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

Wimp/Weenie
November 7, 2007

W writes:

"Wimps" and "Weenies", eh? With diplomatic skills like these one wonders how Iraq isn't a functional democracy already.

Nick
|
Kansas, USA
November 7, 2007

Nick in Kansas writes:

The reason I have proposed a corps of FSOs who can be ordered anywhere at anytime -- without them being able to bail out by resigning or retiring -- is that it would give the Department a better, more efficient capacity to manage assignments to Iraq and similar places. It creates double the work and some chaos when the Department attempts to place an officer in a hazardous post, only to have him resign. If in addition to volunteers there are corps of officers who can be absolutely counted on to take their orders and go to a bad post, it makes planning and execution a whole lot easier. National planners (State) would still have the back up of ordering the "normal" type of FSO to the hard to fill slots, with the discipline that they would be fired if they do not accept.

Bill
|
Minnesota, USA
November 7, 2007

Bill in Minnesota writes:

I know that it is hard to take a assignment in the middle of a national civil war... But if you don't want to serve in a war zone:

You should have joined the Texas Air National Guard...

dan
November 8, 2007

Dan writes:

A welcome rejoinder to the outraged/terrified responses from those who may be "directed." Frankly, these people - much like the Bush Lied! Iraq is Lost! types above - are an embarrassment to our nation, and provide unfortunate evidence for military claims that they are the only element of the government fighting this war. Whether or not that is true is immaterial in light of what a citizen such as myself can only regard as insubordination by these unwilling State Department officials. What are we to expect of our government? Insubordination? Inter-departmental political enervation of executive and legislative policies? Perhaps we should devolved into full-blown Oriental fratricide so that "the Revolution" will triumph? What is this bullshit? Who are these cowards?

There should be a summary purge. Perhaps these people would rather engage in consulting hedge funds in the private sector - extraordinarily profitable, and much safer.

Benjamin C.
|
South Carolina, USA
November 8, 2007

Benjamin in South Carolina wrtes

John Matel and Sec. Rice,

Please accept this brief resume. I would be honored to take the place of any FSO who does not want to pull duty in Iraq. I have a BA in Psychology and an MA in International Security and Conflict Studies and I am the Director of the Organization for Public Diplomacy. I would go through normal channels but I don't meet all of the inane administrative requirements for a FSO candidate.

I am immediately available and look forward to your response.

Kind Regards.

Mike
|
Florida, USA
November 8, 2007

Mike in Florida writes:

I can’t understand how so many of posters, call Iraq a failure. Maybe, just maybe, most of them are DoS employees, who expect just the prestige of DoS, but not the responsibilities. If I understand right, al FSOs had full knowledge of what was expected from them. Then, what is the problem? But, again, maybe none of them worked in private sector. Only this can explain this so called "revolt". From my point of view, anyone who doesn’t like the job what for is getting paid by his employer, can resign. Their resignation will help paying of the deficit. And by my experience with government, more than half of them are paid way too much, just to fill out tones of papers in a nice office. If this (war is lost, Iraq is a failure) is true, why they still working in those nice offices? Why they didn’t resign already?
As long they took an oath, they have to keep it, otherwise is considered treason.

Gary
|
Virginia, USA
November 8, 2007

Gary in Virginia writes:

All the comments about this letter are fascinating. It seems that FSOs are both (1) unpatriotic civilian wimps disloyal to the Bush administration, and (2) neo-con chicken hawks. Apparently, expressing raucous contempt for the Foreign Service is one of those rare bi-partisan things that bring together all Americans regardless of their political leanings.

Tom D.
November 8, 2007

Tom writes:

It is hard to rock the boat and not go overboard. Especially with the internet today - what comes around goes around. I think that the war with Iraq is a big mess and is turning into another small scale vietnam. It is like a disease that we need to wash our hands of and remove ourselves from. What right do we have to force democracy upon these people if most of them apparently want nothing to do with it?

