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.



United Arab Emirates
November 16, 2007

MJ in U.A.E. writes:

I agree with some of what you have said in your posting. However, the comments from the meeting on the 31 October are justified. The FSOs signed up to protect the interests of the U.S. constitution, extend and maintain foreign relations and look after the best interests of the U.S. However, as more and more diplomats, servicemen and women, and the general public are realizing, our foreign policy (or the lack of it for that matter, has severely dented the image of U.S. diplomats, forces and sadly the nation, all around the globe, including our closest allies, the United Kingdom. I would hardly refer to the aftermath of the destruction in Iraq as an achievement as proclaimed by C. Rice, its a disgrace. We should be proud of our forces who have placed their lives on their line of duty, but what good has all this brought to Iraqi people or the families of those who have not returned home? Fake promises, lies, black ops and extortion are not what I would called protecting the interests of the U.S. The true meaning of the word "diplomacy" has been long crushed under the sound of U.S. war drums, which serves the pockets of our senators and corrupt government officials. The day C. Rice, takes up office in Iraq, or sends her loved ones to protect the FSO's, I will happily volunteer for a posting to any part of Iraq. However, we all know that this day will never come. It's one thing speaking about protecting the interest of U.S. constitution from the comfort of your $20m home, under the 24hr protection of the secret service, and another to be taking up office in an active combat zone where our very presence is loathed, not just by the Iraqis, but by the whole region, and sadly the world.

Alabama, USA
November 16, 2007

Rusty in Alabama writes:

This story and the resulting chorus of melodramatic whining from FSOs didn't surprise me in the least. Apparently, when called to a hazardous duty, these guys showed their real colors - yellow.

Having worked with several FSO during my military career, I've found that most of them have been more worried about personal comfort and compensation than about service to their nation. While I'm sure that there are good FSOs out there, that was my experience.

Oh my... scared of service in the Green Zone? That's where Marines and Soldiers go to relax! LOL

This debacle clearly shows how the State Department is a haven for the pinnacle in the stereotype of "public servants".

For those FSOs who have served in Iraq - thank you. My hat is off to you. For those who refuse to go... well, enjoy sitting on your behind while your coworkers pick up your slack.

(awaiting my fourth set of orders to Iraq/Afghanistan)

Oregon, USA
November 16, 2007

Kitty in Oregon writes:

I don't think the reluctance of most of the people at the town meeting was due to cowardice or even fear of death. I believe they are fed up with the lack of professional diplomacy by this administration, the ineptitude of many of the higher ranking officials at State who were selected for their loyalty and not their expertise, and the lack of an adequate training program for those who are going into a very dangerous situation. As one diplomat said: "in any other country as dangerous as Iraq, the U.S. Embassy would have been shut down years ago".

President Bush is trying to accomplish through the state department employees what the government of Iraq will not do--keep the peace and develop democracy. It is difficult to see any future in this plan. As soon as our troops leave, anarchy will reign.

California, USA
November 16, 2007

Mike in California writes:

To: Careerist FSO's

From: US Army 19D

When in the service of your government, for which you volunteered for, you go when told. If you do not want to go then you should be dismissed. It's really that simple.

Your job is to represent the United States of America regardless of what 'administration' is currently in office. If you disagree with the policy, the location of duty or the length of service then resign. Quit. Obviously you are more interested in your 'career' than in serving your country or actually making a difference in the world.

There are soldiers, sailors and airmen who have been 'directed' to serve overseas and 99.99% of them have gone again and again. The few who didn't go had legitimate reasons or departed service and yes some of them deserted or went AWOL. However, thousands of others were called into an office and told that they would have to deploy as an Individual Augmentee (IA) or to fill a specialty vacancy and, sorry to say, you will be gone for 180 days... or 224 days or in some cases 415 days at a time. They went.

If serving your country is such a problem than stop doing it. You all have college degrees or other forms of advanced education so apply yourself out in the business world or maybe a college or something. Just stop putting yourselves on the cross because you didn't get assigned to Trinidad or Australia.

Well... There's always Canada.

North Carolina, USA
November 16, 2007

Stephen in North Carolina writes:

I've just read where all the positions appear to be filled in Iraq and no "forced" assignments will be made. I was disappointed. After witnessing the cowardness displayed at the "town hall" meeting, I had hoped many of those that spoke, and the others that applauded, would be fired.

