellent job here in Anbar. They have big boots to fill, but we of the soft hands also have jobs to do.

@ Deborah in U.S.A. -- Thanks.

@ Vince in Illinois -- Most FSOs are dedicated and sincere. Diplomacy is a hard thing to get right. When you get it right, everybody just thinks it was luck and when you get it wrong they think you are an idiot.

@ Gari in New York -- Thanks.

@ Marie in California -- Please see above.

@ Steve in Nebraska -- Thanks.

@ Ken in Alaska -- We do have pretty sweet jobs most of the time. Even Iraq is not that bad compared with some of the jobs some people do every day. I do feel lucky.

JR
|
Iowa, USA
November 7, 2007

JR in Iowa writes:

To the FSO's who are incessantly complaining about having to work in an active war zone as unarmed individuals:

I am a civilian contractor who's done 2 deployments in Afghanistan (17 months) and will probably do a 3rd. I, along with the approximately 4000 other contractors in my company in Afghanistan, do not carry weapons, and moreover, we work hand in glove with the U.S. military on a daily basis. Therefore, the twin excuses of being unarmed and working with the military are so meaningless as to be laughable. (In fact, some of our projects are funded by the Department of State so your department is paying us to do it. Are you above similar treatment?)

I would add that as FSO's (at least in Baghdad) you will get deluxe accommodations in apartment style living. If you feel those accommodations are too "pedestrian", you can always come on over to Afghanistan where we civilian contractors live in plywood huts (we are each allotted a 7' x 7' square area) with blankets slung between our beds for walls, 10 people per hut. Moreover, it’s refreshing to wake up in the winter time and see your breathe...while you're still in bed.

It’s time for you to do some serious soul searching and decide if you're physically and mentally suited to performing this very important mission. If not, kindly step aside in favor of someone who is. These wars will not be won from the comfort of Starbucks.

PS - Mr. Matel, you are the man!

Bill
|
Kansas, USA
November 7, 2007

Bill in Kansas writes:

Thank you for your service and your dedication. I am amazed at some of the responses to your blog from some of your DOS colleagues. For example, Bob in El Salvador states "We have also not "agreed to this type of work," as you assert. In fact, when I joined the Foreign Service in 1995, no post was even close to the 70% hardship and danger differential now assigned by the State Department to Iraq. Moreover, at that time, FSOs were not serving in active combat zones anywhere in the world." Well, Bob, I can't say how excited I am to have "visionaries" such as you in DOS. If you thought the world would always look like in did in 1995, you are certainly in the wrong type of work. Reread your oath - I think you maybe agreed to it a little too quickly.

And Joe in Alaska writes "Our nation's reputation is in tatters; and the last think State should be doing is sending seasoned career diplomats into zones where their skills are thrown away. Diplomats are not soldiers. To compare them to Marines is absurd. Our marines and soldiers have done their duty, but does any serious thinker believe that a bunch of guys in desert cammo will solve our problems in the middle east and elsewhere? ...." So, diplomats skills are thrown away in Iraq? I guess you'd need to explain those so-called "skills" then. If you are talking about martini sipping, socialite partying, then you'd be right - those skills probably won't help in Iraq. But a true, skilled diplomat is a key in Iraq, especially during this phase of the operation. DOS should be the supported agency right now, and DOD playing a supporting role. But w/ "brave" FSO's like Joe and Bob, not likely to happen. And Joe, you obviously don't hold the soldiers carrying the overwhelming bulk of the load right now in high regard, so if their skills aren't helping solve the problems, how does DOS help if they are there and assisting w/ the problems.

Someone else mentioned that in this type of situation, the embassy would be evacuated in most situations. Well, if you are in a destabilizing country that the U.S. military is not going to, then you're probably right. But our military is there, fighting hard to try and develop/maintain security. What is needed is a robust DOS presence to work the diplomatic, economic, and informational elements of power for this effort. The security role should be in support of the DOS role. But if DOS isn't there to do their piece, then what good will security do? And sorry DOS folks, sometimes you just can't get the cozy, huge differential, safe post. Sometimes, you actually have to earn that differential and be in a place where security isn't perfect.

Thanks for your service John.....hope there are more out there like you, and more like Bob and Joe who are retiring very soon.

Patriot
|
United States
November 7, 2007

P in U.S.A. writes:

"I tell them that most FSOs are not wimps and weenies."

