The Washington Post reports that U.S. diplomats are “resist[ing] forced Iraq duty.” Foreign service officers swear an oath to serve wherever the secretary of state sends them. Moreover, in recent congressional hearings, Democrats have harshly criticized Secretary of State Rice for not having sufficiently staffed Iraq with U.S. envoys, and Rice agreed that some stations are understaffed. Thus, there is a clear mandate to send more diplomats to Iraq.
Apparently, though, Rice’s attempt to fulfill that mandate has led to great distress within our foreign service. At a meeting of angry foreign service officers yesterday, one of them called service in Iraq “a potential death sentence.” According to the Post, he received “sustained applause.” But, again according to the Post, three State Department employees killed in Iraq since the invasion in 2003 (the Post doesn’t say whether they were diplomats). That doesn’t sound like a death sentence. Indeed, soldiers and guardsmen who have been sent to Iraq (at least the ones I know) don’t regard the assignment as a death sentence nor, to my knowledge, have they engaged in collective whining of the type on display at Foggy Bottom yesterday.
One woman, who was stationed in Basra, said she had “absolutely no regrets” about serviing in Iraq, and “wanted to go to a place where I knew it was important for my country to be, even though I had a lot of questions about the origins of the war to begin with.” She complained, however, that after she returned from Iraq with symptoms of post-traumatic stree disorder, the State Department would not authorize medical treatment.
That sounds like a valid complaint. As the woman put it, “we have a moral imperative as an agency to take care of our people.”
At the same time, State Department personnel have a moral imperative to live up to their worldwide availability obligation. And it should not be too much to hope that they would share the view of the woman detailed to Basra who wanted to go where her country thought it needed her, rather than the man who said, to applause, that “any other embassy in the world [facing similar circumstances] would have been closed by now.”
If Rice sticks to her guns, we likely will see a large number of resignations. That sounds like a good thing.
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