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

S
|
California, USA
November 14, 2007

S in California writes:

I am a Foreign Service Officer who has served in Iraq -- twice, a full year tour, and a previous TDY. No one forced me to go; I went of my own volition to make a difference. I have also served in Nigeria, Cameroon, Beirut, Tunis and Brazil, so I am no stranger to hardship. For the FS bashers, I have proven my patriotism and heroism. I am sorry if your do not recognize the value of unarmed civilians voluntarily going into a combat zone to serve their country.

I have no objection to directed assignments to Iraq, as long as the directed assignments fairly target individuals who have systematically avoided serving in hardship tours. Those individuals should be ordered to Iraq, and they should quit if unwilling to go. I do object to the lambasting of the entire foreign service based on the bad behavior of a few. The majority of us are not the whiny weenies we are portrayed as being in biased media reports.

I was at the town hall meeting, and those of us present were not told that the details of this meeting were going to be released to the press. We understood this was an internal meeting with our human recourses department for a no-penalties discussion of a proposed new HR policy. Press coverage of the meeting excludes legitimate questions raised by FS officers about the nature of the assignments system.

The comparisons of foreign service officers to enlisted military in multiple posts on this blog is spurious and needs to be addressed. Foreign Service Officers are commissioned officers, just like military officers. The appropriate comparison is to commissioned military officers, not enlisted.

If the foreign service is expected to serve in war zones, give us the same benefits as the military: 1) tax free pay in theatre (which I know for a fact includes countries outside active war zone, including most of the Middle East) -- FS officers pay taxes everywhere they serve, all the time-- they do not get tax free benefit at any post 2) free health care for life (if we are to be treated as military, give us military health care) 3) veterans' preference on employment (we don't get this now) 4) government funding for housing while assigned state-side (at present we pay out of our pockets for housing when assigned stateside); the military benefit equates to significant equity from purchase of property by officers who get USG money for housing stateside) 5) more transparent promotion systems (military have point values that determine eligibility for promotions; our promotions are along lines of stealth decisions in smoke-filled rooms -- secret decisions that are never explained) 6) promotions ceremonies at which our accomplishments are celebrated by senior officers and our colleagues (we just get our name in a cable and no celebration) 7) ribbons and medals to recognize our accomplishments (yup, don't get this either), 8) professional development through staff colleges and war colleges - these opportunities are few and far between for the FS but standard for military. We get none of these things now, and that's OK, but if we are not going to get the advantages of military service, is it fair to expect us to accept service serve in military zones? I would argue it is not. Also, the military position is contradictory and ridiculous. I have personally heard all of the following from the military, portrayed to various degrees on this blog: State has dropped the ball in Iraq. Diplomats are weenies doing clerical jobs, for excessive pay. Diplomats (i.e. Secretary Rice and other cabinet Secretaries) are responsible for the war (umm, wasn't that the VP and the SecDef?) so career diplomats are responsible for fixing the problem (even though they are not political appointees and their views were brushed aside by the administration) and therefore career diplomats should be punished for failure of administration's policy.

Get real here people -- the career diplomats are paid to give their best advice to whatever administration is in power, and if their advice is ignored, to do their best to implement the policy they are given. They are not wizards, cannot make flawed policies succeed. They cannot go into a messed up situation and miraculously fix it, nor should they be expected to. Such expectations indicate a total lack of understanding of how diplomacy works.

I have no problem with criticizing the few U.S. diplomats who are not worldwide available, but please do not tar us all with the same cowardly brush -- most are committed professionals. And please do not hold the professional diplomatic corps responsible for fixing the administrationãs mistakes in Iraq. There is only so much diplomacy can do; we are not miracle workers. If you buy the pottery barn analogy "You break it; you bought it" then sorry, the folks who bought Iraq ain't the Department of State. They bought it -- let them fix it (and staff it).

