Wednesday, November 07, 2007

" I would not want that sort out here with me anyway"

John Matel, a career Foreign Service Officer currently serving as the team leader of the Provincial Reconstruction Team embedded in Al Asad, Al Anbar Province writes about directed assignments in Dipnote, the official State Department blog.

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. ...

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.

Read the whole thing.Nothing follows.

17 Comments:

Blogger Charles said...

Pakistan cuts troops on Indian border

President Musharraf About To Take Fight To al-Qaeda

11/07/2007 08:26:00 PM  
Blogger Brock said...

If State is looking for a few good men who are willing to take assignments in Iraq and are familiar with its language and customs, I'm sure Defense may have a few names to recommend.

11/07/2007 10:33:00 PM  
Blogger LifeoftheMind said...

DoS is like academia in more than one way. The rules of the market and natural selection do not apply. Job security is determined by politics and favoritism. This is a vice that afflicts any large organization but especially all of government. A dysfunctional subculture has taken over and will drive out any opposing viewpoint. The methodology is similar to what Islam does on a larger scale when it dominates a society and scrubs out even the mempry of other ideologies.

11/08/2007 02:05:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Just now President Saakashvili of Georgia has declared a State of Emergency, following Musharraf by a week. It is unfortunate that the FSO problem has been framed in terms of Iraq, probably because myopia has conflated a campaign with the entire war.

We haven't really psychologically grasped that the world is now in crisis. That not just Iraq but the Middle East, Southwest Asia, Latin America and perhaps the Black Sea area is writhing in unrest. The world is at war.

Unfortunately, the State Department for reasons of recent organizational history is stuck in the last period: the stasis of the Cold War which by definition was a frozen symmetry. Now the symmetry has broken and the pieces are hurtling every which way. But we are still standing paralyzed in place from long force of habit.

So I think the basic question is whether Washington -- not just the State Department -- can adjust to the new reality. My guess is that it will take one or two massive disasters, perhaps the loss of Pakistan or some other fiasco, to sober DC up. Until then, the illusion that we can pick and choose whether or not we care will rule the banks of the Potomac.

11/08/2007 03:43:00 AM  
Blogger Dawnfire82 said...

This little drama has only reinforced the idea that State is chock full of pansies; pampered office workers all too happy to call themselves diplomats and enjoy special privileges,status, bodyguards, but unwilling to go somewhere as representatives of their nation's interests when needed where said bodyguards might have to be used.

Honestly, who's surprised?

They need to be reminded that they are public servants, and those salaries and perks need to be earned.

11/08/2007 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

@Dawnfire82,

Isn't wonderful that you can tar the entire Foreign Service, two-thirds of which is deployed overseas at all time, some 2,000 of whom have already served or are currently serving in Iraq, based on the ill-chosen words of one over-annuated senior FSO who attended a Town Hall meeting in D.C. which was called specifically to get feedback on a change in personnel policy. Less than a third of the Foreign Service is stationed in D.C. at any given time, yet this guy becomes our poster-boy?

Did you actually read the linked post by Matel-in-Iraq or do you already know everything?

11/08/2007 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Consul at arms -- that guy IS the State Dept. for the following reasons:

1. State enthusiastically signed on to disrupt the President's stated Foreign Policy and National Security agenda, and allied themselves with the spoiled, clueless, liberal elites represented in the Media and Congress.

2. Joe Wilson and other prominent State Dept. officials specifically promote the agenda that only Western Europe (and cushy postings in Western European cities) matters, the rest of the world can be handled by drinking mint tea at the local Hilton for five minutes.

3. State Dept has been totally USELESS in all respects world-wide: we know NOTHING about Iran's nuclear developments, Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and it's vulnerability to AQ/Taliban elements in Pakistan's military, China's involvement or vulnerability to Iran's nuclear weapons program, Syria's nukes and cooperation with North Korea and Iran and anything else of interest to the United States. Added to that would be State's complete lack of presence in critical areas such as the Horn of Africa, Sahel, and other AQ logistical places of interest.

When we NEED State Dept people to be persuading, cajoling, arm-twisting, and offering goodies of local officials to crack down and cooperate with the US on AQ, they've been absent. Men from the Pentagon specifically the Rangers and Green Berets and Marines have had to do the State Dept's work. Because State is too lazy and afraid of being out in the field in places like Ethiopia, Niger, or Chad.

