Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Forced To Go

Since this story came out last week, I've been researching "the Korea Model" for any evidence that U.S. diplomats refused assignments in Seoul after July 1953. Strangely, I've found none.

Seriously though, isn't the "potential death sentence" argument a bit of selective protest? Yes, I know most diplomatic postings get filled via an internal bidding process instead of mandates and threats. But is Iraq any more of a potential death sentence than dozens of other places where diplomats have less rigorous security arrangements? Earlier this year in Nairobi, two women driving a U.S. Embassy vehicle with diplomatic plates were killed during a carjacking in broad daylight. Last year in Karachi, a U.S. diplomat was killed by a suicide bomber just a few yards from the consulate gate. In the main lobby at the State Department, two memorial plaques honor foreign service employees killed in the line of duty. 225 names are on those plaques (the list is here).

Should a potential FSO be able to specify which countries are acceptable as postings before joining the service? Fourteen crew members died in the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Should astronauts be able to check a box on NASA's employment contract that says "for safety reasons, will only accept assignments that do not require me to leave the ground"? From the perspective of the private sector, of course, the diplomats' protest also lacks merit. If I worked for a corporation that by nature was international in scope and I refused a foreign position, I'd expect to lose my job or any chance for career advancement at that company.

Bottom line, though: If you joined the foreign service after 2003, you had no excuse for not understanding from the outset the type of foreign policy you would represent, which includes war based on a false pretense. So particularly to the extent the current protest by FSO's comes from post-2003 hires who claim not to have known what they were getting into, I don't think there's much justification for it.


Blogger Grace Nearing said...

There are some interesting posts and comments about this at Juan Cole.

To be honest, I am totally ignorant about this. The only thing that concerns me -- and it stems from my having come of age during the Iranian embassy hostage crisis -- is that we avoid loading up the Iraqi embassy with dozens and dozens of potential captives, if or when Iraq loses any semblance of stability.

11/06/2007 1:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I basically agree. I also thought that diplomats, save the badly needed, are usually evacuated from a warzone, not sent into it. Are we sending more than needed or don't we even have the bare minimum volunteering?

11/06/2007 6:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I basically agree as well, but I do think that they are rushing these diplomats in without enough prep. Saying that, I wonder how well they can represent US interests in Iraq locked up in the embassy or the green zone.

11/06/2007 8:30 AM  
Blogger Michael Plank said...

Good points, but the bargain struck by the diplomats depends upon the good faith and competence of the assigning government. It seems that all they've done so far is point out that this is, ahem, lacking in the Bush administration.

11/06/2007 9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From what I've read, the resistance is coming from career FS personnel who have well over a decade of experience so the point regarding post-2003 hires is probably N/A.

11/06/2007 9:29 AM  
Blogger wendyo said...

I wish more of our diplomats had the basll early on (a la John Brady Kiesling) to resign publicly rather than wait for this moment to lodge their protest about the direction our country has gone.

11/06/2007 9:54 AM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

Who says they are protesting anything...they are protecting their own arses!!! Simple as that in my opinion. There were some that retired beforehand btw. Ann Wright who is not allowed into Canada anymore for her antiwar protests for example. Anybody who did not want to serve out of moral considerations left along time ago.

To Grace Nearing...ummm...We were a bit overconfident in Iran...that we had the native population under our thumbs. So they had very minimal protection. Our embassy in Bahbdad is not an embassy. It is a muliti-billion dollar fortress designed specifically to keep the natives at bay.

11/06/2007 10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, remarks like CR's have cooled me to the "plight" of the FSO's. On the other hand, dragooning them into Iraq service has to put a crimp in other diplomatic functions around the world. I know that Bush and Cheney and Rice might be unaware of it, but there are still more than 100 countries that **aren't** Iraq, right?
-- sglover

11/06/2007 11:05 AM  
Blogger Chris F. said...

First Anonymous Responder: You make an interesting point. That usually is the case, except that GW and the administration do not, somehow, view or categorize Iraq as a warzone. Remember, the mission was accomplished, and major combat operations in Iraq have ended, except for the constant battles and the "surge". I mean, come on, Iraq has a sovereign and democratically elected government to watch out for its people. (insert sarcastic snickering here)

11/06/2007 11:52 AM  
Blogger SwimLFS said...

I feel for the diplomats, because they're not being given enough training while being sent up as sacrificial lambs into the middle of an embarrassing clusterfuck. Or potential hostages, as noted above.

The issue is not filling the bare minimum. The people they struggle with are middle and upper ranked officers who would be qualified to work there given prior experience, have decided not to. And Condi certainly put her foot in it, rather than, being, er, diplomatic about it

11/06/2007 12:14 PM  
Blogger Gringo_Malo said...