John M.
|
Iraq
November 14, 2007

Dipnote Blogger John Matel writes:

@ Roger -- Most FSOs are not that way. One reason I wrote the initial post was to counter the impression made by those guys at the town hall. I was ashamed of how they acted and I wanted to call them out. Now we hear that the complainers were not even representative of the town hall.

I think we (FSOs) sometimes get a bad reputation because the biggest complainers have the biggest mouths. Most of the rest of us just keep just do our jobs and keep quiet believing that everybody understands that the complainers are not speaking for us. Unfortunately, if all the public sees on TV are the hysterical whiners, they think that must be how all of us behave.

If you look at the news updates, you see that we have filled all but a couple dozen jobs with VOLUNTEERS. Obviously my overwrought colleagues at that town hall are not the voice of the FS. They just talk loudest.

Auem
November 14, 2007

Auem writes:

We need a five year term limit on the FSO job. This will allow more Americans to serve and they will respect the work.

James
|
Virginia, USA
November 14, 2007

James in Virginia writes:

I had the pleasure to work under John Matel as a State Department Intern less than one year ago while still taking classes at GWU. I am not at all surprised to see him post this note in a typical lighthearted manner that he seems to have mastered.

I am particularly proud of him considering my current job: I am an officer in the Army training to run convoys in Iraq in the near future. I have no choice IF I will go. I surely will. Even then, had I a choice I would go anyway. There are too few fine men and women handling the burden that soldiers and dedicated stateman like John are asked to carry out. Why should I, or any person who offers service to his country turn that down so blatantly, so shamelessly, without considering the implications of my actions?

It is my professional goal to work as an FSO one day, to continue service to my country, and yes, to enjoy the perks that come with being a diplomat. But sometimes to get a lot, you have to give a little.

Lindsay
|
North Carolina, USA
November 14, 2007

Lindsay in North Carolina writes:

As I sit and type this my husband is currently gearing up for his third Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthday in a war zone. My husband honorably and without complaint deployed to Iraq twice, he was then stop-lossed and sent to Afghanistan for 16 months. His military contract was extended without his permission yet he and the thousands of other stop-lossed soldiers are not on TV whining about the 'potential death sentence' they have been given. If you sign up to be a Foreign Service Officer then you have just signed up to serve in ALL foreign countries, just as our military members know they are signing up potentially go to war.

Grow up Foreign Service Officers, do the job you get paid to do or find another line of work.

Eddie
|
Maryland, USA
November 15, 2007

Eddie in Maryland writes:

A couple of observations need to be made:

1. No one has refused a directed assignment to Iraq.

2. Anyone who is in the FS for a number of years serves in real hardship posts with conditions that most Americans cannot imagine.

3. It was a Town Hall meeting. Do the posters here believe that the intent of a Town Hall meeting is so that those who called it can tell the participants what to do and the participants should salute smartly and leave? I was under the assumption that a Town Hall meeting was at the core of our democratic principles and such a give and take (overwrought or not) is to be expected.

4. Management in the Department of State blew this and blew it badly. Who would quietly submit to their management announcing potentially life-altering rules in the dark of night to be relayed in the press?

5. And you Mr. Matel, I respect your right to post this and I even understand your perspective since you are currently serving there. However, scrolling through the many misinformed and visceral comments I came across this reply by you:

Dipnote Blogger John Matel writes:

"@ Mary in Texas -- ...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? "

Shame on you. You perpetuate a myth that we in the FS take refuge in Washington. You know as well as I do that Washington service is just as compulsory as hardship service and comment that was uncalled for.

Sarah
|
Pennsylvania, USA
November 15, 2007

Sarah in Pennsylvania writes:

Freedom isn't free. I live near the Cemetery of the Alleghenies and see new graves every month to remind me of that fact.

If you join a company who's business is to bring about peace one has to assume that there is currently conflict to be resolved so that peace can be achieved.