Thanks for the left handed compliments. I for one am glad that many FSOs are standing to this administration. So tired of the people who are turning this country into a dictatorship. What, how are the media such as New York Time and Washington Post question the motives of this administration? Bomb them! How dare corporations not cooperate in spying on Americans? Unpatriotic? Pulling the troops out of a pointless war? You are not supporting the troops!

John, this pathetic letter is no better than a North Korean official praising the wonderfulness of Kim Jong Il and disparaging the dissenters who are the true Americans questioning the government.

james
|
Texas, USA
November 7, 2007

James in Texas writes:

I an not DOS I am USCIS, I would go in a heart beat, Trade with me, if you know how or can make it happen. I am a retired Army Sergeant Major, I understand commitment and sacrifice. I would rather be there in DCUs than here in a tie.

Gayle
|
Mexico
November 7, 2007

Gayle in Mexico writes:

I totally agree with John. Sadly, any place can quickly become a war zone. Look at the two bombed embassies, the bomb in the church in Islamabad, residential area in Riyadh and the attack on the consulate in Jeddah. Anyplace in the world can quickly become dangerous. We have lost more Foreign Service officers in other places in the world than we have in Iraq. We all sign to be "worldwide available" period. There aren't conditions attached and it saddens me that people no longer are willing to do service to their country unless it is on their terms. I applaud John and all of his colleagues who do the tough posts; not just Iraq, but Afghanistan, Israel, Pakistan, etc. Thank you for your bravery and service.

Charles W.
|
Tennessee, USA
November 7, 2007

CW in Tennessee writes:

@ Charles in Tennessee -- Dishonest Charles in Tennesse is a liar and made up the following stats:

"60 deaths per 100,000 occupants per month in Washington, DC
40 deaths per 100,000 military per month in Iraq"

A quick shows DC murder rate is 29 per 100K occupants in 2006 based on FBI 2006 UCR data. And that is for normal civilians in DC . Our military personnel are heavily armed, travel in teams, and protected at virtually all times by the compound, their vehicle, and their fellow soldiers and still they dying at an alarming rate - making 2007 already the deadliest year with 2 months to go.

And with 852 dead this year so far and 156,000 troops in Iraq, basic math would show that the death rate per 100,000 soldier is an astonishing 516, not 40.

Charles in Tennessee apparently have a disregard for the warriors of this country. You go and explain to the 852 soldiers' families (or close to 4000 American soliders) how their son and daughters, their father and mothers died so keyboard heroes like Charles can claim how safe they are in Iraq as opposed to home in U.S.

How about this Charles: 99% of the keyboard bloggers calling FSO wimps are cowards.

Is this stat correct?

If so, perhaps the you should be sent to Iraq too and guard the FSOs. If not, donate a percent of your salary to the dead soliders' families.

Keith
|
United States
November 7, 2007

Ketih in U.S. writes:

Please also include these comments from Mr. Matel, drawn from his Iraq blog at http://johnsonmatel.com/blog1/2007/10/we_few_we_happy_few.html

We had a talk by the director general of the FS. He thanked us for our service and listened to our complaints/comments. He assured the group that those fat-cats currently sitting in comfortable offices will soon be asked to do their part. (And gentlemen in England now-a-bed Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap...sorry it just seemed appropriate) State Department has up till now managed to staff its Iraq positions with volunteers, but it is getting harder. There are only 6500 Foreign Service generalists and the director says that 20% of us have already been to Iraq or Afghanistan. Neverthelesss, some of the people who volunteer do not have the needed skills and some of the people with the needed skills do not volunteer and since there are no very many of us in general, staffing is an issue.

We are becoming an expeditionary service. I am not sure I like the idea of an expeditionary FS. I came to Iraq for a variety of reasons. The choice made sense to me. I would not have made the same choice when my kids were younger. Others make different choices. This is where my particular skills are currently best employed and I am proud to serve here, but it is very possible for someone to be doing more for our great country elsewhere. A diplomat who has become expert in Germany, France or Japan may better employ his skills in those pleasant places than in the deserts of Anbar. (he which hath no stomach to this fight, Let him depart) Some pleasant jobs are also very demanding and important. There is no virtue in making him come here out of some fairness principle or promoting him slower even if he shows real accomplishments. Most of my colleagues in Iraq disagree, but what does "fair" mean? Is it fair to get promoted just for living in a hardship? The fact that I can withstand desiccating winds does not by itself indicate competence. I think it should matter what you do, not where you were. Having actually withstood those desiccating winds, even for the short time, I can say that w/o fear of being marked as a malingerer or a mollycoddle, but I think it is true.