Here's a great article which shows the real percentages of people that don't wash their hands after going to the bathroom and how many don't have the slightest idea of how to properly wash their hands - you may think twice about shaking some strangers hand after this:

Proper hand washing 101 and why its important from Bestskinpeel.com

Bill
|
New Mexico, USA
November 8, 2007

Bill in New Mexico writes:

Being a low level bureaucrat in another department, my impression of the Department of State at least from the time that "W" took office has been one of childish and arrogant petulance. Many of the old hands at state are under the false impression that their job is to determine foreign policy and naturally assume that it should conform to their political prejudices. However, the constitution reposes that responsibility solely in the duly elected executive. That is why you are called civil SERVANTS. You may feel utter contempt for the president, as I do for his predecessor, but you have not been elected to anything and as such he is the boss and he sets foreign policy. That's how it works in a representative democracy. If you decide that you will not support his policies in the accomplishment of your duties the only honorable (look it up) course is to resign. If you actively work to undercut or sabotage his policies you are committing an act of treachery not only against that one man, but also against the nation which elected him. This is true even if it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. At a minimum such a person would have violated their oath of office and is no longer fit to continue in their position. Merely my opinion, but a little humility from the pin stripers would be quite refreshing.

And a word to cheap shot Bill in Minnesota, there were numerous ways to stay safe in Viet Nam such as being a phony correspondent with your own corps of bodyguards, or writing up your own Purple Heart citations so you could bug out early. But when things went pear shaped there was no way to escape the danger in a century series jet and it made no difference if it was a regular Air Force or a National Guard plane. Many men better than you gave their lives in F-102s.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
November 8, 2007

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ John Matel --

I think DoS is suffering from growing pains. The whole personel (HR) outlook from outsourcing security to war time assignment protocols needs the review of the ages to adapt to this age, and as well to the people that serve in its ranks, and the interests of this nation.
It may be that some have an Owellian idea "Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what's for lunch." about serving; but on the whole going "outside the wire" without a gun is well....what makes a diplomat a diplomat. Takes guts.

I took the FSO written exam along with some 15,000 others for 400 some odd positions a few years back, assuming worldwide assignment was a reality, and not always by choice.
Wonder if the OBO folks still need someone that "has paintbrush, will travel"?

I see in the next 5 years, the need for double the number of active FSO's to fill the need for PRT's, R&A, country desks, and other positions critical to resolving crisis.
DoS will have need for diplomatic force protection at levels commensurate and should not hire private security firms, period.

Rather I believe that it becomes manageable and probably ethically sound if Diplomatic Security will become a separately funded entity but a "mission responsive" agency to the DoS itself in keeping with its role.

I'm not so sure about DoS fielding its own army....might be diplomatically incorrect, eh?..(chuckle). But hey, at the HR level..."An Embassy of one." right?

Attitude is everything.

kat-missouri
|
Kansas, USA
November 8, 2007

Kat in Missouri writes:

Maybe the DoS employees are behind the curve on understanding the current world situation. State may need to invest in some seminars and speakers, such as TP Barnett, to review the major problem areas that are the most likely to impact the security of this nation. Increasingly, the places that are problems are nations are small, unstable, where the economy and political situation are marginal and where low intensity wars or even actual revolutions are taking place.

It is in these places that the overall situation is risky and the state government has limited control that terrorist organizations can base and act against the U.S. and our economic and political interests. They work to destabilize these governments and foment violence where, not only is government control limited, but economic and political limitations abet their cause.

These places present significant risk for FSOs even while they are not in all out war or otherwise disintegrated. It is in these places that our foreign service is the most important and where dedicated and experienced FSOs are most needed. It is not simply just a stepping stone to more choice assignments. It is the real and vital interests of the United States. While rewards for such service, such as less risky or more accommodating nations, are certainly viable and acceptable, it should be these more riskier positions that are sought by FSOs because they represent the true capabilities, the pinnacle of service.

FSOs are needed in riskier nations in order to better represent American interests, to better provide information and liaise with these nations, to better provide the political and economic assistance required to insure that these nations remain diplomatic issues and not causes for military intervention.

This requires the State Department and employees to turn their thinking on its head. For many years, State has been caught in the "Cold War" thinking that has plagued the DoD. Thus, the focus for state has remained largely on first and second tier nations as the most dangerous or imperative to our security. While these nations remain important, the terrorist acts of 9/11 and others before or since indicate otherwise.

We need stabilization efforts that are much more robust in these third world nations. We need State and FSOs to recognize the "diplomacy" paradigm is greatly changed. I think that is the problem, not a question of whether someone "believes" in the mission of "Iraq" or not, but whether they believe in the new "mission" at all.

If not, I must echo the other sentiments expressed here: resign or don't sign up at all.