As a veteran of both Vietnam and Desert Storm, I was appalled. I would have volunteered for duty in Iraq, or any place else that I could be an example to others of what freedom means. Freedom does not mean "do what I want" but also includes the freedom to do what's right. Our men and women lost lives to help establish freedom in a country where "rape chambers" were a part of life. I guess if the same thing ever happened in the United States, those of you that balked at serving, would never want another country over here helping us put down a brutal dictator. It would be acceptable if it were your wife and family.

Anyway, stay at home...please. Send me at no pay so the people of Iraq can learn what a real American is. Not someone that hides behind a desk.

USAF, MSgt, (Ret)

Connecticut, USA
November 16, 2007

Clark in Connecticut writes:

As a retired Soldier who encountered FSO during my overseas tours, the latest whining and moaning from "Career State Department" personnel reaffirms my opinion of them. That opinion was and is ,that as a group these folks are self absorbed, arrogant and very narcissistic who spend their careers apologizing for being Americans and America. We as a nation don't need those who are unwilling to do the heavy lifting for this country , while looking down their noses at this nations Warriors! Especially those who can't live up to their oath of office.

California, USA
November 16, 2007

Hank in California writes:

I was offended by the self-centered complaints reflected in the comments of what appears to have been a few State Department employees. If you aren't willing to accept the responsibilities you have sworn to assume, when and where needed, then resign your commission and find another line of work. I haven't read that the State Department has much trouble recruiting.

You are not the only Federal Civilian employees being asked to serve overseas in difficult and possibly dangerous situations. But, your situation is clearly not equivalent to the risks assumed by members of the military, who, regardless of branch of service, are subject to being placed directly in the line of fire to defend us at any time.

My son is a civilian Merchant Marine Officer working for the Military Sealift Command, and my younger daughter is a MM2 in the Navy. Both have been to the war zone.

At the same time, I commend the rest of you who choose to serve overseas, and do so humbly, in the best tradition of government service. I'm an Army brat from the cold war, and a Navy veteran of Viet Nam, I know how difficult such assignments can be for your families. I also honor you and your families for the sacrifices you make for our country. Thank you.

District Of Columbia, USA
November 16, 2007

John in Washington, DC writes:

It's ironic in a way, because if the State Department was hoping to deflect some of the criticism of FSOs by having John Matel post this blog, others like Bill in Michigan who show up with comments like "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" appear determined to open up their profession to further disdain from an entirely different perspective. Is "shithole" an official, uh, diplomatic term used in the Foreign Service, and are "shithole" countries (or is it continents?) advised of their status by means other than public blogging? Is that what diplomatic notes are used for?

United States
November 16, 2007

David in U.S. writes:

If the wimps and weenies don't want to serve in Iraq then they shouldn't be allowed to serve anywhere those that won't serve should be removed from there cushy jobs...they stink.

Missouri, USA
November 16, 2007

Ben in Missouri writes:

I'm not in any way connected with the Foreign Service, just an average citizen. After reading the barrage of negative posts on this website, I wanted to let you all know that I, for one, don't think FSOs are cowards. You do very difficult work for our country. It's different from the military's mission, but no less important. You face different hardships than those faced by military personnel, but that doesn't change the fact that you sacrifice a great deal for the benefit of the rest of us. Thank you so much for your courage, your professionalism, and your perseverance during what must be a particularly trying time for the State Department.

November 16, 2007

MD writes:

As the proud wife of a man who served his country in the army for 11 years and is now serving his country as a Foreign Service Officer, I find many of these comments very disheartening.

While in the army, my husband spent a year in Bosnia. As most of the wives did, I wore a yellow ribbon on a pin every day he was gone. We were living in Germany at the time, but my children and I spent a month in the States during that year and I still remember the dismay I felt every time someone would ask me about my pin and then respond with "oh yeah, we do have soldiers there, don't we?" or some similar phrase. Here I felt my family was making such a sacrifice, and yet the majority of the Americans I came into contact with in the States were barely aware that we had soldiers in Bosnia at all.

