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.



William N.
District Of Columbia, USA
November 20, 2007

William in Washington, DC writes:

The American Republic! Judah Ben-Hur for President, 2012!

Communique to The American People and others from the American Republic

It is quite apparent from the world events unfolding, and from the ones in the planning, that it is now time for those that are oppressed be set free.

Miracles are for believers of their faiths, and only that. Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, or any other Savior will not come to save you from your sins or from your despair. Governments and big business are your Gods. They control and manipulate you into whatever they desire. And the ones that do not conform are cast out into homelessness and death. There are cures for disease as their are cures for mass corruption and evil. There are cures for Cancer and for Aids, and see how many people are dying each day for that selfish fix. Desire and pleasure are the two most exploited forms of emotions that control the majority of humans on this planet. Democracy has failed, Communism, Fascism, and Socialism have murdered great men and women over the ages. Greed and betrayal have also contributed to the deaths of the innocent. Religious wars are being fought for no logical reason. Masonic, Skull and Bones, and other Fraternal societies are carving up this planet for temporary control, only to be lost to another and another until one system that is greater is chosen and allowed to become the Truth for all who wish to be free and co-exist with the Planet and its indigenous creatures. You must protect and nurture the environment to keep you all alive. God did not wish for you to destroy the creation that took so long to create. Your Eden is here, you have built on top of it.

Your prejudice and ignorance will also be your undoing. You treat the African people like they are talking monkeys of the forest. They are Men and Women who are humans, not animals. You treat those that are different like outcasts without hope. You poison those that seek God with ritual and lies. You control those that are not fortunate and make slaves of them. You degrade women and treat them like second class humans. Your governments offer your people nothing more than your greed will allow. Europe, South America, China, USA, and other countries have failed their people. Punishing those that are responsible will not solve the problems that exist. You must replace them all without compromise, and in their places put those that are not afraid of Truth.

The UN and NATO are only their for those who have the gold. The news media has mass manipulated you all into a frenzy of fear and mistrust of each other, with nowhere to hide. Your religions will not protect you, only God can with your commitment to the truth and only that. The War on Terror will never end as long as you all allow those that have the power of Man to rule your world. The ones that have the power of the truth are waiting to come forward and replace what is now.

We have separated ourselves from those entities and have formed what we call The American Republic. We do not have or need a flashy website or large one page ads in the news, we are not on talk shows, or CNN. We are not the subject of many, but we are known by Governments around the world. They know that their existence was created by people like us who grew tired of government and mounted invasions either thru violence or reason to replace. But we were not careful and found that in order to rule, one must be just and true, and now we have what we have now on this planet. Presidents have been assassinated for less information of what we know and can do. We decided to begin our new order in the United States of America, because it has been responsible for so much of the worlds problems and corruption. By recreating a new world order within the same one that has failed so many, will no doubt send a message to the rest of the world that change for the better is possible. Money and other tools we have. We do not need to solicit for existence, for we have what we need. We ask that each of you prepare for change and be aware of what is coming. Soon your pain and fear will turn to joy and happiness, and all of you will now have dignity and purpose without the fear of failure. There will be more reward than not.

We are a Legion of many, who will live a life of peace, and have respect for all living things, while having considerations for those who are different, and look for ways to truly accommodate those who are slow in understanding.

We support the poor, helpless, and defenseless people. We support the freedom of Women, we support the sane treatment of animals and the environment, we support the freedom of religion and expression. We do not support ignorance, period.

We are a growing nation of people that encourage anyone or Nation anywhere to become part of the New American Republic!

Florida, USA
November 20, 2007

Jan in Florida writes:

Anne...if they are "prime candidates" then that means they were forced to go, correct? Because what was played out in the media was that they were told to go and had no other choice BUT to go. I just can't stand to see someone told to do something when they didn't sign up for the assignment. My close friend was a "prime candidate" and to see this friend of mine told that they were told to go was heartbreaking.

I don't get it. I really don't. You are a "prime candidate", yet you can still choose not to go? Help me understand... seriously, I am not trying to make ill words, but please help me understand this situation. Then why did my friend not fight it?

