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

Hugh
|
Florida, USA
November 11, 2007

Hugh in Florida writes:

Mr. Matel has summarized the situation nicely. I've been privileged to work with hundreds of FSO's in dozens of countries, and have the highest respect for most of them. I suggest two alternatives for those who prefer not to serve where they are posted:

1) If you disagree with the policy to the extent that you cannot serve effectively, resign in protest and carry out your campaign elsewhere. If not, hold your tongue, go where you're sent and do your best job. Officers like Mr. Matel should not have to babysit whiners.

2) If you are afraid to serve in dangerous posts to the extent that you are obsessed with your safety and future support for your family, you've chosen the wrong career. It's not all London, Paris, Rome, and the hardest, most dangerous work is sometimes the most rewarding. Choose a career you can be comfortable with.

Joe
|
Suriname
November 11, 2007

Joe in Suriname writes:

Many Foreign Service Officers have served in combat zones and many more will. You can't judge an organization on the behavior or views of a few.

@ Lola in Florida -- I have had easy and difficult tours. On the hardship side I was posted to Chad which was very difficult. My family and I survived civil unrest with bullets going over the house my wife and son were in. I am currently in Suriname which is a hardship tour, but overall a good assignment. On the high side I have been posted in Turkey and Malaysia.

But I have done temporary assignments in over forty countries. Including being in the first wave into Afghanistan in 2002, Baghdad, Al Hilla, and Basra in 2004 and again in Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Al Hilla in 2005.

I can't count the number of rocket, incoming fire, IED, and other close calls I have been through.

@ Brad in Florida -- I am not one of the ones that went to the military for college benefits and then got out. I served on active duty in the Army for 12 years. There are many former military people serving in the Foreign Service.

doug
|
California, USA
November 11, 2007

Doug in California writes:

@ Martha in Canada -- Since you know so much about Diplomacy, then why are we in war? Your so-called 'talent' of avoiding violent conflicts with diplomacy didn't work maybe you should fix the situation yourself by going to the place that it's happening in. I know you people don't know how to use weapons nor fight for anything. We Military persons aren't asking you to pick up a weapon and fight. We are simply asking you to do your job were needed in whatever country our country needs you. I would like to see all your State Dept. people stop whining and complaining about going somewhere you would rather not be. Don't you think that us in the Military want to be over there too, but we are!!!????????

Sarah
|
Nevada, USA
November 11, 2007

Sarah in Nevada writes:

I am not ashamed of the FSOs and their unwillingness to serve in Iraq. If they don't want to face the dangers there than quit.

What I am ashamed of is a country that has placed Bush and Cheney in office and then they in turn have appointed such officials as Condoleezza Rice. Irreparable harm has been done to our worldwide status and we still have 14 months to go. We won't recover from this mess for years....if ever! If only they would quit!

We have just spent the last two years living in the DC area and all I can is: 'What a theme park'.

Contractor
|
Egypt
November 11, 2007

C in Egypt writes:

Wow, such self-righteousness when civilians actually assert their opinions regarding the sanity of their being deployed to Iraq!

Let's get through the "FSOs are weenies" argument right now--I don't see shortages of volunteers for Afghanistan assignments, or those in Sub-Saharan Africa, such that "directed assignments" are necessary. During the Balkan wars, I know of several FSOs who were riding around that war zone trying to broker peace. FSOs have been and are in Rwanda, Darfur, refugee camps, the Sinai, many many places that involve hardship and even danger of bodily harm.

So WHY is there a shortage of volunteers? Because the mission is too damn big.

As an American taxpayer, when a huge chunk of the money spent on diplomats goes to security for them, coupled with the fact that they cannot meet their counterparts because it's a war zone and realizing that other diplomatic posts get largely evacuated because of one or two terrorist incidents, then I have a fundamental objection to that many of our civilians being in Iraq.

And to my tax dollars paying for it.

I am a development contractor myself, and I know FSOs and contractors who have been in Iraq. They all went to serve, and all returned disappointed that they were of little or no use there. They can't get out to the counterparts, can't get anything done, being there becomes for many, if not most, a countdown to finishing the assignment and reaching safety. And avoiding aftereffects of facing mortars every day, even if they miss the vast majority of the time.

This is what we're paying for, as taxpayers.

I admire everyone who went out with the intention to serve their country. Every single individual.