I feel the same dismay now, reading so many hateful comments about Foreign Service Officers by people who clearly have very limited actual knowledge of the roles and lives of FSOs. My husband just spent a year at a PRT in Afghanistan. It was no less of a sacrifice for our family than his year in Bosnia as a member of the military. His service is no less valid. The pieces of shrapnel he keeps on his desk from the IED that nearly cost him his life are no less real.

There are "wimps" and "weenies" in every single organization that exists (the FS and the military included). What's more, there is not a single person who has not, at one point or another, said something that made them look very much like a "whiner" at the time they said it. Luckily, it happens to most of us in less public settings. But to judge an entire organization on the remarks of one person is a mistake. In fact, even to judge that one person based on one comment made is not likely to be a very accurate judgment.

While there are some similarities between the military life and the diplomatic life, there are also many, many differences. One such difference that has continually been portrayed here as a similarity is the way future assignments are given. FSOs have much more control in where they go than military personnel do. They do not always get their top choice, but very very rarely does a FSO get posted to a place that was not even on their bid list. "World Wide Availability" is, in practice if not intent, meant to span an entire career. A very benign example: if a FSO has a child in braces, of course they will bid on a post that has adequate orthodontic care and will not even consider posts that don't. And yet, later in their career, when the braces are off or the child in college, that same FSO may very well end up happily going to a post where orthodontic care is not available. This is the mentality of bidding for FSOs -- it is very different from the military -- and agree with it or not, it should make the reaction to forced assignments at least more understandable.

November 16, 2007

Rich in Iraq writes:

This was my retort to Jack Croddy, the FSO who whinned so vociferously at the Town Hall about having to actually do his duty:

Dear Jack,

It takes a lot to rile me up. I let inaccurate public statements, newscasts, op eds, and radio call-in shows all pass by without riposte. But not this time; not this topic.

First, if you're going to hide your cowardice behind facts, then at least have the decency to get the facts right. Incoming is not "coming in every day" in the Embassy Compound; nor is service here a "death sentence." No U.S. diplomat has died in Iraq since Liberation in 2003; American's aren't dropping in the streets of the IZ. I've been here 30 months, and I'm still breathing.

Second, your public statements at the recent Town Hall meeting at Main State are a dishonor to the Service, to the Department and to your Country, and you are an embarrassment to those of us serving here with State and a host of other federal agencies.

"It's one thing if someone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers, but it's another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment," you said. Since you failed to heed the Secretary's call for volunteers, does that mean you don't agree with the U.S. mission here in Iraq? Regardless of whether you agree with the policy or not, if you are not willing to do your job if called upon to serve, then you should do the rest of us a favor and leave -- you're in the wrong line of work.

No one's asking you to come here because it's fun or easy; it isn't. It's your duty. Your Country needs you, your Country has called you. Period. Step up and fulfill the oath you took when you entered the Service. Tens of thousands of brave Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen have done the same. Hundreds of State Department employees have done the same. We have Iraqi employees here who literally risk their lives here every day to work for us.

It's easy to "serve" your country from the banks of the Potomac, Jack; easy to serve it commuting from McClean or shopping at the local Safeway. True service, though, entails sacrifice. True service isn't just working 9 to 5, with your weekends free. True service is laying aside friends and family, creature comforts, the familiar, and doing what your Country and fellow Americans require of you.

"Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded," you asked? The gall. Who takes care of the children of our brave fighting men and women when they give their lives or are wounded in the service of their country? Are you somehow better than they are, Jack? Entitled to more than they are?

It is because of the likes of you and your ilk that the Service has a reputation in some circles as an effete group of cowering elitists more worried about their comforts than actually stepping up to the plate.

Step up Jack. Step up, or step off.

Allen A.
North Carolina, USA
November 16, 2007

Allen in North Carolina writes:

After reading all the posts on this site it's clear to see that the majority feel that if you accept the job of FSO, you should serve wherever the need arises. If not, go work elsewhere.

They're some hurtful people out there.
How would you like to have one for a boss?