I was a peacenik in the 60-70s and now realize what a disservice I did to my friends who were willing to die for peace. Now my son-in-law is willing to do the same. He is doing his job and not whining. Why can't you do your job without whining?

Buck-up or quit the job and find something safe to do. You will probably miss out on a chance to play kick ball with Iraqi children or help a family. But you will be safe. Get out, leave the job to those who defend freedom and believe that peace is an admirable goal.

J.V.
|
Maryland, USA
November 15, 2007

J.V. in Maryland writes:

I have been reading through this blog because I stumbled onto it; I have been Googling "Jack Crotty" or "Jack Croddy" ever since I read his contemptible remarks because I have been wondering whether one or more of his colleagues would disavow them. Instead I see more whining: about how the military has better perks (!), how Foreign Service Officers must not be compared to enlisted military (!!), how Secretary Rice doesn't love you (boo-hoo), how the "misinformation and calumnies in the media are to blame." But Croddy's remarks appear to have been accurately quoted (although his name was initially misspelled). He said what he said, and what he said is your problem. Not the media's. Not the military's. Not the secretary's. Deal with it.

Eric
|
California, USA
November 15, 2007

Eric in California writes:

I feel that as an FSO one's job is to represent the interests of the United States, which is to be an envoy of the President overseas. I don't understand why some FSOs find it below them to accept the fact that they signed up for a job that would require them to serve their country abroad - and the Middle East and Iraq are the hotspots today. I have a roommate serving in Iraq and he isn't in danger - to the contrary.

I don't honestly understand what FSOs do because the Green Zone is so huge; it is probably like another American city within the city of Baghdad. You are probably safer in that city than you would be in any major metropolitan American city given the security and fences that surround that compound.

If you don't like your job, then quit and do something else. But don't wine and complain. Give the opportunity to serve America to someone else who would like to represent the United States.

John
|
District Of Columbia, USA
November 15, 2007

John in Washington, DC writes:

@ S in California -- When you say, "I have proven my... heroism," that may be just the sort of unintended hyperbole that gets FSOs into trouble at times, because one usually doesn't promote his own heroism, if you see what I mean. A more appropriate statement -- especially in your quest to emulate the military -- might be that you've done your duty (even if you did it heroically).

Secondly, I'm not sure what FSOs being the equivalent of commissioned military officers has to do with any of this, since military officers are no less subject to service discipline than noncommissioned officers and enlisted soldiers when it comes to following orders to deploy to a combat zone. (It may also be worth keeping in mind that the Foreign Service isn't just about FSOs, as there are many Foreign Service Specialists and members of the Civil Service in Iraq as well.)

Finally, the benefits you would lay claim to are earned by soldiers in a combat zone not just because, like you, they might be underneath an incoming mortar round or on the wrong side of an IED, but because they are subject to being sent into combat.

This is an important distinction that is being overlooked in many critical ways as this discussion rages on. No one is asking FSOs to engage in combat -- to truly "be soldiers" -- thus the continuing refrain about being sent to Iraq "unarmed" or "untrained" is irrelevant in connection with any increased risk of harm. (Certainly there is a need for training to avoid all sorts of other undesired outcomes in an FSO's work, of course.)

If and when the time comes for an FSO to be killed or injured in Iraq, it is most likely going to be as a result of indirect fire or an IED, and these are weapons which do not "seek out" the unarmed and untrained. FSOs are compensated for this risk by receiving danger pay.

On the other hand, being "treated like the military" -- and thus entitled to the many benefits you mention -- can mean doing things like going out on a daily foot patrol in a potentially hostile neighborhood and exposing yourself to direct fire. Or perhaps it involves driving around for hours and hours, day after day, and not just taking the occasional trip to a ministry. It can also mean enduring the mental stresses that accrue from killing people who are trying very hard to kill you.

Soldiers do very different things and take far more ongoing risks to earn what they do. That is why several thousand of them have lost their lives in Iraq.