But unfortunately, I just don't think the cost-benefit works, nor the political calculations.

Let the civilians come in when it doesn't cost more then each person's salary to provide protection. Until then, we are simply padding careers and enriching contracting companies, with little to show in the way of results for our money.

And why are we so upset that people are actually registering objection. That is checks and balances, a cornerstone of our democracy, and of our constitution.

David
|
Florida, USA
November 11, 2007

David in Florida writes:

As a former Army Officer, Vietnam veteran, and retired Diplomatic Security Special Agent, I can only say that the complaining FSOs knew the rules when they took the oath. Directed assignments are rarely made but not unheard of. Of my six Foreign Service overseas assignments, four were hardship posts and two of those were closed by evacuation. I was proud to serve and volunteered for all of my postings. If an FSO isn't willing to do his "Fair Share," s/he needs to get out. Its not as though they will have a hard time in the job market.

Tom
|
Virginia, USA
November 11, 2007

Tom in Virginia writes:

I am a Civil Service Officer at the State Department who has had the privilege and honor working with Foreign Service Officers. All the FSOs I know are selfless, hard-working, courageous, and are willing to serve.

From what I have seen and heard, the massive frustration concerning directed assignments to Iraq is a result of many factors. All the FSOs I know do not object to the idea of directed assignments. They all know that they are serving at the pleasure of the Secretary and the President, and will go where told.

The mission in Iraq is causing many issues at State. There are serious management issues. Many offices and embassies around the world are short-staffed, mostly because they people they need are in Iraq. My office is currently short about 5, 6 FSOs, and this is causing most in our office to work longer hours and receive practically zero vacation time. Some offices are unable to perform their functions fully due to these shortages. (Shrinking State Dept. budget doesn't help either) Additionally, many FSOs are unhappy with how the directed assignment policy was announced. The e-mails and cables were sent out on a Friday night, meaning State Department employees found out about the announcement in the press. It was a pretty sleazy and disrespectful way to notify the Foreign Service. Iãm sure soldiers in our military would be very unhappy if they learned about their deployments from the newspaper and not from their commanding officers.

Some people question why the Embassy in Baghdad is the largest in the world, when there are many places around the world we need a large amount of skilled and experienced FSOs (Beijing, Brussels, etc.) Then there are the stories of FSOs who have come from Baghdad (not the PRTs), stating they did very little meaningful work. Who would want to work in a bunker thatãs attacked almost daily doing work that could probably be done somewhere else? People need to believe that their work will be meaningful and important. At least six FSOs from my office are ãprime candidatesã for the unfilled positions in Iraq. None of them have any Middle East experience. None of them speak Arabic. How are they the best people to send to Iraq? What good will they do, especially if they will only get two weeks of training? No one can learn the intricacies of Iraqi culture and politics in two weeks.

For those criticizing the Foreign Service as a bunch of martini-sipping, overpaid elitists afraid to do hard work, get the facts straight. FSOs continue to volunteer to work in places like Afghanistan, Sudan, Chad, Pakistan, and Yemen. Particularly in the Middle East, FSOs are continuously the targets of terrorists and extremists. The FSOs, and particularly their families, sacrifice a lot. Over 80% of the posts in Iraq have been filled with volunteers. Most embassies and offices in DC would be extremely happy to have 80% of their positions filled.

Harry
|
Massachusetts, USA
November 11, 2007

Harry in Massachusetts writes:

As an retired FSO and veteran from an era when involuntary assignments were taken for granted, I sense the current media furor misdiagnoses the reticence of FSOs to serve in Iraq. It's a matter of careers, certainly not cowardice.

At recent gathering in Washington of ex-FSOs, I found great distress over the comments of one former colleague at the "town hall" meeting. I also found others sharing the diagnosis I posited for lack of Iraq volunteers. Even ahead of family disruptions were the questions: Would assignees have something useful to do? Or would there be too many officers tripping over each other in the cocoon of a huge embassy. Where and how would local contacts be cultivated in this small, closed universe? Would they have space and opportunity to show their diplomatic as opposed to bureaucratic skills? (Indeed, did they speak Arabic?)

Beyond "needs of the service", there is a careerist argument for volunteering, anyway. The Vietnam experience showed that good onward assignments might be secured and careers advanced by serving in a doubtful cause. Loyalty may be especially rewarded under such circumstances. However, I recall most officers preferring to get ahead by contributing their skills and energy to successful missions.

