Can the State Department force its employees to go to Iraq?
Uneasy U.S. diplomats yesterday challenged senior State Department officials in unusually blunt terms over a decision to order some of them to serve at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad or risk losing their jobs.
At a town hall meeting in the department’s main auditorium attended by hundreds of Foreign Service officers, some of them criticized fundamental aspects of State’s personnel policies in Iraq. They took issue with the size of the embassy — the biggest in U.S. history — and the inadequate training they received before being sent to serve in a war zone. One woman said she returned from a tour in Basra with post-traumatic stress disorder only to find that the State Department would not authorize medical treatment.
Yesterday’s internal dissension came amid rising public doubts about diplomatic progress in Iraq and congressional inquiries into the department’s spending on the embassy and its management of private security contractors. Some participants asked how diplomacy could be practiced when the embassy itself, inside the fortified Green Zone, is under frequent fire and officials can travel outside only under heavy guard.
Service in Iraq is "a potential death sentence," said one man who identified himself as a 46-year Foreign Service veteran. "Any other embassy in the world would be closed by now," he said to sustained applause.
But, uh, don’t these diplomats know that we’ve turned the corner in Iraq and the enemy is in the last throes?
In all seriousness, let’s nail down exactly what we’re talking about — the officials of the United States Department of State, who presumably know a bit more about the situation on the ground than the layman, are resisting attempts to be deployed to the GREEN ZONE, supposedly the most secure area in all of Iraq.
One must ask — if the war in Iraq is going so well, why the resistence?
I suspect the State Department officials have read the GAO report:
The U.S. and Iraqi governments have failed to take advantage of a dramatic drop in violence in Iraq, according to a report issued Tuesday by a U.S. watchdog agency, which warned that prospects were waning "for achieving current U.S. security, political and economic goals in Iraq."
Iraqi leaders have not passed legislation to foster reconciliation among Shiite Muslims, Sunnis and Kurds, and sectarian groups still retain control of ministries and divide Iraqi security forces, according to the Government Accountability Office report.
Moreover, the Bush administration’s efforts to stabilize and rebuild Iraq are plagued by weak planning, a lack of coordination with the Iraqi government and among U.S. agencies, and an absence of detailed information on "the current and future costs of U.S. involvement in Iraq," it said.
"U.S. efforts lack strategies with clear purpose, scope, roles and performance measures," the report said.
No wonder they don’t want to go….
Juan Cole argues its time to close the US Embassy there:
Now is that time for all Americans to stand up for the diplomats who serve this country ably and courageously throughout the world, for decades on end. Foreign service officers risk disease and death, and many of them see their marriages destroyed when spouses decline to follow them to a series of remote places. They are the ones who represent America abroad, who know languages and cultures and do their best to convince the world that we’re basically a good people […]
The guerrillas in Iraq constantly target the Green Zone and US diplomatic personnel there with mortar and rocket fire. State Department personnel sleep in trailers that are completely unprotected from such incoming fire. At several points in the past year, they have been forbidden to go outside without protective gear (as if outside were more dangerous). The Bush administration has consistently lied about the danger they are in and tried to cover up these severe security precautions.
The US embassy in Iraq should be closed. It is not safe for the personnel there. Some sort of rump mission of hardy volunteers could be maintained. But kidnapping our most capable diplomats and putting them in front of a fire squad is morally wrong and is administratively stupid, since many of these intrepid individuals will simply resign. (You cannot easily get good life insurance that covers death from war, and most State spouses cannot have careers because of the two-year rotations to various foreign capitals, and their families are in danger of being reduced to dire poverty if they are killed) […]
As someone on the radio commented the other day, if this embassy were in any other country, it would be closed. We don’t normally keep out dipomatic corps in danger like that.