Who submitted my friend's name?

Thank you for shedding light on this.

Idaho, USA
November 20, 2007

Tom in Idaho writes:

At the risk of repeating previously posted sentiments:

State Department employees are employed by the US government, which is financed by American taxpayers like me. If an employee is given an assignment, he/she is expected to accept and complete it; the employer reserves the right to discipline any employee who doesn't perform. That's the way it works for those of us in the real world, anyway. But it seems the State Department is willing to allow employees to pick and choose their assignments; this amounts to the cart pulling the horse, and(in the real, working world, outside of government)is not tolerated by most employers.

As a taxpayer, I'd like to see the State Department fire each and every employee who refuses oversees assignment, and make room for those of us who still understand what it means to work for someone.

Those of us, out here, in the real world.

District Of Columbia, USA
November 20, 2007

Dan in Washington, DC writes:

Below are some excerpts from a transcript of the State Department Press Briefing on Nov. 19th given by State Department's Spokesman Sean McCormack re the issue of Foreign Service Officers filling Foreign Service jobs in Iraq. For entire transcript, see http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2007/nov/95334.htm

Begin excerpts:

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Just wanted to start off by noting the Secretary has talked to Ryan Crocker and talked to Harry Thomas about the Iraq staffing, and we are pleased to announce that all of the Iraq jobs have been filled by volunteers. So that's a total of 252, including the -- that includes the 48 jobs that we've all been talking about so much over the past couple of weeks. She's going to be sending out a cable to the State Department employees congratulating them on stepping up to the challenge that she put forward to them to fill all of these jobs. In talking to Ryan and Harry, it was their assessment that these are very qualified individuals who are going to be filling these jobs and that she was able to assure herself that we met the bar that we had set for ourselves; we in no way lowered the standards in order to get these volunteers.

So she's quite pleased by that and we are quite pleased that the Foreign Service and the State Department have stepped up to this -- stepped up to this challenge. She, of course, reserves the right at any future time, if need be, to fill any future jobs by directed assignments. But we were quite pleased that we had State Department volunteers that stepped up. And we'll have a statement out a little bit later on from her on it ...

QUESTION: Looking back, how could this have been handled better -- a certain amount of ill will, a certain amount of competition between the military and the -- or criticism between the military and the State Department? What would you do differently?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that we would anything different. Harry talked a little bit about the fact that he would have wished that we were able to inform those 200 employees who received the prime candidates letter that they were receiving these letters prior to their reading about it in the newspapers. That said, we live in a world today where that doesn't -- that isn't necessarily the case and you have leaks to news organizations and, next thing you know, the story is out bouncing around the internet, on cable TV and on other outlets. That's unfortunate but that's the world we live in. Harry promised that we would try to get -- that in the future he would try to get out to any individuals that were wrapped up in this kind of process first before they read about it in newspaper accounts, but we can't always promise that.

In terms of the exercise as a whole, the Secretary challenged the Foreign Service, she challenged the State Department, and the people of the State Department and the Foreign Service stepped up to that challenge. She thinks it was absolutely the right decision to talk to the employees about the fact that if we weren't able to fill these jobs with volunteers then we were going to go to directed assignments. She still feels that's the right decision and she reserves the right in the future, if we face similar circumstances, to fill jobs by directed assignment.

In terms of -- you know, in terms of other government agencies, I can't account for individuals who might comment one way or the other. I know that Secretary Gates and the leadership over at the Department of Defense certainly appreciates what the State -- what State Department employees are doing, working with their military officers, their enlisted people on the ground in Iraq, the PRTs and in other ways. And Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General Petraeus have a very good working relationship and I think their intention is that that good, solid working relationship at the very top of management in Iraq will -- should flow downwards as well ...

end excerpts from transcript.

Oklahoma, USA
November 21, 2007

Jerry in Oklahoma writes:

Mr. Croddy is no doubt a great foreign service officer.

His comments probably caused a lot of heart burn at Foggy Bottom.

He would have made a excellent Marine!