FSOs stand a good chance of being murdered in Washington, which can only increase as the dollar falls and the price of crack cocaine consequently increases. If FSOs don't like their assignments, then they can always quit. What these whiny bastards want is the pay and the perks without any of the dangers or hardships. The government should send them all off to rewarding careers bussing tables.

11/06/2007 5:31 PM  
Blogger SwimLFS said...

Gringo, I don't think you understand; FSOs are not combat trained, nor are they combat insured. They are asked to enter a failed state amidst a faltering occupation to serve as a replacement for the colonial civil service that couldn't be produced from the ranks of the RNC, the Heritage Foundation Interns, and random GOP Trust funders.

Given that the US has had a historic habit of withdrawing its embassies from War zones (Beirut, Yugoslavia's successor republics during that civil war, Iraq prior to the Gulf War), and that the FSOs couldn't do their jobs without getting the native Iraqis, themselves or both killed, there's no reason, absolutely no reason, to build a spankin' new crusader castle with slave labor to further infuriate the subjects of our occupation.

If Bush wants to sack up and set up an Iraqi/Afghani Civil Service to crank out fluent speakers who are willing to govern the empire for Constitution and President, with knowledge of the risk to their lives, as well as the training and funding to defend themselves, but the US Foreign service is neither an arm of the military nor is it a colonial bureaucracy.

Like leaving Iraqi refugees inside Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, this is a demonstration of Bush making his own reality, and endangering other people's lives in the process.

11/06/2007 6:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FSOs stand a good chance of being murdered in Washington, which can only increase as the dollar falls and the price of crack cocaine consequently increases.

Oh piss off, you ignorant bedwetter. I live and work in "bad" parts of the DC area, and I walk around a lot, and I walk around at night a lot. Remarkably, I've yet to encounter a shiv or stumble upon a drive-by.

By the way, please clue me in on the special relationship between crack prices and the dollar. I can't wait for your informed opinion.
-- sglover

11/06/2007 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ahem .... if the U.S. Embassy in Iraq (built despite protests) were more in line with others throughout the world, well then ... finding enough people to staff it would be less of a problem.
You can't tell me there aren't quite a few "zealots" who've arrived since 2000. So, they are also cowards; them's the breaks ... but they "believe" in the mission which makes them more qualified than say a "Brownie".

11/06/2007 7:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CR, that's an ill-fitting analogy with astronauts. That job is basically shorthand for danger. It's like comparing diplomats with fighter pilots or people who train tigers.

Part of what DoD does now is demand that the state department supply more people to work in civil reconstruction projects within military/civilian teams. These are in essence combat jobs, since anyone going outside the wire in Iraq is at high risk. What DoD doesn't want is to have to fill all those jobs with soldiers, because then it will need to devote more of its own resources to civil affairs rather than to new combat troops, helicopters, armored vehicles, and other equipment.

11/06/2007 7:53 PM  
Blogger Gringo_Malo said...


Foreign Service Officers sign up for foreign service, don't they? If they can negotiate a contract that specifies foreign service only on the French Riviera, then more power to them. If they took the job without first negotiating that proviso, then they can go where they're sent or quit. As TCR said, corporations can people who refuse transfers all the time.

11/07/2007 9:24 AM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

What FSOs can't leave and get a job in the real world? Give me a break!!!
How in the hell are we supposed to have any sympathy for these people? How many of our troops would quit and come home if they wouldn't be thrown in jail for it!!! Those people I can have some sympathy for...as far as the FSOs go I don't think so.

11/07/2007 9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right. What we need now is for experienced diplomats to quit. Our standing in the world is so good, we can just toss any old numbnut into an embassy and they can handle the job.

Diplomats aren't soldiers. They aren't trained for combat. When are you right-wingers going to realize that you don't jam a square peg in a round hole and then declare the problem solved? Enough already.

11/07/2007 2:09 PM  
Blogger SwimLFS said...


You continue to operate with a weird false analogy or false construction as we go through this. There are undoubtedly dangerous posts, to which FSOs nonetheless go (Kirachi, Damascus, Zaire, and so on) and there are structured agreements within the FSO for hardship pay in relation to those dangerous posts, with a correlation of danger to increased cash.

While I don't know offhand whether or not it is the case, there is a long-standing arrangement not to send the foreign service into war zones, which Iraq is without a doubt.