State can help this along by bringing in outside expertise or even FSOs who have been working in these many "riskier" third world nations to explain how they are now equally or more important than the "cold war" states to our security. Although, I also have to admit that the last six years would seem to have provided that information and focus, thus any FSOs refusal to accept that is pure obstinance.

May I recommend the book "Who moved my cheese?" be distributed en masse?

Henry
|
Iowa, USA
November 8, 2007

Henry in Iowa writes:

Two and a half years ago, at age 18, my son declined the opportunity to enroll in college, in order to join the Marine Corps as an infantryman. Unlike Jack Croddy, he did not analyze whether he agreed with our nation's foreign policy. He did not attempt to negotiate his future assignment. He understood that military service to his country would mean following orders and going wherever his democratically elected leaders would send him. Unlike Jack Croddy, my son understood the concept of democracy, as taught in his high school civics class.

He also knew that his enlistment would mean deployment to a war-torn Iraq. He returned from his first deployment last April. He is scheduled to return next spring.

His parents spent a lot of time worrying about him, and will again during his next deployment. If you have the slightest power of imagination, you can probably guess how we felt when we saw FSO Jack Croddy vehemently reject the suggestion that State Department employees, who enjoy pretty nice careers by comparison to enlisted servicemen, should be required to serve in any nation where they do not "agree" with our foreign policy.

Jack Croddy, and every FSO of his thinking, is unfit for duty in this nation's Foreign Service. I am happy that Croddy and his fellow travelers have identified themselves. I would hate to think that my son might serve in a country where someone like Croddy would be jeopardizing my son's life and safety -- not to mention the vital interests of the country he is sworn to serve.

However I deeply resent that my tax dollars continue to pay the salaries and considerable benefits of FSOs who are so patently unfit for service to their country.

Jack Croddy and his ilk should do the honorable thing and resign. Otherwise, they should be fired.

Larry
|
California, USA
November 8, 2007

Larry in California writes:

Imagine getting your marching orders into a war zone from CNN and not from your boss. That's rude and downright disrespectful.

I think a lot of the anger in the town hall meeting was directed at senior management at State for surprising many of the midlevel officers with an overnight order to go to Iraq without bothering to tell them personally. And then the senior management tells them that they only get two weeks of training before they go. Most junior officers get at least 6 weeks of training before they even hit the visa line. And people who are entering a war zone get two?! Come on. That's fly-by-night management as a byproduct of the poor planning for the war.

And don't question the duty and patriotism of the Foreign Service! Over a fifth of the Corps have volunteered, I repeat volunteered, for service in war zones. If more than a fifth of our active military service personnel were made to serve on the frontlines of a war zone, you will see some the same grumblings that you've seen at State. In fact, a record number of midlevel military officers have already left the service.

Do I want to go to Iraq? Heck no, and most of you wouldn't either. But if called upon, I would most likely go. That's the sentiment I hear over and over again among FSOs, midlevel military officers, and other agency officials. But if I go, I hope my superiors will prepare me properly. And hopefully I'll find out about my assignment directly from my supervisors and not from the Washington Post.

John
|
Kansas, USA
November 8, 2007

John in Kansas writes:

@ Robin in Washington, DC -- Robin in Washington, DC wrote:

"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."
--------------------------------------------

Geez, Robin, the word "patriotism" or any even oblique reference to it does not appear in John Matel's post. As a federal employee myself, I would like FSO's yo do their job's, uphold your oath of office, or resign.

Antimedia
|
Texas, USA
November 8, 2007

AM in Texas writes:

The murder rate for 2006 in Washington, D.C. was 29.1 per 100,000 according to disastercenter.com - http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/dccrime.htm. In Iraq, approximately 841 servicemen and women have died each year according to Iraq Coalition Casualities - http://icasualties.org/oif/, some 20% or so from non-war-related causes (accidents, illness, etc.).

I don't think anyone is keeping a death rate per 100,000 service people in Iraq, but I doubt any rational person would argue that Iraq is safer than Washington, D.C., at least not yet.

As for the idiots who think the Iraq war is a failure, they should stop reading the NY Times and read something that reports facts, like say Michael Yon.

John, thank you for your courage and your willingness to serve our country. Thank God there are many more like you at State.

As for the whiny FSO who asked who would care for his family if he died, one can only hope that was not the first time he's asked the question and that he's made the proper plans to care for them if he dies.