It appears your lead-off writer found plenty to do in an assignment he sought. Assuming he speaks Arabic, the right officer is in the right job. I agree with most of what he says, in a tone more embarrassed than sanctimonious or "over-wrought". Scanning down the Blog, it seems unfortunate that his comments, so different from those of the officer at the "town hall" meeting, may also have fueled the flames fanned by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.

Since the Department has, in effect, invited therapeutic pie-throwing on this site, I hope there will be an effort to put this episode in context. The Department might post a reminder that the line-of-duty deaths in the Foreign Service, per capita, have over the years often exceeded those of the Military.

felix
|
Virginia, USA
November 11, 2007

Felix in Virginia writes:

Current discussion of forced assignment to Iraq takes me back to about 1968-69 when same discussions arose re forced tours with CORDS program in Vietnam. During 1 week training session at Harpers Ferry about 40 of us were asked if we would resign if faced with orders to CORDS....all but three answered YES. I was among three but until today I'm not sure what my decision would have been if the actual problem faced me. With two young kids, just back from four years in Croatia, and eager to pursue further specialized training and work in Soviet/East European area I would not have been eager to join CORDS. Many doubted the value of the program just as do many today about the Iraq program..even if not killed or injured these folks wonder if they can willingly join an effort which they do not believe in. One has to step back and look at long-term U.S. diplomacy: is it really necessary or advisable to have so many of our officers with other specialties tied up in what at best will have marginal effect on the future of this nation. Maybe more of these FSOs must raise their hands and be willing to hand in their resignations.

Dan
|
Maryland, USA
November 11, 2007

Dan in Maryland writes:

@ Bill in New Mexico --

I said and say again the same about "Bill from Minnesota's" cheap shot at President Bush's military service during the Viet Nam war that I did about your cheap shot at Gore's and Kerry's military service in Viet Nam during that war -- that all these sort of cheap shots were and are on the whole unfair and unfortunate.

Please question the integrity of any person you want to in a fair and honest fashion. However, we would all be better off if this sort of questioning was done without resorting to cheap shots, and if we all had bit more respect for those who enter the arena, and who seek to serve our nation at some of the highest, most demanding and potentially dangerous offices.

If I'm a bemusing dreamer in this regard, so be it. For what I dream is of a political discourse where there is more respect and more honest discussion as part of our politics. This would be to the benefit of our elections, U.S. citizens and our nation's continued progress.

This cheap shot issue is relative to this discussion, as individuals posting messages on both "sides" of this debate have taken some cheap shots at the other "side." This is an important discussion, and it would be more useful and civil if such cheap shots were eliminated.

And while I like a laugh and being amused as much as the next person, I don't find cheap shots about the wartime military service of individuals seeking national office to be at all entertaining. Perhaps over a beer I would take it differently, but obviously I'm taking this blog a bit more serious than bar room banter...

Thanks again for your comment and regards.

Nada M.
|
Iraq
November 12, 2007

Nada in Iraq writes:

I don't know what other places John has served while he is in Iraq, but being in a remote military base (Al-Asad) in Al-Anbar doesn't mean that he is serving in the real Iraq. Surrounding by the heavy military vehicles and other kind of artillery making him feel very safe, but if he goes to the capital (Baghdad) were the U.S. and other embassies there he will face the real tragedy, the very dangerous life...if it is not dangerous I suggest to the diplomat to check whether Condoleezza had announced in advance any of her visits to Iraq!! Don't come to Iraq, everybody is leaving, trying to escape. Why you have to be killed or kidnapped by those very death group that trained by the U.S. itself.

Contractor
|
Egypt
November 12, 2007

C in Egypt writes:

@ David in Florida --

You say you've been evacuated from 4 posts. Think back to what led to those evacuations.

And then answer this question, “Why haven't civilians been evacuated from Iraq”?

The diplomats and other civilians are there right now for unabashedly political reasons, to prop up/prove that the mission is not failing. The horrendous amounts of money we are spending to keep them there is not commensurate with results--how can they produce with the security situation the way it is now?

Bring them home, I'm tired of paying for civilians to dodge mortars and meet counterparts sporadically.

Whoever said not one diplomat has been killed in Iraq is wrong, by the way. I can remember a handful offhand--a USAID human rights lawyer, several diplomatic security personnel.