4. State is comprised of the same people who make up the Media and the DC liberal elite -- Ivy League money, pampered suburban elites, who feel they are God's gift to the world. A Joe Wilson or trophy wife like Valerie Plame.

You may not deserve nor may many fine and hard working people in State to be tarred with that brush, but nevertheless State Dept. owns it, has failed as an institution (in Iraq and Afghanistan it has been the Military doing your State Dept's job because State ran away) and that is the consequence.

It is ugly I know. For some undeserved. Yet nevertheless State owns it.

11/08/2007 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The State Department fills a necessary function. Like any other large organization, it will have people who don't mind risky postings or who will at least resign themselves to it as a duty, and those who simply won't go.

Matel argues that directed assignments or not, those who want out can find ways to stay out. All to the good, he adds, because he doesn't want those types alongside him anyway. In essence he argues 1) the danger has been greatly exaggerated; and 2) the danger at any rate separates the wheat from the chaff, insofar as those kinds of assignments are concerned.

Of course, the State Department may not have enough wheat to go around. But that's an organizational matter which is probably best addressed by changing culture, changing expectations, altering recruitment pools, etc.

11/08/2007 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

@ Whiskey_199,

1. "State enthusiastically signed on to disrupt the President's stated Foreign Policy and National Security agenda, and allied themselves with the spoiled, clueless, liberal elites represented in the Media and Congress."

You mean like when Sec. Powell went to the UN to make the administration's case there? Or when 2,000 FSOs (out of a total FS generalist corps of 6,500) have volunteered to fill jobs in Iraq?

2. "Joe Wilson and other prominent State Dept. officials specifically promote the agenda that only Western Europe (and cushy postings in Western European cities) matters, the rest of the world can be handled by drinking mint tea at the local Hilton for five minutes."

Amb. Wilson (whom I don't know personally) is a retired ambassador and had been such back when his CIA officer (not State) sent him to Chad in the first place. Come to think of it, he was our ambassador to Chad earlier, so apparently he wasn't always in Western Europe even when he was a serving FSO.

3. "State Dept has been totally USELESS in all respects world-wide: we know NOTHING about Iran's nuclear developments, Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and it's vulnerability to AQ/Taliban elements in Pakistan's military, China's involvement or vulnerability to Iran's nuclear weapons program, Syria's nukes and cooperation with North Korea and Iran and anything else of interest to the United States. Added to that would be State's complete lack of presence in critical areas such as the Horn of Africa, Sahel, and other AQ logistical places of interest."

State Department. "I do not think this word means what you think it does." Have you perhaps heard of the Central Intelligence Agency?

4. "State is comprised of the same people who make up the Media and the DC liberal elite -- Ivy League money, pampered suburban elites, who feel they are God's gift to the world. A Joe Wilson or trophy wife like Valerie Plame."

You're thinking of your father's, perhaps even your grandfather's State Department. Most serving FSOs neither went to Ivy League schools nor come from old money. Old money these days isn't into public (nor military) service. When you think of old establishment money, you don't need to look much further than Paris Hilton.

The "suburban" tag isn't too far off, at least when one is actually stationed in D.C. But then, where the Hell are people supposed to live when you work in D.C.? After living in apartments or on walled compounds around the world, a little bit of lawn & garden and your own driveway sounds kind of nice. Maybe someday I'll take a D.C. assignment and burden myself with a mortgage on a house I won't live in for two-thirds of my career.

5. "You may not deserve nor may many fine and hard working people in State to be tarred with that brush, but nevertheless State Dept. owns it, has failed as an institution (in Iraq and Afghanistan it has been the Military doing your State Dept's job because State ran away) and that is the consequence."

Ran away? Says who? The UN left Iraq after being blown up, but FSOs have been serving in Iraq since the days of the CPA. Some of my FS classmates who'd learned Arabic were sent there TDY in early days to be essentially provincial warlords for six months.

A lot of people seem to have this impression that the State Dept. should have been maintaining a warehouse full of occupation/reconstruction specialists that we can just dust off and deploy. If Congress or the president wanted State to have such a capability, it hasn't been apparent in any budgets for the past 60 years. On the other hand, there's this thing called "Civil Affairs."