Regardless of the heroic nature of your service, you are not a grunt, and you should think twice about laying claim to a piece of their blood-soaked turf as a condition for doing what you do.

(Oh, by the way, I believe that State Department has a number of medals, including a Medal for Valor. Perhaps you should look into that. Meanwhile, the next time you think someone is comparing you to a sergeant, that's a badge of distinction you should wear with pride.)

Scott
|
Virginia, USA
November 15, 2007

Scott in Virginia writes:

Lack of sustainability.

I believe that is behind much of the controversy that has been raised by State Department assignments to Iraq.

Although the media has reported on the difficulties the military has faced due to the necessity of 2nd and even 3rd deployments to Iraq and/or Afghanistan, it has not yet been raised as a concern for other areas of the U.S. Government supporting our efforts in those two countries.

Well, it's time to start thinking about that now. While most FSOs are willing to take on one of the 750 tough, unaccompanied assignments State has (over 2,000 of the 11,000 FSOs have already done so in Iraq or Afghanistan alone), we have more than 250 other overseas posts to staff and a shortage of 1,000 to 2,000 FSOs at the moment, depending on who is doing the counting. A lot of people do not have adequate training (it takes 2 years to get the average person to a moderate level of fluency in Arabic!), or are not at the right stage of their careers to take these assignments on.

Sound a bit like Management 101? Hire several hundred new FSOs to plug those gaps and permit additional training, and within a year or two the supply will probably meet the demand.

It's not just about numbers, though. I think FSOs are right to question the wisdom of establishing the biggest embassy in the world in the middle of a war zone. By the standards I have seen applied over the years, Embassy Baghdad should have been "drawn down" to a minimal number of critical staff, not ballooned to several hundred diplomats.

I would liken those concerns to those raised by the brave soldiers who asked former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld why they were not being provided proper body armor.

For the record, I am bound for an assignment in Afghanistan, and like John Matel, am excited about the opportunity to help the U.S. work through some of its most important foreign policy issues. I don't think it is helpful, though, to impugn the integrity of those who choose not to take similar assignments at this time or who question how our operations are being managed.

Bill
|
Michigan, USA
November 15, 2007

Bill in Michigan writes:

@ Snook in Wisconsin -- To "Snook" in Wisconsin, if you're looking in again at this blog and taking another rare break from Fox News and Bill O'Reilly: I haven't heard of too many U.S. submarines engaging in combat since, who knows, was their any submarine "combat" in Vietnam? So you're hardly one to call people "cowards" who are reluctant to serve, unarmed in real active combat zones, areas that are nothing like anywhere you ever served. The sad thing about this whole debate is that one errant comment at a town meeting by an unrepresentative FSO who was frustrated at a pathetic and childish performance by one of our so-called leaders (the Director General), lures out of the woodwork a bunch of "God, guts and glory" types like yourself who have no clue about the Foreign Service, U.S. foreign policy, what causes all these conflicts we're involved in or, most importantly, what it takes to live with your whole family, including little kids, in some shithole in Africa, Asia or Latin America for three, sometimes four years.

I am an FSO and three out of my four posts have been hardships. In Bogota I rode to and from the Embassy in an armored van, every day, with Uzi toting body guards peering out the window watching for FARC guerrillas, narcoterrorists or random slimeballs just looking for a reason to put a bullet in our heads. So keep watching O'Reilly, hang onto that gunrack, and do whatever you need to do to keep feeling good about your distorted, "snook-centric" worldview. And leave the debate about forcing FSOs to go to Iraq to people who have an atom of a clue about the issue.