James
|
Virginia, USA
November 12, 2007

James in Virginia writes:

I read with interest "Envoys Resist Forced Iraq Duty" article in the Washington Post and offer these comments. As background, I served a career as a Naval officer with tours at our embassy in Kuwait, where I worked for Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and the military training mission in Saudi Arabia. I returned to government service with the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office. As an "inside outsider" my comments on State's Iraq experience may be useful.

Some members of the Foreign Service are discomfited by Secretary Rice's emphasis on expeditionary diplomacy as opposed to fairly benign environment many have grown up in. That's understandable, but is not sustainable. State must be in the field to stay relevant. The Defense Department recognizes the need for more Foreign Area Officers (FAOs) and Civil Affairs (CA) officers. The intelligence community (IC) is recruiting more analysts and operations officers with Middle Eastern or Muslim heritage. While these initiatives will take several years to pay off, they will erode the influence of State, and the soundness of our foreign policy, if more FSOs don't deploy to complement the military and IC. The military appreciates State's area expertise, but the Foreign Service has to be where the military is - Anbar, Diyala, South Baghdad - not the Green Zone or Washington. Otherwise, the initial conditions will be set by the Army, Marines, and CIA. When State finally shows up it'll have to live with it.

The Post article mentioned "perceived disrespect from the U.S. military" for the Foreign Service. I would venture to say one reason is because the military has had to backfill the State Department positions in the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. As a result, junior and middle-ranking military officers are negotiating with Iraqi politicians and tribal chiefs and, even if they are doing a credible job, have to be wondering why they can't get some political backup from experienced diplomats. After Iraq, the military may take away the belief that it doesn't need State. I can't even imagine what an Iraqi tribal chief (who has fought, then negotiated with, our military) will think of a diplomat who arrives after the dust settles and claims to speak for America.

State's opposite numbers in the military and intelligence community operate in military and paramilitary systems and go where they are needed. A Foreign Service officer corps that picks and chooses assignments based on its approval of any President's policy only raises doubts about its staying power and, sotto voce, its patriotism. In Iraq, even private contractors have proved more deployable than the "Foreign" Service. This means MREs, no privacy-berthing, and casualties. Welcome to your future.

General Barry McCaffrey reviewed the reconstruction of Iraq and wrote, "The State Department actually cannot direct assignment of their officers to serve in Iraq. State frequently cannot staff essential assignments such as the new PRTs which have the potential to produce such huge impact in Iraq. The bottom line is that only the CIA and the U.S. Armed Forces are at war. This situation cries out for remedy." Ambassador Crocker suggested one such remedy and it may have left his colleagues bewildered and angry, but is also offers the Foreign Service the opportunity to consider where they want our foreign policy to go and if they want to take it there. If not, as we said in the Navy when a valued shipmate departed, "We don't know what we'll do without you, but if we have to, we'll think of something."

andy
|
Egypt
November 13, 2007

Andy in Egypt writes:

@ those military and former military personnel who hurl insults --

I would never consider logging onto the Pentagon's official blog to post entries to lambast those who work at Defense. I would never log on to a website for soldiers and preach to them about what they should or shouldn't be doing on the battlefield. I welcome thoughtful observations from military personnel from either side of the discussion regarding State's deployment to Iraq. For those who just want an excuse to insult the State Department and the Foreign Service (who, let's face it, you never liked anyway), I suggest you look for Rush Limbaugh's blog site. I'm sure you'll be among friends there.

Thomas
|
Colorado, USA
November 13, 2007

Thomas in Colorado writes:

I've been trying to get on with the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office as a Provincial Reconstruction Team Public Diplomacy Officer for more than a year, but have been rejected time and again. And I probably have the appropriate qualifications: years abroad in Asia, former journalist/editor at one of America's premier newspapers, master's degree in international relations, a firm belief in the mission, and a strong understanding of the principles and practice of public diplomacy and public and civil affairs (about which I teach at a local university). Would that those who truly want to serve and are qualified had the chance to do so.

Jane
November 13, 2007

Jane writes:

I am an Foreign Service Officer. I was at the town hall meeting. And I'm disgusted by the way this whole aftermath has played out in the media -- and worse, by the way the Department has handled it.