Joe
|
Wisconsin, USA
November 7, 2007

Joe in Wisconsin writes:

John,

Have things really changed that much for your since October 20? You have altered your tune a bit since you posted the following on your personal blog (johnsonmatel.com):

"I am not sure I like the idea of an expeditionary FS. I came to Iraq for a variety of reasons. The choice made sense to me. I would not have made the same choice when my kids were younger. Others make different choices. This is where my particular skills are currently best employed and I am proud to serve here, but it is very possible for someone to be doing more for our great country elsewhere . . . Some pleasant jobs are also very demanding and important. There is no virtue in making him come here out of some fairness principle or promoting him slower even if he shows real accomplishments. Most of my colleagues in Iraq disagree, but what does “fair” mean? Is it fair to get promoted just for living in a hardship? . . . I think it should matter what you do, not where you were."

C'mon John!

Marinemomof3
|
California, USA
November 7, 2007

Marine Mom in California writes:

I am with you John!! As my name states my Marines would be thinking what "weenies"!!

Your colleague who made the statement that it was a death sentence and also said that 'some do not agree with', I think he said the policy or something to that effect.

Guess what?? Some of the Marines and other armed forces do not either. You sign up for a job, you think you are going after the terrorist (as mine do/did) and the mission gets changed. Too bad! That is what I told my kids. When they joined the military, I told them 'it was not a democracy' that they joined. One man with the assistance of others makes the decisions, and you follow the orders.

I have one going over in January and another in February. I do however feel for the families, like us moms and dad's we did not 'join', we are the ones who have been drafted. :)

If all three are to be there at the same time, there are not enough drugs produced that will keep me together. I personally thank God that they are not Army, Reserves or National Guard who has to serve the 15 month tours.

God Bless and all we can do now is pray. Elections are now less than a year away, and hopefully, our mission will change.

Robin
|
District Of Columbia, USA
November 7, 2007

Robin in Washington, DC writes:

John, I'm sorry, but I have to say, shame on you. You have spouted off in a way that may make you feel superior, and certainly will win kudos from many readers, but in no way adds to a better understanding of the issues. Your entry does not respect the sincere and professional concerns of your colleagues and adds to misperceptions about our so often misrepresented profession.

I honor the service of the men and women of the military. I've worked with them, trained with them, and helped them get recognition for their efforts. But I am not in the military, I have no training for working in a combat zone, and worry about, among other things, being a burden to them, or even putting them in danger.

John, rather than chide your colleagues, use your blog to describe your day, tell how your presence is making a difference, why you feel your service in Iraq is the best use of your time and training, and of the unbelievable resources needed to get and keep you there. Justify, if you can, why nearly 20% of the entire Foreign Service of the United States is being directed to that one beleaguered country -- leaving many other vulnerable parts of the world to devolve into anti-Americanism unchecked, because we cannot afford to keep those posts fully staffed. That would be more useful than taunting others and implying that our concerns are unpatriotic, unfounded or wimpy.

Shame on you. I have, as have most of my colleagues, and most of the officers you know, served in many posts, including some of the poorest countries on the world, countries wracked by disease-- in one post nearly 30% of my own office staff died in a four year period. I've sat in an HIV ward holding the hand of my dying secretary, then moved two beds away to visit another colleague. I've taken dirty clothes from my staff's flood ravaged homes to my house to launder, and lived in zones prone to malaria, cholera, and other diseases. My family has worried about me as I took off again and again for places that they never heard of, and that were hard to reach (I've been doing this since long before most posts had e-mail). Most of us have been far away when family members died; many have missed the birth of their own children or had to make difficult decisions about taking those children into "hardship" posts, or had to let them go away to school in some distant land because there were no schools at post. We've lived without our spouses, or they have sacrificed their own careers to be with us, serving our country along side us, but unrewarded.

I've lived in smoky houses (from the neighbor's fireplace blowing into my upper floor apartment), in crime areas, with a huge open sewer next to my house, with rats in my yard, and lived through an earthquake. I've helped my local staff deal with bomb threats, riots, natural disasters and family emergencies. I've lived without dependable electricity and running water.

I do this because I have had a chance to see my efforts help another country, and it's citizens and leaders move into a better place developmentally, and a closer relationship with the United States; because I'm in place to help Americans and American interests when the need arises, and because my being there on the ground helps important information come back to policy makers in the United States, and to our broader society. I do this because every time I go to a new post, my whole circle of acquaintances learns about a new country. I do it because I love it, even when I hate it.