Jon N.
November 21, 2007

Jon in Iraq writes:

Over the top, whining diplomats!

As far as the coddled little neo-Marxists that are voicing reservation about "directed assignments", get over it, but, quickly. The days of choosing weenies from East Coast whining mills is quickly coming to an end. A book worm has no greater chance of becoming a diplomat than an astrophysicist, or used car salesman, etc. - The glorified jeopardy test that is the bell weather, the, be all and end all is quickly being supplanted by a more rounded system for choosing those who are suppose to be sworn to carry out the administration's FP. What the hell kind of a metric is it that determines that you need the "smartest" and "brightest" to conduct FP. In any given corporation its not necessarily the CEO who is the brightest in the company, but, rather he is the one that is more predisposed to getting stuff done than others. What is needed is willing devotees who have a demonstrable penchant for foreign affairs, simply. Please, no more Ghandiesque weaklings who are:, week in the knees, full of hubris, with no life experience, picky-finicky-defiant, and weirdos, please!. Letãs return some dignity to the profession, and produce men like a Tom Pickering, thatãs a man, thatãs a diplomat. State has brought in outside consultants to study and provide guidance as to how to better States' managers and what they have found is not so surprising. Look, when you bring these weasels right out of school, coddle them, tell them that they are special, and treat them that way, you are going to have a leadership vacuum somewhere down the line. Sadly, this is what you have today at State, leaders reticent to make decisions as they weigh their career and how any decision may redound to its deficit or advantage. A fighter pilot is suppose to have a swagger about him/her - they are putting their stuff on the line, not, an aspiring diplomat, should not they be more humble than the rest of us? After all, who lives a life like a diplomat, at tax payerãs expense? DOS is a tax payer supported instrument of foreign policy, not, the local country club. If this whining continues there are plenty of smart and experienced contractors, 3161 excepted service types with language skills who have demonstrated very adeptly their diplomatic skills in Iraq and Afghanistan who very easily can fill the ranks of the "privileged" who bitch and moan. Let them sit in the corner of the libraries of Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, etc., and read about real heroes doing a real job and getting real results. The days of these romantic socialists, Gramscian incrementalists, and egalitarian ãlet them eat cakeã whiners are numbered, ãhip-hip hooray!ã If you donãt believe me, check out the atmospherics that are abuzz within the precincts of HR. Having a 1600 on your SATs is not as important as having attributes like: Loyalty, exuberance, and humility, and a yearning to learn. Enough with this antediluvian and nepotistic system that produces unwilling public servants.

District Of Columbia, USA
November 21, 2007

Jenna in Washington, DC writes:

@ Tom in Idaho --

Or perhaps we could just refund you your .00002 cents that contributes to FSO salaries?

November 21, 2007

TDF in Portugal writes:

For all those who scorn the few FSOs who were angry about being directed to Iraq, remember that what many are objecting to is being sent to do something for which they are untrained, inexperienced, and unqualified. Several posters try to use the "military" example, as if the military were one completely homogeneous entity. The more appropriate metaphor would be within the military occupational specialties (MOS) and between the services. Sending FSOs to a provincial reconstruction team (PRT) is like taking a Marine sniper and telling him to manage an Air Force maintenance bay. Or perhaps taking an Army Ranger and telling him to take over the engineering department on a Navy destroyer. In point of fact, in each of these cases the person could probably dedicate himself to the new task and do a serviceable job; just as FSOs are doing creditable work in the PRTs, just as Marine riflemen are doing creditable work as policemen. At the end of the day, taking FSOs with no Arabic language skills, no Middle Eastern experience, no job-specific skills (repairing electrical grids? water systems?), and especially no security training, and sending them to Iraq is foolish. Hundreds of FSOs are in Arabic training right now; job-specific training is lagging, but underway. These people will probably do good work in Iraq when ready. Many of those being sent now, however, are just totems, sent for no other reason than to show that they are there.