I don't think there was a person in that auditorium who thought he or she could change the policy. The vast majority of questions were on implementation issues, and were on technical details; those that weren't, dealt with some anger over how the news was disseminated. The reason you only see one sound bite in dozens -- if not hundreds -- of newspaper and online articles is because that was essentially the only question/comment that would've been readily accessible to someone outside the profession. This was in no way the public protest it has been painted to be.

Moreover, although the initial Reuters coverage was fairly accurate, later reporting focused only on the "death sentence" comment and cut other important context, such as the way the Director-General hectored and belittled the audience, and compared FSOs to slave owners. The mood was far less confrontational at the outset of the meeting than at the end. And that, I believe, is the reason for the smattering of applause that Croddy received (which was far less, incidentally, than what was -- justifiably -- received than the brave woman who talked about her PTSD). People were applauding his anger against a Director General who was behaving like a child.

So: do "most" FSOs oppose directed assignments? That's an open (and easy to research) question that certainly wasn't answered during the meeting.

What has been answered is that, in the face of a massive public display of hatred for and ignorance about the diplomatic function, the Department's only official response has been to dig up a clumsy flag-waver to egg on the detractors. How difficult would it have been to pull just one person from the "R" bureau to track and respond to news coverage with factual op-eds -- heck, even letters -- setting the record straight about the so-called "cushy" FSO life and about public service? It may seem like a warning shot to internal dissenters now, but what about when the lawmakers who are also following all this coverage realize how much popular approbation they can gain by slashing State budgets?

And gosh, could any of this in any way explain why only 12 percent feel the Secretary has the interests of the Foreign Service at stake?

And gee, could that, in turn, explain any of the reluctance so many of us feel (quite apart from the question of whether we'll serve) in contemplating this assignment?

(For FSOs against directed assignments: here's a nifty thought-experiment. Would you feel differently if Colin Powell had asked you to go? I know what my answer would be.)

Bill
|
Spain
November 13, 2007

Bill in Spain writes:

I have to agree with you, John. As a Foreign Service Officer who has served in his share of differential tours, I am somewhat dismayed to see the reaction. It seems a given that we are worldwide available and that there may come a time when you are assigned somewhere you did not particularly want to go. I feel those who declare their resistance most shrilly are doing the rest of us no favors. Our military colleagues are already disgusted by us and disrespecting the entire FS for the actions and statements of a few. Most of us are loyal and dedicated and, regardless of our political affiliations or our personal feelings regarding the situation in Iraq, will do our duty where it is required of us. Those considering vocal dissent should carefully consider the consequences of their words on the entire FS.

Fred
|
Thailand
November 13, 2007

Fred in Thailand writes:

Military personal sign up knowing they may be sent to war. When a Foreign Service Officer signs up for worldwide availability, are they to assume they may be sent to a war zone? Somehow, I think very few diplomats ever thought they could be forced into serving in such an environment. This is a draft, nothing more nothing less.

Harry
|
Massachusetts, USA
November 13, 2007

Harry in Massachusetts writes:

@ Jane -- Thank you, Jane, for your first hand report on the "town meeting". While far from the scene, I believe you have exactly sized up the situation and management failure in the wake of the meeting.

Where are the responses of State and Foreign Service leadership to the misinformation and calumnies in the media...including their own Blog? Is management opting to throw its soldiers to the lions as a diversion from the real policy issues? Would Gates (or Powell) stand by while his officers--his vital human capital--were being denigrated?

Blog parent Public Affairs should step in. Ask CSPAN to run a tape of the full town meeting, along with discussion by AFSA management and the Secretary, or her designee if she can't find time. Make the program available to the media--and field via Dipnote.

Service discipline may still bar taking up the core policy issue, the war, but entirely appropriate would be discussion of the huge opportunity costs in foreign policy, as elsewhere, of the Iraq deployment.

Gary
|
Virginia, USA
November 13, 2007

Gary in Virginia writes:

Anyone who looks at the current, record-low, military officer retention rates will see that it isn't just FSOs who are avoiding service in Iraq. Here are some quotes:

"The Congressional Research Service has noted that Army projections show its officer shortage -- which will be approximately 3,000 line officers in FY 2007 -- will grow to about 3,700 officers in FY 2008, and will continue at an annual level of 3,000 or more through FY 2013." [Source: Government Accountability Office, Military Personnel: Strategic Plan Needed to Address Army’s Emerging Officer Accession and Retention Challenges,[January, 2007, page 27.]

