Thursday, November 1, 2007

The US Foreign Service: They also serve

It's yet another sign of the failed leadership of the Bush Administration. For the first time since the Vietnam War, US Diplomats are being ordered to posts at the risk of losing their jobs.

Not surprisingly, the State Department has not had enough volunteers to fill all of the diplomatic positions in Iraq. In a late night email sent to employees, the State Department announced that it would begin involuntary assignments to Iraq. From The Raw Story:

Service in Baghdad was "a potential death sentence," said a man who identified himself as a 46-year Foreign Service veteran, the [Washington] Post reported.

"Any other embassy in the world would be closed by now."

From The Washington Post:

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.

In notices e-mailed to Foreign Service officers around the world late Friday night, Thomas wrote that State had decided to begin "directed assignments" to fill an anticipated shortfall of 48 diplomats in Iraq next summer. Separate e-mail letters were sent to about 250 officers selected as qualified for the posts. If enough of them did not volunteer, the letters said, some would be ordered to serve there.

The notices, which most diplomats first learned about from the news media as the e-mails sat in their office computers over the weekend, appeared to have catalyzed unease that has been swirling through the Foreign Service over issues that include Iraq, underfunding and inadequate recruitment, perceived disrespect from the U.S. military and the job performance of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

At least three department employees have been killed in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

As someone whose parents served all over the world as Foreign Service officers, this hits close to home. At least when my parents served, the United States was respected around the world, and the US government respected its employees. So although there was certainly some danger in their posts to places such as Karachi and Istanbul, they were never sent into a war zone.

This appears to be another attempt by the Bush-Cheney crowd to paint the picture of Iraq as situation improving. Indeed, it would be a wake up call to have to admit that we need to close the Embassy there. But instead of facing that truth, this Administration chooses to spend $1 billion to build a self-contained Embassy complex that could operate completely independently of the nation where it is located. How convenient.

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