I agree that State can and should do more; it'd be nice if Congress or the president actually authorized us to do more than reactively hire contractors to fill the technical specialist positions on the PRTs.

11/08/2007 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Consul, do you say these things to the bozo's you work with, who think it's fine and dandy to leak state secrets to the NY Times and to refuse to go where they are posted to? Or do you hunker down and maintain a diplomatic silence when DOS employees are Bush-bashing in your presence?

11/09/2007 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger emjay in VA said...

As a milatt,served with generally courageous and competent State people in India, Laos, and Thailand, as well as in Paris and inside the Beltway. Of course, those were the fathers of today's State people. I find the tradition continues in today's FSO corps and related State specialists. But Dawnfire and Whiskey barfs can be found in the journals and web precursors of those years. C'mon, cut out the stereotyping and deal with the real. Until Congress and the US public direct and fund the appropriate US agencies to play their role in "shrinking the Gap", State and other civil affairs players must continue to play pretty much as they have. You go to war with the government you've got.

11/09/2007 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

@ NahnCee,

Thanks for asking. I'm in the working part of the Foreign Service, serving overseas rather than plugging the New York Times into my speeddial. Out here where the rubber meets the road, we know that in polite company you don't discuss politics or religion.

Seriously, anybody who knows me is already aware that I'm slightly to the right of Atilla the Hun and that Bush-bashing doesn't amuse me. People are allowed their political opinions, those who like to Bush-bash notice that I don't laugh at their jokes.

And since they're professionals, they know not to do that sort of thing "in front of the kids." That is, when you're representing the United States government and its foreign policies, you don't bad-mouth your own president.

My stated policy is that regardless of political party, I want my Commander-in-Chief and my Congress to be successful in running the country and in conducting its foreign policy. I've served, both in uniform and out, under presidents from Reagan through the current office-holder. There's not a one of them whom I wanted to fail, regardless of their politics.

Failure in a president is not something to be lauded or encouraged.

11/09/2007 11:39:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

So then why the hell are you standing up for the morons back home who *should* be weeded out?

Just accepting the DOS status-quo, instead of thinking creatively on how to make that happen?

Do "diplomats" take an oath upon taking their office? That they swear to uphold America, and not sell her down the river to any bad guys?

I believe in the military there are such oaths, and it seems to me that making both internal and overseas employees of the State Department swear that America comes first might be revealing in watching the reaction of those such as Joseph Wilson.

11/10/2007 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

@ nahncee,

Do you imagine that the "senior foreign service officer" who's been quoted all over the place is ever going to be promoted or given an assignment of real responsibility, to say nothing of anywhere near a microphone, ever again?

According to Ana Marie Cox at Swampland (http://www.time-blog.com/swampland/2007/11/oath_no.html), the oath of office for FSOs is as follows:

"I, [state your name.] do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. That I take this obligation freely and without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. That I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me, God."

That sounds like the oath I remember taking. I believe the same oath is used for just about all federal employees in the executive branch. Note what it says, and what it doesn't say.

The oath taken by military members differs somewhat from that taken by FSOs:

"I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

I've bolded the text where it is different in each oath.

Lastly, I believe that Amb. Wilson has been retired from the Foreign Service since before he went on his famous mission to Chad. He's almost certainly no longer on any federal payroll that doesn't involve a pension.

11/11/2007 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Seems to me a lot of the "domestic enemies" *are* State Department. And what do we want to do about that?

I knew Wilson was retired. The point I was making is that the system status quo nurtured him and allowed him to grow into the turnip he turned into. It would appear that he's not the only turnip growing in that manure patch, either.

Is it hard to fire a "diplomat"?

11/11/2007 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

@nahncee,

"Seems to me a lot of the "domestic enemies" *are* State Department."

Now you're just being insulting.

How you get from some FSOs being reluctant to be posted to a war zone (go figure, they being civilians and all) to being "domestic enemies" is your problem. Seek help.

11/13/2007 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I get there via the many

many

many

many

leaks

from the State Department straight to the avid ears of the NY Times.

I'm pretty sure all of them can't be blamed on Joseph Wilson.

11/13/2007 02:27:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home


Powered by Blogger