After all, he could die crossing the street in any town in the world or driving home from work. One would hope he would not leave his family destitute.

Vince
|
Germany
November 8, 2007

Vince in Germany write:

John,

It's good to hear from you.

I'm personally torn on this issue. I'm not sure there are any precedents of extensive Foreign Service requirements for a comparable security situation. The kinds of patriots joining the U.S. military have a different risk/effectiveness calculus than the kinds of patriots who join the Foreign Service. And the screening process for the Foreign Service is considerably more selective than the most elite military units, taking decades to groom. The nation each year grooms 200,000 young Americans to serve in the armed forces. The nation grooms fewer than 1,000 young Americans to serve as Foreign Service Officers. The expectations are different, so it's not fair to compare joining the Marines to being selected and trained to be an American diplomat who is a personal representative of the President of the United States.

Take care.

M.
|
Iraq
November 8, 2007

M in Iraq writes:

The real problem in Iraq, (no strategy to rebuild this country) for give the Iraqi people hope to future. The first work must build new strategy include solutions can apply it in Iraq.

Kenneth
|
Iraq
November 8, 2007

Kenneth in Iraq writes:

Well said.

My initial reaction to Mr Croddy's woe was "man up, Nancy boy." I appreciate your reviewing the issue in less visceral terms.

Having served in Iraq, you can look back on life and honestly say that you've done your share. You've sacrificed for others. You've been tested, and you've passed.

Well done.

Antony
|
Australia
November 8, 2007

Antony in Austrailia writes:

The whole controversy demonstrates that of all elements of the U.S. government, only the military has sufficient moral, intellectual and physical capacity to sort out Iraq's problems.

John M.
|
Iraq
November 8, 2007

Dipnote Blogger John Matel writes:

Thanks for all the nice comments. I will respond to some later. For now I have got to run. This job has a lot of travel.

Drew
|
Dominican Republic
November 8, 2007

Drew in the Dominican Republic writes:

I am a retired USAF officer who did several tours in Viet Nam where I first was introduced to the Foreign Service--and was impressed by their dedication and courage serving in the model village program. One of my first experiences in the Foreign Service as a JO was to deploy with a team of FSOs to Panama in Just Cause, where we came in 12 hrs after the invasion. Our EX-Director called me up at 2 AM and asked me to be the GSO for the operation since I had military experience and had been in a war zone. We came in to the Embassy which had been hit by RPGs and had all the windows blown out by Humvee through several fire fights. I spent the next 8 weeks putting the Chancery back in operation and cleaning up. Several times during this experience we took small arms fire and were virtually unprotected in the Embassy. Nevertheless, I again was impressed with my colleagues performance under very sever conditions, and there willingness to do very difficult jobs. There are a lot of FSOs out there who understand the need to do the tough jobs, and to do them well.

Given the demographics, for the foreseeable future, about 800 of us will have to serve in an unaccompanied or danger tour each year. That means that every FSO will have to do a 25% or higher differential post about twice a career if everyone does their fair share. We also have a lot of FSOs who simply will not serve and will leave if forced to. Time to say goodbye to them.

The Foreign Service is not an easy job. As a management officer I see the good and bad side of just about everyone and quite frankly we have a percentage of whiners who simply do not fit the rubric of today’s challenges. If forced to serve in hardship posts, they will leave and find jobs that more fit into their lifestyle. Most are not bad officers, but they came into the service under a misapprehension that they would server at their whim not the service’s need. Some will leave because while they signed up for worldwide duty, they are not willing to leave their families at this particular point in time. Unfortunately, we need everyone to pull their fair share, and if you are unwilling to do the heavy lifting, perhaps a career move is in order.

I am soon to retire the second time from my current job as Mgt. Counselor in Santo Domingo. I have been overseas for 19 of my 20 years in the Foreign Service -- all but one of those tours was in differential post, and continue to be impressed by some of my collogues who are willing to do anything and go anywhere when asked. I have also been dismayed and bemused by others who can’t seem to arrange for a cable hookup or move a piece of furniture unaided. To make this new Foreign Service work we need to cull these officers out of the herd and gently push them into the civilian work force.

john S.
|
Tennessee, USA
November 8, 2007

John in Tennessee writes:

Why do we even have a Department of State?