Anyone who chooses this job because they think it is glamorous or cushy is wrong. There are fun moments, and thrilling moments, and moments when you get to see some place, or event that takes your breath away. But it is often hard, frequently lonely, almost always challenging, and, given the promotion system, does not provide much in the way of job security. I've had too many shots, traveled in some pretty scary aircraft, lost too many personal belongs, and given up much that others would consider important for a "normal" life, and I deeply resent being called a wimp because I, like many others, hope not to have to serve in Iraq. But what I resent most is doing all this for fellow citizens, and worst of all, a fellow Foreign Service Officer who knows better, who question my patriotism. Shame on you.

Mike
|
New York, USA
November 7, 2007

Mike in New York writes:

I think the "wimps and weenies" might be a better description of all the Republicans--George Bush, Dick Cheney et al--who have no problem with sending soldiers and State Department workers to possible death and disfigurement in Iraq but who never, ever serve. Your scorn is misplaced, sir--it should be directed at war-mongering Republicans.

broadsword
November 7, 2007

B writes:

"Calling Iraq a death sentence is just way over the top."

Gosh; it's going to be kind of ironic if you get killed over there.

HH
November 7, 2007

HH writes:

"part of our work is to foster peace and understanding"

How's that workin' out? Oh, right Iraq is a bloody catastrophe, and I'm sure the best way to fix that is to feed a few paper-pushers into the meat grinder. We can probably resolve a centuries old civil war with a few more FSOs. Why not? They've already broken the spirit of everybody in State, Intelligence, Defense, Interior, etc.

To equate Iraq with any other post by saying people die all over is the sort of sophistry this administration used to get us into the mess in the first place. This is a situation many of us advised against, and now the administration reaction is "Well I've gotten us this far, have I not?"

Putting aside the issue of danger, everyone knows that post is a career-killer. In the best of all possible worlds the government collapses, new elections are held and we have Palestine all over again (only instead of Hamas in charge, it's Iran.) More likely, we either directly or through inaction back another strong-arm dictator so that we can devote all our resources to desperately try to keep Afghanistan and Pakistan from becoming the next failed states. Oh, I'll surely want my name all over that plan. Isn't bad enough we're implicated in the worst foreign policy since Johnson?

brant
November 7, 2007

Brant writes:

I am a citizen, and I see no more reason that diplomats should be forced into service of a lie, than I would feel that soldiers should. I think your fellow State Department personnel showed some courage, and I think that you should respect them for that. There is no honor in being a lemming, for the sake of being a lemming.

Alex
|
Minnesota, USA
November 7, 2007

Alex in Minnesota writes:

Here's the problem. Iraq is lost, we never had it to begin with. Here are the numbers: 82% of Iraqi's have little to no confidence in coalition forces, 79% of Iraqi's say there are not enough jobs as they have all been awarded to foreign contractors, 88% say the availability of electricity is poor, 69% say they have little to no clean drinking water, 64% say Iraq's economic situation is bad, 88% say there is little to no fuel for cooking or driving despite Wolfowitz claiming this very industry would finance reconstruction either in part or in whole, 75% say they have little to no freedom of movement within the country, 67% say reconstruction is going poorly, 76% say coalition forces are not performing satisfactorily, 78% want coalition forces out of the country, 69% say our continued presence only makes things worse. Now, take all those numbers and pretend they apply to America and decide for yourself whether or not this is an acceptable way for a nation to exist.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/19_03_07_iraqpollnew.pdf

In addition to this your macho attitude in regards to your colleagues is part of the problem, not the solution. Bear in mind, promotion of machismo is one of the 14 fundamental elements to the formation of fascist state. By resorting to your macho attitude you are in fact promoting a misguided and ultimately detrimental fascist ideology.

Johnny
|
Belgium
November 7, 2007

Johnny in Belgium writes:

@ Nick from Kansas -- Do we really need a new, small corps of DoS employees for these types of missions? Why not just enforce their current oaths of office? If they don't want to serve in hardship locations, then they should not take a job calling for world-wide service. And why would you need to throw extra pay at them? DoS already has a system of providing extra pay for such posts - those serving at difficult posts already get paid more.....much more. I can't tell you how many DoS folks told me they took their current post because it offered such a great differential but really wasn't that bad a location. Well, the pay is supposedly because the posting is bad, so if you take the pay, then take the difficulties associated with it. Come on, DoS, follow this bloggers lead and either do your duty for your country or get out. Trying to set up (or should I say pay off) a small cadre of folks to do the tough duty is repulsive. All DoS officers should be willing to take this duty or resign their commission.

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