Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 2, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE FOREIGN SERVICE REBELLION....The State Department revolt against compulsory postings to Baghdad has mostly focused on the fact that people are being asked to serve in a dangerous war zone. But I think Charles Crain gets closer to the real issue in this Time magazine piece:

The most demoralizing aspect of the violence may not be the physical risk, but rather the isolation and sense of futility the violence engenders. Most diplomats leave the Green Zone only rarely, and never simply to socialize with ordinary Iraqis or explore the city.

....Most discouraging of all, the danger and discomfort do not seem to be in service of a successful strategy. [Jack] Croddy, the veteran diplomat, implied that the shortage of volunteers was a function of diplomats not believing in the American mission in Iraq. It's a fair point. Violence has dropped in recent months, but there has been little substantive progress on key issues from disarming Shi'ite militias to deciding how to distribute the nation's oil revenue. As the Bush Administration ratchets up its rhetoric against Iran it is American diplomats who must deal personally with Shi'ite politicians, who have closer ties to Tehran than to Washington.

Foreign service diplomats routinely serve in backwater ratholes, and dangerous postings are often part of the bargain too. But when you combine that with a setting in which there's literally almost nothing they can accomplish, a revolt is hardly surprising.

I'd add one other thing, too. As near as I can tell, Ryan Crocker is well-liked and highly respected. If even he can't manage to attract enough people to fill up all the open slots in Iraq — especially when a Baghdad posting also offers higher pay, the career boost of serving in a critical embassy, and a choice of assignments after your hitch is up — then service in the Green Zone must be a rathole squared. Apparently, there's just no one left who thinks there's any chance of making serious political or diplomatic progress there.

Kevin Drum 4:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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Comments

Uh, any petulant and unbalanced emails you may have received overnight on this topic were not written by me. I'm not saying you did receive any, but in case you did.

Posted by: Col. Steve Boylan on November 2, 2007 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

That's my take on it too. I figure that our Foreign Service are for the most part honorable, patriotic, courageous individuals, and what's being seen here is that they are literally voting with their feet that their inside information tells them the investment in Iraq is not worth it and will not pay off.

Posted by: jerry on November 2, 2007 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently, there's just no one left who thinks there's any chance of making serious political or diplomatic progress there. You say that like you sound surprised, Kevin. Everyone knew this strategy was doomed from the beginning.

Posted by: D. on November 2, 2007 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Croddy, the veteran diplomat, implied that the shortage of volunteers was a function of diplomats not believing in the American mission in Iraq. It's a fair point. Violence has dropped in recent months, but there has been little substantive progress on key issues from disarming Shi'ite militias to deciding how to distribute the nation's oil revenue.

There's a apocrophal story told to inspire salesmen. I apologize for its lack of political correctness, but it seems relevant.

Two shoe salesmen were sent to Africa many, many years ago.

Salesman #1 wires back: "Natives here do not wear shoes. Returning on first boat."

Salesman #2, who is more gung-ho, wires back: "Natives here do not wear shoes. Ship me 1,000 pairs. Enormous opportunity!"

It would be nice if our State Department had some gung-ho diplomats, people who would see the past failures in Iraq as a list of their available opportunities for progress.

Posted by: ex-liberal on November 2, 2007 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

It would be nice if our State Department had some gung-ho diplomats, people who would see the past failures in Iraq as a list of their available opportunities for progress.

Good point ex-liberal. To those who say mistakes were made, why don't you go to Iraq and try to fix them instead of sitting here in your comfortable home in America? It's pretty hypocritical for liberals (especially those who work in the State Department) to constantly blame others for problems and never try to solve the problems themselves.

Posted by: Al on November 2, 2007 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

key issues ... to deciding how to distribute the nation's oil revenue

It is not the job of American diplomats to decide how other nations distribute the revenues from their natural resources.

Posted by: Brojo on November 2, 2007 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

It's pretty hypocritical for liberals (especially those who work in the State Department) to constantly blame others for problems and never try to solve the problems themselves.

After 9/11 Al, I looked into joining the armed forces, but at 41, I was too old. I'm still too old, but now thanks to Republican strategeries, 41 is a fine age to join up.

So Al, what's your MOS?

Posted by: jerry on November 2, 2007 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

When I read ex-liberal's 4:54 ode to courage and the can-do spirit in Baghdad, I can almost feel the plushy embrace of his well-worn armchair...the dancing flames of his gas fire warming his plump, slippered feet...the extra-thick triple insulation of his Jersey palace.