District Of Columbia, USA
November 16, 2007

Dan in Washington, DC writes:

A few posters to this discussion seemingly don't understand much about Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) as a whole, or understand much about the tradition, nature and on-going record of FSOs' dedicated service to our nation. Nevertheless, a couple of the posters to this discussion still feel it necessary and appropriate to cast dispersions on FSOs in general and as a group. Such largely uninformed antagonism directed toward FSOs as a whole has been around for a long time and will likely continue in the future ... Indeed, as Dean Acheson provocatively observed to State Department employees upon his last day as Secretary of State in 1953:

"Yours is not an easy task nor one which is much appreciated. You don't ask much of your fellow citizens, and if any of you are so inexperienced that you ever do, you receive very little. Certainly not much in the way of material recompense; certainly not very much in the form of appreciation of your work, because you are dealing with matters which, though they affect the life of every citizen of this country intimately, do it in ways which it is not easy for every citizen to understand ...

"We have traditions here in the United States about the Government. One which grows from our early history sometimes makes our life a little uncomfortable. In the early days of our country, government was conceived as something alien and something which threatened the liberties of the citizen. Therefore we have a tradition in this country of skepticism about government, of looking at it very carefully, of seeing what our public servants can take.

"That isn't always comfortable, but, on the whole it is good. Any time when there are governments in the world which are crushing the liberties of their citizens, it is good that in this great country people look with some skepticism upon government as such. This is one of our traditions.

"But we have another, and I think far deeper, tradition and that is the tradition of public service ... and as a public servant, I never for one moment believed that the holding of office was a source of power -- it was an obligation of service ...

"It is only by this sort of commitment to public service that a democracy, a republic such as ours, can live. And live it will, and this Department will continue, as it has throughout history, to be honored by those whose honoring is really worth while, and probably abused by those whose abuse is unimportant."

United States
November 16, 2007

Travis in U.S. writes:

I see much talk being made of compensation disparities. The comparison is made with senior NCOs or officers. I don't see anyone comparing the disparities to the vast majority of the military the E-5s and below. Are they not just as valuable as any of the FSOs or other military? The elitism is astounding. After spending two years in Iraq, dealing with diplomats daily - some are very conscientious and worthwhile, but some are very self serving. The risk of bodily harm is and has been present for every FSO from the inception of diplomacy and anyone who thinks this risk is not at least implied is either disingenuous or just plain stupid. I am sorry to see that directed assignments did not happen - it would have possibly rid our diplomatic corps of many less than worthy representatives of our country.

Steve H.
Maryland, USA
November 16, 2007

Steve in Maryland writes:


As a former FSO (16 years including tours in Bangladesh, Guatemala, Bolivia, Italy and two tours in the Balkans, one with the UN right after the Dayton Accords), I totally agree with you. I should say that I resigned for personal reasons, not out of protest of this administration. After 16 years wandering around the world, my family was ready for some stability, especially my high-school aged children.

I do not know how to properly honor the service of those Americans (be they civilian or military) that have left their families and in the case of guardsmen, their jobs, to serve in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places we don't ever hear about. Their sacrifices of time, health and lives are much more than we stateside Americans can appreciate. I know because I was separated from my family for the relatively short period of nine months - and I got two R&Rs. It amazes me that there are so many Americans willing to do this and not complain. The administration would do well to give them a voice.

And to take that one step further - I am shocked that veterans are finding difficulty with jobs, services and even being kicked out of the military for PTSD related personality issues.

I really don't know what to tell our friends in the military, except that the FS is a civilian corps and maybe we need to tell potential FS members that service in war zones is a reasonable expectation. The real test of the current leadership of the Department will be to see if they take such a step. Will they now make CLEAR to ALL future hires, both FS and CS that they can be expected to serve in war zones in the future? Or are they too afraid to take that bold step?

At the same time, that does not make what we did in Iraq the best course of action for the United States. We should admit that we were in error about the fact that Iraq was not a threat to us - as MOST of our allies publicly warned us. Instead, out of arrogance and based on flimsy intelligence and ignoring the counter-evidence supplied by the State Department, we attacked another country and proceeded to rain down misery on a people who had already suffered almost 30 years of a brutal dictator.

I think before we make any more decisions about Iraq congress should have all levels of military and FS members testify behind closed doors and/or in public if the individuals prefer. Any member of congress who has not gone to Iraq should be shamed into going (sorry guys - I know what a hassle a CODEL is!) and moreover should be required to ride with a PRT and GIs patrolling the streets.

let us remember that this issue was a manufactured crisis brought on by the administration's decision to set a deadline for the Iraq assignments in a poorly organized attempt to limit "gaming" of the system by connected insiders. What an interesting concept coming from this particular Secretary.