Further, to put a fine point on it, we send the FSOs off to deal with governments of foreign countries. To my knowledge, we don't have the FSO operating out of Guam or Puerto Rico. We shouldn't have them operating out of Baghdad, either; let's call a spade a spade, and a puppet government a puppet government. Maliki is undoubtedly the better politician than Bush, but on our money, it's not exactly as if we need to ask them what their feelings are about treaties, so much as jerk the chain to cut off funding.

Anyway, as unionized labor, the FSOs agreed to certain risks and certain insurances against other risks when they signed on. To operate in a war zone without question was not one of them--positions like this have always been optional. Besides, the slots missing in Baghdad are a consequence of the embassy being larger than the Moscow Embassy at the peak of the Cold War, or Beijing now.

FSOs are not a ready made colonial bureaucracy. If the government wants one, it can buy one.

11/07/2007 5:57 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

They are employed by the government. Their employer told them to go serve in Iraq. It is the government's job to protect them while they are there. The US has built a protected fortress for them to work in. Are you telling me they have the right to spit in the face of the US taxpayers and decline to go? Sorry your argument is horrible. I suspect they are having idealogical problems with their assignment more than anything. If that is the case. They should quit. I don't think I deserve the wild eyed right winger slur for stating the obvious.

11/08/2007 2:04 PM  
Blogger SwimLFS said...

They're unionized labor with standing arrangements for hazard posts.

Iraq is a Hazard post, a huge hazard; it violates the standards of State and history to send FSOs into a war zone. Nonetheless, hazard money was offered, and not enough people showed up. In part, this is because Iraq is way too dangerous, and the functions FSOs do no longer happen in the permanent siege zone.

To simplify, the US government is trying to abrogate the arrangement brokered with the Union, not just asking people to fulfill their duty or their contractual obligations.

You're denying the second part of my argument, which is that the embassy in Baghdad is disproportionate to any other embassy that could serve as a meaningful comparison, unless you expect FSOs to serve as colonial officers.

The policy isn't just immoral, it's a mistake.

11/08/2007 2:39 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

that the embassy in Baghdad is disproportionate to any other embassy that could serve as a meaningful comparison

I ignored that part of your argument because I have no idea what you mean by that. Are you saying that by the shear numbers of FSOs required to fill the post you think the current union contract needs to be renegotiated? Please explain. I have no idea what is in the union contract so I I can't comment on that. As far as not serving in a war zone...who determines what is a war zone? Since our congress never declared war against Iraq I do not believe FSOs in Iraq would be serving in a war zone. From a legal standpoint I am quite certain Iraq is not a war zone. I agree that this is BS...but since you are bringing up union contracts I'm sure Condi's got the FSOs over the barrel on that count. Condi sure seems to think she can order them to serve. If it is a contract issue the fired can sue and take their case to court.

Are you effected by this in some manner?

I must confess to being a hard core libertarian. So I don't have much respect for the work the FSOs do. Our taking the reigns from the British after WW2 relieving them of "the white man's burden" has resulted in the monstorous beast that is Wash. DC. IMHO. So..I would just prefer the FSOs be unemployed anyways. Whatever good our government does with their power is offset by the wars, corruption, wasteful spending, etc. I don't think government employees are all evil or anything like that I just think the wrong kinds of people are attracted to leadership positions of concentrated power. Some good might be done at the margins but it is only serves as a mask to cover the bloodied bodies of dead Iraqis...for instance.

11/09/2007 10:05 AM  
Blogger SwimLFS said...

Well, the point about the size of the embassy, compared to, say, Moscow or Beijing during the Cold War, leaving aside the issue that it's being built with slave labor, is that there's no reason for about 1000 FSOs to be there, unless they're to be used as a colonial service. Which is absurd, as they're not trained to be that, and more to the point, given the mortars and the car bombs, can't even do basic job function.

How does this affect me? I'm young, I went to an East Coast College, I learned Arabic, Farsi, and Kurdish before graduation day. In theory, I'd love to serve in the FSO. It's bad precedent like this that makes me flinch. And it's people who don't know the languages and the culture who cheer full-throatedly ill-conceived imperial misadventure.

So, I think that the FSOs should be allowed to say that, as civilians untrained and uninsured for a combat zone/war zone(we can dicker on the title, but if you tot up all the dead, all the bombings, it's certainly not an Indiana Market, or Philly) that they won't sign away their lives, or help prop up a shit occupation. Either that, or liquidate the Maliki government and appoint an American proconsul from the FSOs, and let them run the country. This warmed over colonialism in another form is something that should freak you out more than "Washington bloat" if you're a real libertarian, as the maddening expansion and power grabs that it dies together are dangerous. So, I really don't get how your political affiliation aligns you with Condi

11/11/2007 8:50 PM  
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