"This trend also continues at the Army’s premier academy, West Point. According to statistics compiled by the academy, of the 903 Army officers commissioned upon graduation in 2001, nearly 46 percent left the service last year -- 35 percent at the conclusion of their five years of required service, and another 11 percent over the next six months. Further, more than 54 percent of the 935 graduates in the class of 2000 had left active duty by this January, the statistics show. These figures mark the lowest retention rate of graduates after the completion of their mandatory duty since at least 1977." [ibid, page 6.]

Interviews with former West Point superintendents, graduates, and retired officers point to the wear and tear on officers and their families from multiple deployments in Iraq as the key reason why these officers are leaving in such large numbers. "Iraq is exerting very strong influence on the career intentions of junior officers," said retired Lieutenant General Daniel Christman, a former superintendent of West Point." [Bender, Bryan, ?West Point Grads Exit at High Rate,? Boston Globe, April 11, 2007]

We won't see a DOD equivalent of the State Department's now-infamous town hall Meeting on directed assignment to Iraq, but it is clear nevertheless that many Army officers are voting with their feet.

Dan
|
District Of Columbia, USA
November 13, 2007

Dan in Washington, DC writes:

Re the suggestion that @ Harry in Massachusetts offers about the State Department making public a tape of the State Department Town Hall Meeting where the Director General of the Foreign Service discussed assignments to Iraq, I think that is an appropriate idea.

I work at State and I've seen a tape of this meeting. As @ Jane reported, most of the meeting was a very productive, informative, positive and professional exchange regarding various issues and details related to staffing Foreign Service position and Foreign Service Officer service in Iraq. The majority of the exchanges at the meeting focused on Foreign Service Officers wanting to know the specifics about their service in assignments in Iraq, and also wanting to know about the support the Department will provide to those have already and will in the future serve in Iraq. The majority of the questions and comments were NOT about Foreign Service Officers objecting to or refusing to serve in Iraq!

Only towards the end of the meeting did some of the more emotional and heated exchanges take place. Seemingly, these few exchanges have been taken somewhat out of context.

As is so often the case, what has been publicized by the media is basically only the emotional and heated exchanges, while the forthright and positive exchanges that characterized the majority of the meeting were not highlighted or at all mentioned.

An example of this focus on the emotional exchanges only is the CNN report found at the link below. In addition to only showing a few seconds of several highly-charged, emotional exchanges (taken out of what was a meeting that lasted about an hour and largely was characterized by much less emotion and much more professionalism), the CNN reporters report that the meeting was an "open revolt" and a "stunning uprising." If this town hall meeting was an open revolt and a stunning uprising, then does CNN characterizes everyday U.S. Congressional proceeding as all-out, doomsday, global thermo-nuclear exchanges? Anyway, here is CNN clip:
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics

For another perspective on this issue, below is a link to the American Foreign Service Associations (AFSA) take on these matters. Of special note is this excerpt taken from the AFSA President’s November 5th letter found on this site: “AFSA reminds everyone that directed assignments are not a certainty. Both the Secretary and Director General have said that they remain open to filling the vacancies with volunteers if they materialize. At least 15 additional volunteers stepped forward last week. Others may do so this week.” AFSA link: http://www.afsa.org/president-update.cfm.

roger
|
Utah, USA
November 13, 2007

Roger in Utah writes:

I'm not an FSO but I am a retired Army officer. I find the controversy over assignment to Iraq by some in State not only distasteful but cowardly. Your job, like mine, is to serve your country. Period. Not when it's convenient or comfortable or fun but always. If you don't like that, then get out. It's that simple. I could care less whether these words 'offend' you or not; your conduct and lack of dedication offends me! This is exactly why the military has such a low opinion of diplomats. The author of this letter is an exception but for the rest of you, if you don't want the job give it to someone who is more capable and less a coward. Coward. That's the word for someone who won't risk their personal comfort or safety in the national interest but will still take the governments check. My disgust is limitless as I am sure it the case for those soldiers and Marines currently deployed.

Shelly B.
|
California, USA
November 14, 2007

Shelly in California writes:

The Nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.
-- Thucydides

To all FSOs-you took an oath to serve our nation by means of diplomacy-your nation needs you; the soldiers that carry out your directives need you; Iraq needs you. Your service is required, yet you cower in fear.