Kate
|
Virginia, USA
November 15, 2007

Kate in Virginia writes:

Foreign Service Officers are not cowards. But anybody who decides to call them this behind their backs is. These people regularly get shipped to hardship posts with their children, without military training for combat zones, and have had short notice about this decision that is going to change many families' lives. More Foreign Service officers are torn about this than you think, so I think you should ease off a little. The whole nation supports the fine soldiers who go to Iraq, people could be a little more generous to these people who are often left out, who work behind the scenes, who in the past have been some of the first Americans to die in unstable and later war-torn countries. Our overseas situation makes everybody edgy, but this is not the place for you to gang up and vent. Some of the bravest and most selfless people I have met are Foreign Service Officers, and although you may aim your slanders at one person, you end up hitting them all.

Joeshmo
November 15, 2007

Joe writes:

No, you know what makes me sick? That all of you jerks are so damn happy to jump on the bandwagon and rail off against people you don't know, and people whose situations you don't know. So a few people ruined the reputation of everybody else, get over it. Although the need for jobs in Iraq called for more than the State Department body had anticipated, most of the jobs have been volunteered for. I'm sure they all would have gone had they so many people not been inconvenienced by the short notice. These people are NOT cowards, and they're not crying, and the only people I see passing on sob stories and whining are you. Yes, you. The next time something as self-righteous and sickening as these posts starts to come out of your mouth, run to the bathroom.

Old-Timer
November 15, 2007

OT writes:

When I personally joined the FS, it was NOT part of the job to serve in a war zone. In fact, we were reassured during training that, while we are commit to work in an embassy overseas, we would be evacuated if our post country turned into a war zone. For that reason, we have no embassy in Somalia. It's not analogous with the military at all.

Why does the State Department offer extra benefits to people in Iraq? To encourage people to go. If it were our job to go around the world no questions asked, the State Department should just pay everyone the same salary around the world.

If the State Department does not make service in Iraq worthwhile, it would face a problem with recruitment and retention. The sole criteria for the Foreign Service should not be the willingness to serve in war zones.

Anne
|
District Of Columbia, USA
November 15, 2007

Anne in Washington, DC writes:

Ditto to everything said by S in California! I could not have said it better myself.

Paul
|
Iraq
November 15, 2007

Paul in Iraq writes:

I am the Provincial Reconstruction Team Leader for Sadr City and Adhamiya in downtown Baghdad. I was promoted (from Haiti) and certainly did not need to come to Iraq for my career. I did so out of commitment to service -- and I have met so many other Foreign Service Officers who feel the same way. I work with a magnificent group of equally committed military officers from the 2/82nd Airborne. We are making progress at the local level on governance, reconciliation and to a much slower and lesser extent on economic development. Is the situation easy to deal with? Definitely not. But we are needed and our country needs us to do this. Dangerous? Sometimes yes. But we all face danger at times in the Foreign Service. Like many FS members, I can tell many war and danger stories -- not just from Iraq. I have served all over the developing world. It is the nature of the world we deal with. We need to be leading the effort.

Edgar
|
District Of Columbia, USA
November 15, 2007

Edgar in Washington writes:

I believe the term "war zone" is too general and glosses over some important distinctions regarding role of the Foreign Service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If the current assessment is that security and development in Iraq is threatened by an insurgency and that therefore the Coalition has adopted a counter insurgent strategy, then victory is measured in terms of people not land. If so, then the FSO skill set is necessary in Iraq, whether it be public diplomacy, economic or political in nature.

Even if the assumptions above are too idealistic for some, then there still is the argument that now more than ever, there is a need for genuine and insightful reporting, which, again, requires a skill set for which the Foreign Service Officer is particularly well suited.

Whether one believes that our strategy in Iraq is based in the principles of counter insurgency or that the Coalition must reassess the situation and its goals, it seems to me that there is an important role for the Department of State.

As for the senior level officers whose services and skills are in great demand in Iraq, I can understand the reluctance of some from serving. The probability of meaningful results and progress versus the hardship (real and imagined), may seem unrewarding. However, the experience senior level officers could pass on to the many mid level and junior officers serving under them in Iraq, provides a valuable and very tangible long term benefit, not only to the Foreign Service, but to our future foreign policy capacity. A legacy they should embrace.