I salute you, and all Americans who are serving in Iraq, trying to do a difficult job under difficult circumstances.

I hope to see more of your posts on this site.

John M.
November 16, 2007

Dipnote Blogger John Matel writes:

I am happy to learn that enough FSOs have stepped up to make forced assignments unnecessary. Those guys at the town hall embarrassed themselves and us for nothing. Clearly the Jack Croddy types do not represent the Foreign Service.

We talked a lot about duty, but let's consider the up-side. The idea that Iraq is like a death sentence is just silly. We have ridiculed it enough. I think what people still do not understand is that serving in Iraq is a great opportunity for an FSO. We can really do some good in Iraq and really do the kind of hands-on diplomacy most of us dreamed about when we joined.

Iraq is recovering from a long time of troubles. The country has been in a perpetual state of crisis for more than a quarter century. It is finally ending. It is a great privilege to be here -- now -- when the good changes are finally happening. Not many people get a chance to be part of something so interesting. I am grateful I got that chance.

Thank you all for your comments.

Illinois, USA
November 16, 2007

Andrew in Illinois writes:

Hmm...looks like there are more desertions from one arm of the military than there are Foreign Service Officers...wimps and weenies, eh?

Army desertion rate highest since 1980

By Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press Writer --

Soldiers strained by six years at war are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980, with the number of Army deserters this year showing an 80 percent increase since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

While the totals are still far lower than they were during the Vietnam war, when the draft was in effect, they show a steady increase over the past four years and a 42 percent jump since last year.

According to the Army, about nine in every 1,000 soldiers deserted in fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30, compared to nearly seven per 1,000 a year earlier. Overall, 4,698 soldiers deserted this year, compared to 3,301 last year.

The increase comes as the Army continues to bear the brunt of the war demands with many soldiers serving repeated, lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military leaders -- including Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey -- have acknowledged that the Army has been stretched nearly to the breaking point by the combat. And efforts are under way to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to lessen the burden and give troops more time off between deployments.

Despite the continued increase in desertions, however, an Associated Press examination of Pentagon figures earlier this year showed that the military does little to find those who bolt, and rarely prosecutes the ones they get. Some are allowed to simply return to their units, while most are given less-than-honorable discharges.

Texas, USA
November 16, 2007

Norma in Texas writes:

First, let me start by saying I didn't know what a FSO was. After reading all (and I mean all) the posts, and doing some research, I have come to a few conclusions.

1 - FSO should be given the same war-time benefits as the military.
2 - A FSO job is no less important that the military.
3 - I sincerely hope the FSO deployed to a war-zone has the benefit of weapons training or at the very least, armed guards to protect them.

I am not condoning nor condemning the actions of what we have all seen occur at the town meeting. My family history has a very long line of military service, (great grandfathers, grandfathers, father, uncle, son-in-law) including my husband who retired from the Army and spent time in the Gulf War and my son who is currently in the Navy and deploying next year. My son joined the Navy knowing at some point he would deploy. I think the difference is my son has had the proper training to be deployed to areas of conflict.

From what I have read, and someone please correct me if I am wrong, FSO's don't typically receive that type of training. I understand they sign up with the advanced knowledge of being sent anywhere in the world; however, if they are being sent to conflict areas, shouldn't they receive some sort of combat training or am I the only one that thinks this? It seems to me the State Department should also be thinking along those same lines, to do everything humanly possible to protect those who could be sent to a hostile environment. It seems like the human thing to do.

I do not believe the FSO is full of wimps and weenies, although in every faction of life, these groups of people do exist including, unfortunately, the military. I think it was unfortunate the media showed a clip of concerned people expressing their opinions/concerns about forced deployments and I thank God everyday that we, as Americans, have the right to do so.

Those of you currently serving in areas of conflict, whether military or civilian, thank you so much for your service. I know first hand the sacrifices you all are making. For those who have lost loved ones, know your families are in my prayers every night.

God Bless America and the people who fight for our freedoms.