But look you now--he stirs. Methinks he knows the time has come for another snack, and then, perchance, a nap. Wise man! We must husband our strength for the coming battles.

Posted by: shortstop on November 2, 2007 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, good old ex-liberal, full of the spit and dirt that the soldiers admire. I believe he penned that testament to bravery after feeling a trifle guilty for that second slice of cheesecake.

Posted by: botecelli on November 2, 2007 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK


ex-lib: It would be nice if our State Department had some gung-ho diplomats, people who would see the past failures in Iraq as a list of their available opportunities for progress.


you mean "past failures" like...

2007 will set a new record high for usa deaths in iraq...

Posted by: mr. irony on November 2, 2007 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

"Apparently, there's just no one left who thinks there's any chance of making serious political or diplomatic progress there."
—Kevin Drum 4:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks |

Oh, but you would be wrong. There are many young, strapping Republican college boys who are tough, fearless, and clear-eyed about the reality of the Great War for Our Existence we're in...I'm sure they would be more than happy to go, right guys?????

(crickets.....crickets.....)

Posted by: marty on November 2, 2007 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

Refusing Iraq is a vote of no-confidence on the Condiliar by her professional staff. Also, since the tours of duty begin next summer, they feel that they will be among those clinging to the embassy roof as the choppers depart.

Posted by: Rula Lenska on November 2, 2007 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

Al: "To those who say mistakes were made, why don't you go to Iraq and try to fix them instead of sitting here in your comfortable home in America?"

Go blow it out your ass, you stupid fuckin' chickenhawk.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 2, 2007 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

It would be nice if our State Department had some gung-ho diplomats, people who would see the past failures in Iraq as a list of their available opportunities for progress.

Good grief! What kind of sales seminar bullshit pablum is this? The point is that Iraq is not a place where we made a few goofs that can be corrected with a little moxy and determination on the part of some spunky young State Dept. staffers. Iraq is a soiled bed that simply can't be unshit, and these people know it.

Posted by: jonas on November 2, 2007 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

mr. irony: you mean "past failures" like...

2007 will set a new record high for usa deaths in iraq...

Well, yes. General Petraeus wasn't put off by America's past military failures against the Iraqi insurgents. He came up with a new plan that observers say has defeated AQI. He dramatically cut American and Iraqi casualties. Now I hope some State Dept. person can step up and achieve comparable things on the diplomatic side.

Posted by: ex-liberal on November 2, 2007 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like a great pretext to purge a chunk of people in the state department who aren't loyal "Bushies" (you either go or you quit). Who wants to bet that the state department employees who are "drafted" to go to Iraq will be disproportionately anti-Bush career diplomats?

Posted by: Augustus on November 2, 2007 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

Al: To those who say mistakes were made, why don't you go to Iraq and try to fix them ...

The best way to fix the mistakes is to work HERE for regime change.

All that's left to do in Baghdad is minimize casualties and plan for the withdrawal.

Posted by: bleh on November 2, 2007 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

"...against the Iraqi insurgents. He came up with a new plan that observers say has defeated AQI."

Most of the Iraqi insurgents aren't Al Qaeda. Most of them are native Sunni or Shiites who are simply trying to drive the US out of the country.

Posted by: Gay Old Potty on November 2, 2007 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

Drum: ..the career boost of serving in a critical embassy, and a choice of assignments after your hitch is up..

What boost? Being a diplomat who pushes Bush agenda doesn't get you very much career traction when a Democrat enters the White House in a little over a year...and it's not as if mentioning 'worked in Iraq in Rice's State department' is gonna get you in good with the local population on your next Middle East assignment.

These diplomats aren't just thinking of how bad and futile service in Iraq is; they're thinking about their careers beyond Iraq.

Posted by: grape_crush on November 2, 2007 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

"(you either go [with salary increase, etc] or you quit)."

Carrot and stick approach at State?

Posted by: nepeta on November 2, 2007 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal's first post shows how conservatives' arrogance, ignorance, cultural imperialism, and militarism brings new meaning to the term, "audacity of hope."

Posted by: D. on November 2, 2007 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

"He came up with a new plan that observers say has defeated AQI."

You're lying, of course, and clumsily at that, since the "defeat" that AQI has suffered had not one thing to do with Petraeus. Nor is it clear that arming and bribing Sunni warlords is a good thing for the long-term prospects in Iraq.