Dominican Republic
November 21, 2007

William in Dominican Republic writes:

Once again, as I posted before, I have to say that this entire episode has been overblown. The Town Hall meeting is being portrayed as some sort of revolt on the part of FSOs, which just isn't the case. Over a thousand FSO's have served in Iraq. Thousands more are currently serving in hardship posts throughout the world. I have been in the FS for over 15 years now and am proud to serve with some of the most dedicated public servants. Noone I work with is coddled or whiny. We all joined to serve our country abroad, and we continue to do so with pride.

Virginia, USA
November 21, 2007

Anne in Virginia writes:

@ Jan in Florida -- Thanks for asking about the directed assignments versus prime candidates. Approximately 200-250 "prime candidates" were identified for less than 50 jobs. That means for every position that was not filled, 4-5 people were identified as being a prime candidate. Prime candidates were chosen based on: (1) being an eligible bidder (i.e. due to transfer this summer 2008); (2) being a "fair share" bidder (i.e. they haven't done a hardship tour in the past eight years, but have remained in Washington or done a tour in non-hardship post); and (3) having outstanding leadership and other skills. So, in an odd way, being a good officer made it more likely that you would be identified as a "prime candidate!" That is in line with the Department's resolution to send the best and the brightest to Iraq to assist in - for good or for bad - is this administration's primary foreign affairs goal.

The people who put together the list of "prime candidates" were within the Bureau of Human Resources with access to everyone's files so that they could filter out the people who were already in an assignment, who had served their "fair share" tour recently and those who are perhaps just not right for the task required.

If your friend was a prime candidate, s/he had the option of writing a statement, which would have been read to the panel that decides on assignments, indicating why s/he could not go to Iraq or did not want to go to Iraq. Then the panel would have voted whether the reasons were sufficient to "back off" and find someone else. Remember, for each job, there were 4-5 candidates.

If your friend decided not to "fight" the assignment, s/he basically agreed to it. Remember the old saying from the 60's? Not to disagree is to agree. If your friend feels strongly that s/he doesn't want to go, then s/he has the option of filing the statement and taking his/her chances. The point is that no one was taken before the panel and assigned against their will - assuming that they filed the statement. Some people who were identified as "prime candidates," simply decided to "suck it up" and agreed to go. I can only assume your friend did just that. Is that a volunteer? I don't know. But they didn't fight it either.

Thanks for asking and for giving me the opportunity to explain it to you a bit clearer.

Jan F.
Florida, USA
November 22, 2007

Jan in Florida writes:

@ Ann in Virginia -- Ann in Va (ironically I am flying there to Virginia this next week for work!) Thank you for clarifying the prime candidate selections. Yes to all of what you described. My friend is indeed a model FSO and even has Arabic language experience. My friend is up for relocation in July of 2008 and hasn't done a hardship tour in a long time. I just didn't understand it completely, and it was just very hard to take the news.

Thank you very much for helping me understand what goes on in the selection process. I hope my friend does well. And good luck to you in your career.

Iowa, USA
November 22, 2007

Robert in Iowa writes:

@ Jon in Iraq -- Wow. you would have made a great Nazi. I am not an FSO. I am a historian. So what you talk about is not what a historical FSO or diplomat does. They are to use their skills and knowledge to avert war not participate in it.

For example, tell me what did a German FSO do in Nazi Germany? Someone educated and trained and integrated in the German Foreign Ministry before Hitler took power. A German diplomat or FSO under the Nazi regime had no place, no job, no function because the job of an FSO is to avert war. To support international law. To support multi-lateralism. To support international law. That is a diplomat's training in Western Europe.
So after Nazi unilateral aggression and an avoidance of multi-lateralism, what does a German FSO do? Carry out Nazi policies? Round up people for the concentration camps?

Go research Konstantin von Neurath. A German FSO. In March 1939, von Neurath was appointed Protector (Reichsprotektor) of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (Reichsprotektorat B'hmen und M'hren). He instituted German laws controlling the press and abolished political parties and trade unions, ordered a harsh crack-down on protesting students in October and November 1939, but he was regarded as insufficiently rigorous in controlling Czech resistance. In September 1941 he was relieved of his day-to-day powers and replaced by Reinhard Heydrich. Von Neurath attempted to resign in 1941 but his resignation was not accepted until August 1943.