It's the 21st century and I'm not sure what a 14th century dinosaur has to do with anything. If the President needs to talk to the despot of Mudholistan, he can call him on his cell phone. You guys do know what a cell phone is?

As far as the entry level things an FSO does, hire some temps.

If America keeps a DoS, then the employees working there need to understand that their job is to advance the interests of the United States of America. Nothing else. If they want to decide what those interests are, they can run for office. Until elected (ha ha), you will take your orders and carry them out to the best of your ability. If you cannot do that, resign.

What is so hard about that? 200+ million other Americans and several million illegals manage to get by under those conditions.

Keith
|
Ohio, USA
November 8, 2007

Keith in Ohio writes:

You chose not to post my previous submission showing a different side of Dipnote blogger Matel, as shown by his own non-spotlighted blog entries at here Why is this?
[Dipnote Bloggers write: The submission referred to above was indeed posted. See "Keith in U.S. writes..."]

Away from serving as poster child for macho FSOs, Matel wrote on October 20 that "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."

Show some courage yourself and publish both sides of the story.

Josh
|
New York, USA
November 8, 2007

Josh in New York writes:

Shame on you Mr. Matel,

Or did the Bush team write this letter for you?

To call FSO's "wimps" and to say "that sort" is deeply offensive.

If FSO's are accomplishing really useful work in Iraq, helping to end this war, then say so, and make the case for them to come help out. If FSO's can connect with the citizens of Iraq, help build infrastructure, make sure more American tax payer dollars are not embezzled by Haliburton criminal CEO's, then make that case.

How dare you call FSO's "weenies" for not wanting to risk their lives accomplishing very little in support of a false war and occupation--alas--less than 30% of Americans support this war.

Shame on you. If you believe in the job and the "draft" of FSO's, make your case. Tell us about the important work you are doing, and why it is valuable.

John M.
|
Iraq
November 8, 2007

Dipnote Blogger John Matel writes:

First a general note -- most of my colleagues are dedicated and patriotic. I was addressing my blog to the minority of complainers represented at the town hall meeting in the link I provided.

I also do not believe that everybody should be forced to come to Iraq. As I mentioned in my other linked article, a person skilled in French or Japanese might be much more useful to our country in Paris or Tokyo.

I am interested to find myself the subject of so much controversy. Bloggers on the right call me a hero and say I should be promoted. Bloggers on the left call me a chickenhawk and say I should be sent to Iraq myself. Both are wrong in their assessments and a little late in their advice. This should not be about politics. It is about what FSOs owe their country and their profession.

Finally, let me say absolutely that my opinions are only mine. Nobody asked me to express these sentiments. It is not part of some bigger plan. The truth is less interesting than the conspiracy theory. I was just annoyed when I read about the town hall meeting. I thought some of the speakers quoted in the media reports were just poorly informed about the actual situation in Iraq and I did not want to let it go. That’s it.

@ Nick in Kansas & Johnny in Belgium -- most FSOs do their duty. As I wrote above, I am talking to the minority of complainers.

@ Alex in Minnesota -- I am unwilling to give up on the people of Iraq. The change here is astonishing. I cannot predict the future, but your paradigm is definitely based on the past.

BTW -- I am far from macho. I own a hybrid; ride my bike to work (when in the U.S.) cannot properly shoot a gun and do not watch sports on TV. You may think it is macho to advocate the position I do. I do not.

@ Brant -- it is our job. I worked under Reagan, Bush, Clinton & GW Bush. I do not get to choose which I respect. I will (God willing) work for whomever is elected next year too. Do not make this political.

@ B -- I do not think ironic is the word you are searching for. I understand the risks of being here. There is a chance I could be killed. It would not be ironic, however.

@ Mike in New York -- You want to make this political. I am just talking about doing our job.

@ Robin in Washington -- Read through the post again and take a look at the links. I am not writing to all FSOs, just those complainers. Since you are not among them, you need not feel offended. You should have been offended to be associated with the complaints reported in the media from the town hall. I am just defending our honor.

@ Marine Mom in California -- Thanks and good luck.

@ Joe in Wisconsin -- I specifically linked to my previous article in the dipnote post. I expected people to read it. It is possible to believe both things. I do not advocate the whole FS go to Iraq. We are needed all over the world. My belief is that enough of my colleagues will volunteer to fill the positions. But the minority of complainers gives us a bad name.