"He dramatically cut American and Iraqi casualties."

And another lie, since casualties are moving in the wrong direction again, not to mention that ethnic cleansing and outmigration are having far more effect on Iraqi casualties than anything Petraeus did.

"Now I hope some State Dept. person can step up and achieve comparable things on the diplomatic side."

Since that was the whole point of "the Surge," I would say that your "hope" is about 9 months overdue.

Posted by: PaulB on November 2, 2007 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

And, of course, as GOP pointed out above, faux-liberal's post included another lie: equating "insurgents" with AQI.

Man, the poor guy is really reaching these days, isn't he?

Posted by: PaulB on November 2, 2007 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

And let us not forget, it's not just a dangerous, isolated job in a hellish place with little chance of success, that's not a aproblem. It's a dangerous, isolated job in a hellish place with no authority to try and succeed. everyone, including the Iraqis, knows that State is irrelevant in this administration, Why risk everything on a failed mission when you will take the blame, while some 23 year old who's daddy works at Heritage makes all the stupid decisions you will be blamed for?

Posted by: Northzax on November 2, 2007 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal: It would be nice if our State Department had some gung-ho diplomats...

Yes, it would be nice if all it took were some gung-ho diplomats to fix bad policy and bad leadership. Of course then they'd be labeled typical Foggy Bottom traitors and pinkos, sabotaging the very same policy and leadership that got us where we are. Get real.

Posted by: has407 on November 2, 2007 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

To those who say mistakes were made, why don't you go to Iraq and try to fix them ...

There is only one option left that our soldiers and diplomats could do in Iraq that has any chance of righting wrongs.

Posted by: Hostile on November 2, 2007 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

the underlying precept of ex-lib's example is of course one of making them furriners more like me.

Brojo: It is not the job of American diplomats to decide how other nations distribute the revenues from their natural resources.

There you go confusing the term 'independent nation' as used for marketing purposes with a term that should factor into decisions about the important stuff.

Posted by: snicker-snack on November 2, 2007 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

So when they order people to go, what are the chances of someone who is a Democrat being ordered to go, rather than someone who is a registered Republic?

Posted by: doc on November 2, 2007 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like many junior State employees are as committed to defeat as you are. They certainly have contributed little in either Afghanistan of Iraq. Well, they can't all serve in Paris.

Posted by: Mike K on November 2, 2007 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

To ex-lib: We're not selling shoes in Iraq.

Posted by: Bush Lover on November 2, 2007 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

I think the reason the compulsory postings have "mostly focused ...on a dangerous war zone" is because it ain't too cool to get your limbs blown off, Kevin, for fucks sake! Never in American history have garden variety dilpmats been ordered to serve in an area where there is on-going combat missions. This is just fucking crazy and another example of where neoconservative ideology trumps common sense.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on November 2, 2007 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

Hmmm now let me see. Order liberal state dept. employee to serve in Iraq. He refuses. Gets Fired and is replaced by conservative. Wonder how many liberals they can get rid of that way. Wow Bush and Condi really have to be dumb to think that one up.

Posted by: TruthPolitik on November 2, 2007 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

I reject this outright. You don't get to pick and choose the mission. Sure, it's great to say Condi and Bush suck, blah blah blah. But what do we say when some diplomat rejects an assignment that progressives believe in?

"Ooh, I don't want to go Africa. It's icky and stinky and full of diseases. And who will take care of my children if I get beri-beri?"

If you're taking taxpayer money, you don't get to vote with your feet -- except to quit. I expect -- no, demand -- that these diplomats who refuse to fulfill their contracts resign without prejudice, whether they need a day or a decade to meet their service's retirement and pension requirements.

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on November 2, 2007 at 9:53 PM | PERMALINK

And I served in Iraq, by the way.

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on November 2, 2007 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

Hemlock:

It's quite a different story to reject a diplomatic mission because "it's icky and stinky" and one where you are forced to go into a war zone and have RPGs shot at you and roadside bombs exploding as you drive by. These people didn't sign up to be in combat or to be moving targets. Not to mention they would have no real contact with the people of Iraq, which is a lot of what diplomacy is built on. If you don't get that, you aren't thinking too clearly.

TCD

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on November 2, 2007 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

State Department employees do not have to obey their superiors like enslaved soldiers, who have no choice. They can, and should, refuse to serve W. Bush.