Ohio, USA
November 17, 2007

Andrew in Ohio writes:

@ Allison in Virginia -- Wow. Wow. Nice work ripping the men and women in uniform who are busy getting shot at, getting blown up by IED's, etc. I love the fact that you mentioned 'prep school' in your post, because it really captures the kind of girl you are to say the things you did about the military. The interesting part is that no one said anything about your family, no one called them cowards. The only people labeled cowards here are the folks who won't go when called, a group to which your family clearly does not belong. My only question is: if your family served so honorably, as it seems they did, how did they raise such a stuck-up priss who would publicly question the sacrifices our military members are making? This whole page of posts was so issue- or policy- neutral about the war and the administration, and then you came along and painted a very bitter, liberal picture of every little girl who went off to prep school and was shielded from what our military really does for a living. Nice work, princess.


Kentucky, USA
November 17, 2007

J in Kentucky writes:

Mr. Matel,

As an Army Reservist that just came back from driving fuel trucks over in Al Anbar, and as a citizen that has recently applied to work on a PRT in the same province, I appreciate your honest assessment on the complaints of some FSOs. That's the beauty of Americans: we step up to the plate when we need to the most, regardless of the situation. And you're absolutely right about not employing our talents in the best way. The military has been just as bad. But I'd be glad to delay law school (again) so I could lend my skills to a PRT.

Good luck to you over there.

District Of Columbia, USA
November 17, 2007

Peter in Washington, DC writes:

Sorry, I posted on the wrong page. Doh!

Please see my post on the “Welcome” page titled "Peter from Washington, DC writes" dated Sun Nov 11,2007.

November 17, 2007

Arthur writes:

I commend those State Department employees refusing to be a tool in the continued occupation of Iraq. Let us remember that Iraq was invaded based upon the lies and deceit of this administration. Why should there be further risk of life to impose U.S. will on an invaded people? And in irony of ironies, the State Department in Iraq is defended by murderous Blackwater mercenaries that are apparently beyond the reach of any law, no matter how many Iraqi women and children they slaughter in the streets.

Apparently soldiers are drawing similar conclusions. The AWOL rate continues to rise.

District Of Columbia, USA
November 17, 2007

John in Washington, DC writes:

@ Norma in Texas -- Thank you for your calm and reasoned comment. Too many on this site have lost sight of the fact that both the military and the Foreign Service have a long history of honorable service to this country. We should not be bickering among ourselves when we're in the middle of a war, especially when most of us in both groups have friends and family in harm's way. I respect the right of anyone to say what they want, but folks (in both organizations) should realize the hurt that their ill-thought out outbursts can have. My thanks, too, to all who serve this great country. Just 2 cents from an FSO.

Virginia, USA
November 17, 2007

Tony in Virginia writes:

I retired from the Army Reserve back in '93. My DA civilian boss told me pack my bags and get on the plane to Kabul. He would not let me volunteer for recall although that would have prevented many administrative problems that did arise. The civilians back at Belvoir did not treat their forward deployed civilians well. Still, I went. I served the soldiers and my commander. On my watch, our compound never was surprised by Taliban actions. Some of that was my doing, some was we just had many alert kids with experienced veterans (most NGs called up). Our senior civilians shirked from going themselves. Although they felt they were the best and brightest, they believed they were too valuable as homesteaders.

Our prayers are with you and your mission. Take care of your soldiers and yourself.

When you come home, be sure to get a very good physical!

They lied to us about agent orange, anthrax shots, exploding ammo dumps and threatened us if we insisted on good medical care upon our return to CONUS.

Florida, USA
November 17, 2007

Tiger in Florida writes:

Let me preface my statement by making it perfectly clear that I am not focusing on the FSOs that have stepped up to do their jobs. I am focusing my comments to a few specific posters here and to the FSOs who whined about the “possibility” of being directed to serve in Iraq…

@ Allen in N.C. -- Hurtful? Not at all. Just realistic. I have had several supervisors in the civilian sector tell me to either step up or step out. If you can’t, or in this case won’t, do the job the you were hired to do then get out of the way for someone who can.

@ Mike in Saudi -- Doesn’t an FSO “volunteer” for his job? Are you telling me that an FSO has to pay taxes on his pay earned in Iraq and also has to pay for any medical or dental care she or he receives while posted there? If that is the case then I would agree that policy should change. FSOs in Iraq ( and not in postings like Saudi, Kuwait or Bahrain) should receive tax free status and free medical care. The face similar, though not as extreme, risks as our military service members.