I took an oath as an Army Officer and I was scared to go, but I mustered my strength and went-twice. When I took the oath, I took it seriously; I took it literally. You don't get to choose where you are needed.

FSO's must answer the call-your nation and your military waits for your much needed skill, intellect, and diplomatic training.

Reynold
|
Florida, USA
November 14, 2007

Reynold in Florida writes:

I will take the place of ANY FSO who is afraid to go to Iraq. Please let me know when I can leave.

snook
|
Wisconsin, USA
November 14, 2007

Snook in Wisconsin writes:

The FSO's that are crying about having to serve in Iraq make me sick. You take the money, you take the perks, you take the retirements, you sit in DC drinking your Starbucks. Time to pony up, chumps. I did 6 years in submarines and went to places every spec-op that was life threatening. I knew the risks and so do you, you cowards.

As for the FSO's that accept the risk and do their job - good for you. You are stepping up when your country needs you.

Dan
|
District Of Columbia, USA
November 14, 2007

Dan in Washington, DC writes:

@ Gary in Virginia -- You make an interesting point about it not being only some U.S. Foreign Service Officers, but also some U.S. Military Officers, asking some questions concerning assignments to Iraq. Along these lines, here is a Washington Post article reporting on some comments that U.S. Armed Forces Officers recently had for the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So in a sense DOD has already had some town hall meetings with some concerns being expressed ...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/23/AR200710...

Steve
|
California, USA
November 14, 2007

Steve in California writes:

I am not an State Department employee, however I am a veteran (volunteer) from the Vietnam era, and I find the actions of the employees refusing to deploy reprehensible and cowardly. Your VOLUNTEER jobs as employees of the State Department do not allow you the choice of a required assignment to accomplish the mission at State. How dare you act in this manner. If you do NOT want to serve then QUIT. I would prefer that you not represent my country in any manner. Maybe you can just move to Canada. They welcome cowards also.

Joe
|
Georgia
November 14, 2007

Joe in Georgia writes:

I would like to comment on this issue. I applied to become a FSO but did not make the cut. I joined the military to help my cause. I would be more than happy to go over and pull a tour for the State department and try to get things going within the Iraqi government especially if it means that my brothers and sisters in arms can come home when the mission is done. FSO's are no different than the military, except they don't carry weapons nor does their pay reflect what they are really worth. You have lost all respect within the military. Whining like they are going straight to the execution chamber with no hope of reprieve even though many, many young patriotic Americans are making sacrifices every day, some the greatest sacrifice for their country and you disgrace them that way. I wish Gen. Patton heard that diplomat. He would slap him silly and send him to Iraq in the first group over.

Steven
|
California, USA
November 14, 2007

Steven in California writes:

I'm not an FSO but I wouldn't mind joining, and even going to Iraq. I have degrees in criminal justice and political science, and a Master degree in Public Administration. 23+ years of information technology experience. There would only be two simple requests: 1) training in Arabic, and 2) training in armed and unarmed combat. Why? Quite simple: if the unfortunate does happen, I'd like to be prepared and I'd rather not go down without a fight.

John
|
District Of Columbia, USA
November 14, 2007

John in Washington, DC writes:

Even in the face of America's costly toll in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, there is a generation of Foreign Service Officers (including the past and current presidents of the American Foreign Service Association) who are still fond of quoting the "statistic" that more ambassadors have been killed in the line of duty since the war in Vietnam than generals or admirals.

On the heels of the public relations debacle following the State Department's unfortunate town hall meeting on Iraq, the false bravado underlying this inappropriate declaration is going to ring just that much more hollow.

Notwithstanding whatever efforts are underway to repair the damage -- and regardless of whether or not the characterization is deserved -- it's hard to escape the awful feeling that the Foreign Service has been stained a shade of yellow that just isn't going to wash out easily in the minds of the American public.

As AFSA's leadership and other disgruntled members of the Senior Foreign Service plan their next moves to try and fend off FSOs' obligations to serve in accordance with their oath, one can only wonder whose longer term interests are really being served.

Perhaps the next trip up to Capitol Hill to persuade Congress to more adequately compensate members of the Foreign Service for some hardship or other will offer an opportunity to find the answer to that question.

Meanwhile, FSOs such as the author of this posting are probably all too well positined to find out right now how much the tragicomical display at Foggy Bottom is going to help them get their jobs done in Iraq.

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