Finally, to those who were not swayed by any of the previous arguments -- world wide availability means WORLD WIDE availability. Granted, the operational environment and maybe even the nature of the foreign service has changed in some manner. For some this will be acceptable, others may decide it is not and chose to leave (an option many of our military colleagues do not have).

Doug
|
Minnesota, USA
November 15, 2007

Doug in Minnesota writes:

It now seems enough diplomats will volunteer to fill the needed jobs in Iraq without directed assignments. I refuse to second-guess the wisdom and judgment, certainly not the patriotism, of either those who choose to go or those who choose otherwise. But it sure seems the Department's personnel types went off half-cocked. As a general rule it’s unwise to attempt to force people to do something they’d be perfectly willing to volunteer for if asked in the right way. And I'm fairly certain the military men and women here, both officers and enlisted, would bear me out on this point.

The comparisons made here between Foreign Service and military officers seem to me invidious. If we can't agree that, in the effort to project American influence and power in the world, the role of the diplomat is -- and should be -- profoundly different from that of the soldier, this is going to be a long and ultimately pointless discussion.

Some foreign service officers may have more experience than most military officers in dealing with foreigners. That doesn't make every newly commissioned FSO some latter-day Lawrence of Arabia who can come in and solve the problems of the world, or even some small part of the world. Particularly if they don't have the kind of skills and background that Lawrence started with.

There may well be a place in today's world for a more active foreign service, despite the traditional -- and IMO wise -- taboos against diplomats becoming involved in local affairs. That place may well be alongside the military, assisting with nation-building in troubled areas of the globe.

But if Transformational Diplomacy is going to mean we now need some kind of Foreign Service Militant, available for involuntary dispatch to the front lines with minimal training and/or background, then that needs to be made clear up front to the people who are going to join, and no less clear to those current diplomats who the transformers expect to transform. In my experience most foreign service officers weren't cut out to be soldiers, cops, or civil administrators, nor were we interested in being any of those things.

Eugene
|
Virginia, USA
November 15, 2007

Eugene in Virginia writes:

Idiocy of the Administration aside, FSOs accepted worldwide availability and have the choice of accepting a directed assignment or resigning their commissions. Now if the training FSOs receive before going into war zones is what is really the issue, then the Department should deal with it. I suspect the division over this issue only reassures us that our Foreign Service is representative of the American people. Likewise, there's probably an equal amount of division within the military serving in Iraq, only the uniformed dissenters have no choice.

Bradley B.
|
Florida, USA
November 15, 2007

Bradley in Florida writes:

I am amazed at the FSO that are having a problem with serving their country that they swore by oath to serve. I have been trying for two months to help in Iraq, to no avail. I can't understand why I can't help, but these so called career FSO that don't want to serve are crying about their family obligations. They knew when they joined that they would have to serve where ever in the world. It was okay for them while they did not have to go to Iraq. Perhaps the State Department should look for those that want to serve instead of trying to force the ones that don’t. I am an American citizen that spent time in the U.S. Army, and would love to help our country, but rules state because of my age (46) that I am too old for the military. Again this is hard for me to understand.

Tiger
|
Florida, USA
November 15, 2007

Tiger in Florida writes:

I know that I am showing up a little late to this party but I am really curious about a few things: How much does an FSO in Iraq, on average, make? How does this compare to a Marine PFC or Army Corporal walking patrol outside the green zone? What "benefits" does the military "enjoy" that the FSOs don't? Is being armed really considered a "benefit"?

I understand that the Secretary of State has her volunteers now but I am wondering what it takes to volunteer.

One more parting note: If the Democrats (or politicians in general) are saying that this war can only be won with Diplomacy, what happens to the military if the Diplomats won't go?