@ Keith in U.S. -- Yes, people should also read that post. That is why I linked to it. It is not a one dimensional problems and my post is not a one dimensional post.

@ Gayle in Mexico -- Most of my colleagues do good work. I hope we are not judged by the weenies.

@ P in U.S.A. -- We can stand up to the administration as citizens; as FSOs we can and do dissent. But our jobs are to carry out the foreign policy of the U.S. We do not get to do only the things we personally support.

Your N. Korean image is badly flawed. Do you travel much?

@ JR in Iowa -- Thanks. I am unarmed in Iraq. My job is NOT to fight. It is to talk. The Marines take care of me and I trust them. We have that division of labor.

Elmoticky
|
Texas, USA
November 8, 2007

Elimoticky in Texas writes:

To all people opposed to Bush`s war thingy. Do not go voluntarily.

Matt
|
Texas, USA
November 8, 2007

Matt in Texas writes:

"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."

Unfortunately there is a very narrow dipolomatic role in Iraq. Propping up a deeply divided elected government while occupying the country doesn't leave too much to talk about. It would also help if we had a large number of Arabic speaking diplomats. The Iraq Adventure is an ideological battle. Our President and his administration are the ideological gatekeepers. Diplomacy (fostering peace and understanding) is not an important component of this ideology. Therefore, a diplomat can spin their wheels in vain in Iraq with no chance at meaningful peace and understanding. Oh, and diplomacy might include Iran. Iran and Iraq have been deeply intertwined for much longer than the USA has been in existence. Turning our noses at them is unproductive. Threatening them is dangerous. Threatening them without any evidence that can be shown to the public? That's lunacy.

Lysa
|
Virginia, USA
November 8, 2007

Lysa in Virginia writes:

I just read John's email and I could not agree more. I have served overseas in the military and on a civil service detail in Iraq (just returned in June). Through my experience I have seen that an FSO's life is pretty sweet - that is why I joined up while still in Baghdad, knowing full well that that tour would not count towards my FS career and I could be sent back to Iraq again.

I think those that are sounding-off about this new policy need to take a step back in time and remember what it was that made them decide to join the FS in the first place.

I joined the Foreign Service for the same reason I joined the Air Force all those years ago - not to live the good life on the tax payers - to service my country.

I depart in two weeks for my first assignment in Nigeria. Interestingly enough, no one had bid for that job either. As John said, perhaps those that don't really want 'worldwide' service should investigate other opportunities.

One final note: everyone is saying the new policy is 'forcing' people to go to Iraq, I disagree. As FSOs we have a choice - go to Iraq or change careers. This choice is more than the soldiers in Iraq have and I don't hear them complaining - they are just doing their DUTY.

Ted
|
Belgium
November 8, 2007

Ted in Belgium writes:

I deeply abhor the public complaints about the plans for directed assignments to Iraq. The people in charge have the authority to send us where they want, whether we like it or not. It is a central tenet of our job. The broader question of whether our policy is wise or not is not something FSOs ought to be talking about in a public forum. We are servants of the government of the day, like it or not. People who strongly oppose this or any administration's policy should resign and use the numerous existing platforms to speak out as loudly as they want.

Doug
|
Minnesota, USA
November 8, 2007

Doug in Minnesota writes:

I set out to draft a response to the OP and many of the comments. But Robin from Washington has done it for me. And for all of us.

All we FSOs and former FSOs (like me) who both honor John's service, and that of our colleagues and former colleages, in Iraq and elsewhere. All of us who heard about, or lived, the callous disregard shown for State and its expertise during the planning for a war of questionable necessity that is now consuming a great deal of American fortunes, lives and sacred honor and will do so for many, many years to come. All of us who publicly supported policies we neither made nor agreed with, because that was our job. All of us who honored the courage of our colleagues who spoke their minds, even when we did not agree with them. All of us who honored the positions of our leaders and their right to shape policy, even when we did not agree with them or their policies.

I would be saddened to see the proud Service to which I once belonged degenerate into a politicized corps of order-fillers to be dispatched to the latest war zone with targets on their backs. But as long as there are Jack Croddys -- and John Matels -- in that service, I trust that will never happen.

(But, John, responding to Robin's post with "you're not one of the complainers I'm so mad about so don't take it personally" is not adequate. Read it again, please. And please take it to heart.)

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