So you remind me of Heydrich. I may be wrong. We historians have to be careful.

November 22, 2007

Joseph writes:

To John Matel: Unfortunately, Jack Croddy isn't the only FSO to have embarrassed and harmed the Foreign Service. With your post, you have allowed yourself to be used to hurt and discredit the Foreign Service by an administration that greatly dislikes, disdains, and distrusts the Foreign Service.

Why would the State Department allow you, John Mattel, to paint a huge target on the Foreign Service with your blog and then hold it up for target practice for hyper-patriots? This type of "Us vs. Them" PR has been a trademark of this administration (Karen Hughes, a grateful nation thanks you for your service), but I admit that they surprised me by going after their own workers in such a crude and public fashion. This is so far from what we had with Colin Powell, who sincerely called us "his troops."

(Attention Dr. Rice: Loyalty goes both ways, Madam Secretary, and if you wonder why 88 percent of the service doesn't trust you to watch their back, please re-read this blog that you host.)

So, while the Jack Croddy types do not represent the Foreign Service, neither do the John Mattel types. FSOs are not, like you, pawns or drones, willing to be used in a disloyal sucker punch against their colleagues. Could you imagine this: The Marine Corps starts a new blog, with a post noting that "just because a few Marines raped and murdered some unarmed civilians in Iraq, please don't think all Marines are rapists and murderers. Comments welcome." Could you ever in the 231 years of our great republic imagine the heads of our military services encouraging a smearing of their soldiers like this blog does to the Foreign Service?

You've help illustrate another important difference between the military and the Foreign Service: In the military, troops frag unpopular leaders, and at State, itãs the other way around.

Enjoy your promotion and onward, I'm sure you've earned them.

Judah B.
November 22, 2007

Judah writes:

Communique to the Government of the United States of America from the American Republic!

For over 200 years you have ruled with impunity. Your ancestors came to the Americas and slaughtered the indigenous humans that occupied these lands.
You allowed for crime and corruption to set up a government called democracy, to rule the land and enslave the ignorant and innocent. You guaranteed rights to only those that could understand your hidden agendas, while leaving the others to wander in lies and deceit. You have become the very government that you set out to destroy. You have destroyed the integrity of women and have allowed religion to control government. You have eaten animals for pleasure and want, and have disregarded the laws of Nature. You have set up "shadow Government" to carryout your crimes against humanity. Voluminous essays have been written of your history, orators have spoken to the multitudes to explain your glory. And yet you have not conquered the human spirit.

In the words of your contract to yourselves written so long ago and to the people of America, (Declaration of Independence) you have allowed for those that wish to change government, have that right. But of course you will use law and force of will to deter that choice, even of pain of death.

Fortunately by the will of God and Nature we now outnumber those that wish to deny us all freedom to choose and of expression. We the People ask you to consider our words and consider our objective. We now thru your error of judgment have come to be a beacon of hope for all that wish to be free from the tyranny that has been forced on the masses. We are everywhere you seek. We are the ones that have the power to change our lives, without the will of others.

Your administration is a mockery of justice and of Law. Your people are suffering in your land as others are suffering and dying in other lands. You have invaded countries illegally and have murdered the innocent, You have used your armies to carry out your madness. Families in America are grieving for their young sons and daughters as are others in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Sudan, and other Nations that are suffering the same fate. There will be no Christmas or New Year for many Americans and other countries that are at war for the rich. We are quite sure that if you, who tell others what to do are placed in a circle alone, you will beg for forgiveness and mercy. Freedom is knocking once again at the door, except this time we will let ourselves in.

We write and speak the truth. Those who are of the truth will listen to us.

We are a Legion of many, who will live a life of peace, and have respect for all living things, while having considerations for those who are different, and look for ways to truly accommodate those who are slow in understanding.

We support the poor, helpless, and defenseless people. We support the freedom of Women, we support the sane treatment of animals and the environment, we support the freedom of religion and expression. We do not support ignorance, period.

We are a growing nation of people that encourage anyone or Nation anywhere to become part of the New American Republic!



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