Julianne
|
Michigan, USA
November 16, 2007

Julianne in Michigan writes:

Dear Mr. Matel,

Your "wimps and weenies" comment in this blog appears to have stirred your FSO colleagues to a greater sense of voluntarism, thus ending the need for future directed assignments, given the latest news reports. Very nice.

I have a couple of questions:

First, the State Department's newly-adopted policy of "transformational diplomacy" specifies that FSOs are to be proficient in the language(s) of the countries to which they are posted. Given this recent "blitz" assignment of FSOs to Iraq, are we to assume that all affected FSOs are proficient in Arabic? If not, how does the State Department hope to correct this deficiency?

Second, in January 2007, the State Department, in cooperation with PR Coalition, sponsored a "Private Sector Summit," the purpose of which was to garner the support and assistance of global public relations firms in advancing the nation's public diplomacy interests at a global level, with especial focus on countries where U.S. access is a bit restricted (as they are in Iraq). Purportedly that support and assistance was assured. Are your efforts in Iraq in fact being bolstered by public relations firms? Or was the "Private Sector Summit" really nothing more than an inordinately-expensive, social tete a tete?

Kerry
|
California, USA
November 16, 2007

Kerry in California writes:

Mr. Matel, thank you for such refreshing words. I am a military spouse and was deeply offended after reading the article you are referring to. Remember that being a FSO was a rational, independent choice made by each FSO and I feel no pity for them if they are sent to Iraq when I have families (many many many) families whose husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers are gone to Iraq for over 15 months (and then they come home for just over 12 months and then get sent back).

The only argument that is sound (and I do not know how FSO offices work) is that anyone being sent over to Iraq should have weapons or at least be guarded by those who have weapons. Understanding yours is a job to promote peace, but self-preservation should be allowed when you are in a war-torn country like Iraq.

Thank you for your patient and voluntary service. Thank you to your family who has also made a huge sacrifice. I, too, hope that more of your colleagues will just "get over it" and do their job!

Johnie
|
Arkansas, USA
November 16, 2007

Johnie in Arkansas writes:

I am a retired military officer. Those of us in the military or who served in the military knew we could be sent anywhere at anytime. That is a part of being in the military.

Although it now looks like there won't be any directed FSO assignments to Iraq I am surprised the government would say they can force a government civilian in to a war zone.

Government civilians regardless of agency never signed up for that kind of duty. Most except for diplomatic security agents haven't been trained in combat.

Allison
|
Virginia, USA
November 16, 2007

Allison in Virginia writes:

I am the granddaughter of a career diplomat and ambassador who also represented us with the UN. I know what hardship posts entail, because of what one of my parents went through. Most of my classmates in boarding school were the children of diplomats -- many in the Middle East -- to be kept out of harms way. While I never suffered what some of my classmates did -- having to hide under beds in embassies to avoid being shot in a coup de etat -- I know that none of these people, or their children, were cowards.

They were also guarded by MARINES, not private contractor cowboys who have no chain of command to follow, and are unwilling to put their uniforms back on! Somehow they are heroes, but the FSO are cowards?

I am not a coward! My grandfather was not a coward! My parents were not cowards!

It disgusts me to see a poor ' military' solution destroying ALL the hard work that was done by my grandfather in the ME. Maybe if the FSOs had been sent in before invading Iraq, we wouldn't be here today.

I also understand that it is not policy to have diplomats posted in what is clearly a war zone. Mr. Bush is fond of stating we are in a war, and Iraq is one of those battle grounds. Why then are FSO's expected to be in something that is only a 'military' operation?

Frankly, I am sick of hearing the more military types come on here and throw out the same sort of petty accusations about cowards and traitors as they do to any soldier who finally questions why he or she is being sent to die for no visible benefit. Guess what?

Army recruitment wouldn't be so problematic if other dedicated military professionals hadn't said "this is rubbish" after their 3rd and 4th tour of Iraq. Their families are being destroyed too. And for what?