Second, although Travis essentially beat me to the punch, you are comparing yourself to a senior NCO with over 16 years of service in the military. It’s like comparing an apple to a stop sign: Sure, they are both red but the similarities end there.

@ Allison in VA -- No one has accused your family members or any other FSO that is doing their job of being a coward. What has raised the ire of most posters here is the fact that certain FSOs do not feel they should do “Forced” to do their job in a particularly contentious region of the map. Personally I would much rather do a 12month unaccompanied tour in Iraq or Afghanistan than subject my family to a three year tour in Africa or South America.

@ Andrew in Illinois -- Wow... The media sure hooked you good. The highest desertion rate since 1980? What war were we fighting in 1980 that caused the former record? I for one do not see a desertion rate of less than 1% per year of the total number of soldiers we have over there as being very alarming. But then again, I am not some liberal minded reporter trying to justify her paycheck by trying to sensationalize a non-issue.

@ the FSOs that have not shirked their duty -- It is because of people like you that I re-joined the military after a 17 year break in service. I would gladly give 150% to protect you from harm if ever given the opportunity.

@ the FSOs that complained -- I will guard you too because I understand that sometimes duty requires us to sometimes do things that we don’t want to do for the greater good of the people we serve.

United States
November 17, 2007

JRS in U.S.A. writes:

I just read a news article online regarding the fact that the State Department didn't "have to force anyone to go to Iraq" and that all volunteers stepped up to fill the 48 positions newly created in Baghdad and the surrounding areas.

I can say from internal knowledge that this is not true and someone at the State Department was doing damage control in the press by releasing this statement.

It was forced, you know it. Now I don't deny having a sense of duty and the praise goes out to those who did "volunteer" (sarcasm intended) but to play it off in the press this way is unbelievable. I hope the decision at the State Department is one that you can live with and hopefully none of the 48 will suffer dramatically in their lives for this.

Not a big fan of this "policy". But I support my guys and gals going in the Foreign Service.


Virginia, USA
November 19, 2007

Anne in Virginia writes:

@ JRS in U.S.A. -- Um, I don't know where you got your "internal knowledge" about the people who volunteered to go to Iraq, but I work in the State Department and personally know that these people did in fact volunteer. Some of them were "prime candidates" who decided not to fight the assignment; others were probably people who were biding their time to volunteer and decided it was better go to now rather than being forced later. But they were all volunteers and NO ONE was forced or directed to go to Iraq. I only hope that next year enough FSOs will step up and volunteer again.

Please get your facts straight and don't be paranoid. There is no secret society in the State Department covering up anything - we're so transparent it's almost scary!

Massachusetts, USA
November 19, 2007

Harry in Massachusetts writes:

Walter Pincus' article November 19 in the Washington Post about Arabic language ?Blog Diplomacy? invites comparison with this free-for-all:

My comment: "Blogs: Two State Solutions"

Good article on what could be a useful program in public diplomacy in a region where we certainly need help.

The Post might do a parallel article on the State Department's semi-internal blog, Dipnote, and the public relations fiasco following one-sided media coverage of an internal State Department "town meeting" about involuntary assignments to Iraq.

Blogging on the topic led-off with a self-congratulatory posting by an officer already serving in Iraq. With the help of Fox News, his entry encouraged numerous interventions by non-State "patriots" denigrating the Foreign Service.

While the hullabaloo seems to be winding down, there is no real denouement in the absence of any useful intervention by State leadership to defend their officers. Hard to imagine the same passivity at the Pentagon in the face of such treatment of their vital human capital, their military officers.

Both blogging efforts are new and potentially useful. If you juxtapose the two efforts at State, the problem with Dipnote seems to be absence of leadership cognizant of the links between public image, organizational solidarity, morale ---and public funding.

We understand the Arabic blogs benefit from policy guidance on our side and sensitivity to audiences, both intended and accidental. Both blogging staffs appear to know what they are doing. Both efforts require talent and attention up the line as well."

Virginia, USA
November 19, 2007

B in Virginia writes:

To everyone who is bashing the FSOs, read the good reasons why they don't want to go there:



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