The FSO is not the military, for a good reason. I don't know too many military people who take their families to do garrison duty in Bahrain, do you? Nor do they spend four years there either. They only take their families to the nice cushy posts in Germany...

Yes, FSOs do agree to serve allover the world, just like soldiers do. That doesn't mean they are obligated to follow blindly, or not question 'orders' when they see it is neither in the tradition or the purpose of the service they signed up for.

mike
|
Saudi Arabia
November 16, 2007

Mike in Saudi Arabia writes:

The military are a all volunteer force that understand the risks associated with their job- they will get killed and maimed as a result of their "chosen" occupation. For the most part they are compensated better than their civilian counterparts (tax free salary, medical and dental care etc) I am a U.S. Government civilian employee who is in the middle tier of the pay scale and make substantially less than a E7 in the military with 16 years of service. Personally I do not see there being much of a security issue in Iraq for State Department employees. Aren't you all personally protected by Blackwater?

John
|
District Of Columbia, USA
November 16, 2007

John in Washington writes:

Tiger,
For what FS officers make, think military officers--our system tracks pretty well with that. The biggest practical differences that I can think of are that the military earnings are tax-free in areas that are in a war zone, military get a housing allowance in the US, a supportive public (can you name a movie where State is positively portrayed--damn liberals in Hollywood) and, to my mind most importantly, mostly deploy as a unit and have communities left behind that support families much more than State. I know this is not true for Guardmen and women, and more should definitely be done for them, but it makes a difference.

BTW, Iraq is now close to 100% staffed. I think the number for our other posts around the world is closer to 75%, so I hope our policymakers try to find funding to hire people to fully staff up other countries (think maybe diplomacy with China, Pakistan, India, Nigeria, Venezuela, Cuba, etc., might be as or almost as important as Iraq going forward?) The diplomats go to a lot of places the military does not.

jason
|
North Dakota, USA
November 16, 2007

Jason in North Dakota writes:

I am not part of the diplomatic core. But I put in 21 years in the army going where ever they told me to go. I didn't want to go to Iraq either. But when I received my orders, I deployed there. I was more than inconvenienced by a military stop loss (the back door draft). You guys are getting pay and benefits above and beyond what the average soldier receives while your sitting in the green zone. Meanwhile that soldier is dodging RPG's, rockets and small arms fire outside the green zone on a daily basis. You accepted the fact that the government would send you outside the U.S. when you joined the diplomatic core. It is likely that the required number of diplomats in Iraq will increase in the near future. If you do not like the way things have been going, you should either step aside and quite, or maybe you should have voted differently three years ago.

When I look at the numbers, it seems statistically safer to be a U.S. diplomat in Iraq than a soldier. 1 -vs.- over 3,000.

Eric
|
New York, USA
November 16, 2007

Eric in New York writes:

I'm a junior military officer who just got back from Iraq four weeks ago. I'm not going to call anyone a coward who doesn't want to go to a war zone, but I would say that I would go back to Iraq in a heartbeat for the opportunity to make a difference in the way that a dedicated diplomat could do in a place like Iraq. Without hyperbole, I'd even forego my block leave to make a difference if I could leave tomorrow as an FSO.

As a military officer, my mission is to seek out and destroy the enemies of the United States. That is a different kind of mission, but in the non-linear battlefield that is present in Iraq, the differences between what a diplomat can do and what a military officer is obligated to do in order to win are blurred.

You're lucky as FSOs to have this opportunity. This is exactly what experienced, trained personnel such as yourselves are needed for - to listen, to understand, and to sift through the minutia needed to evaluate another party to get to the root reality of a situation and find a diplomatic, negotiated solution. A diplomatic solution is what is needed ultimately, regardless of military success. Losing in Iraq will affect our country for years to come -- no one can dispute that -- and each small victory can change the course of the war.

You have the chance to positively affect the course of our country for years to come, and I hope that each of you currently serving as an FSO realizes this before balking at such an assignment.

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