Posted by: Brojo on November 2, 2007 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo, I think they should resign in protest. That would get them out of the woodwork where they do harm. They could then all sign up as Obama volunteers. Nobody is a slave. Quit and get a real job.

Posted by: Mike K on November 2, 2007 at 11:12 PM | PERMALINK

Let us presume a simplified world in which American diplomats can either serve in cushy, soft, do-nothing jobs in Washington, or serve in Iraq. That is the false premise of much of this discussion.

Now, let's look at the real world, where the U.S. has diplomatic representation in more countries than any nation in the history of humanity. We're stripping those embassies and consulates of people and resources in order to feed current Iraq policy and the engorged embassy it demands.

Many of those diplomats resisting Dr Rice's call to waste a year in the Green Zone would jump at a chance to serve in any of dozens of embassies where they can make a difference; embassies in cities agreeable, disageeable, or just plain lousy and dangerous and isolated and unhealthy

Check the stereotypes at the door. Look at the real world. Life is short. Careers are shorter. These people have seen the Bush approach to Iraq as the failure it is and they want to make their mark where they can - Iraq is no longer that place, if it ever was.

Posted by: Bob on November 2, 2007 at 11:54 PM | PERMALINK

You chickhawk trolls are talkin' so tough, tellin' career diplomats to "get a real job" and all -- why don't you volunteer for Baghdad duty? How about it, guys? Take one for El Presidente and America's Team.

Or are you just like I figured -- another anonymous, pasty-white, trash-talking loser who can't walk the walk, and would instead prefer to tap the tap in an airport men's room?

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 2, 2007 at 11:57 PM | PERMALINK

"Who wants to bet that the state department employees who are "drafted" to go to Iraq will be disproportionately anti-Bush career diplomats?Posted by: Augustus

I'll take that bet.

Posted by: majarosh on November 3, 2007 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps there are some Bush loyalists who are no longer going to have complete Blackwater protection soon? Queuing up their replacements?

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on November 3, 2007 at 12:41 AM | PERMALINK

"Quit and get a real job."

My goodness, but what a revealing quote.

Posted by: PaulB on November 3, 2007 at 2:42 AM | PERMALINK

"Sounds like many junior State employees are as committed to defeat as you are."

Actually, I'd say you're probably correct, since zero equals zero.

"They certainly have contributed little in either Afghanistan of Iraq."

ROFLMAO.... Oh, the ignorance of a comment like this.

Posted by: PaulB on November 3, 2007 at 2:45 AM | PERMALINK

So, let's see: faux-liberal is blatantly lying, and poor Mike K is demonstrating astonishing ignorance. Are there any conservative commenters left here worth having a discussion with?

Posted by: PaulB on November 3, 2007 at 2:47 AM | PERMALINK

To ex-liberal:

Two shoe salesmen were sent to Iraq last year.

Salesman #1 got shot, leaving behind a widow, 2 kids & mortage.

Salesman #2, got be-headed, leaving behind a wife, ex-wife, 4 kids & 2 mortages.

Posted by: Whitehouse Criminals on November 3, 2007 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

Not a new problem. This is from the SIGIR's 10/31/05 Section 2207 report:

Lack of Interagency Support
.....To accomplish its mission, CPA expected to be able to draw
human capital from agencies throughout the U.S. government; however, those
assumptions proved to be faulty. Support from U.S. government agencies fell
well short of expectations. Moreover, although it may be possible, members of
the Forum agreed that the involuntary assignment of civilian detailees would
not work in practice
. A February 2004 DoD study specifically cited the lack of
interagency support, finding that U.S. government agencies were “reluctant to
send the requested number of people or their best people because they see CPA
as a DoD project
. DoD was also slow to deploy their best people to Baghdad.”

Posted by: TJM on November 3, 2007 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

State Department employees do get to reject assignments. That's part of their agreement with the government. If State wants something like involuntary servitude, they need to specify it from before an prospective employee signs up.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on November 3, 2007 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

TCD: I don't think I'm missing the point. Should we not have diplomats in Somalia? Liberia? Sierra Leone? There are conflict hotspots everywhere -- small arms and RPG fire is a way of life for many people in the world, unfortunately.

And Jeffrey Davis obviously hasn't read a State Department help-wanted ad in many years. DoS recruiting materials routinely point out that FSOs will be required to serve worldwide assignments. That they CAN pick-and-choose is not the same as saying that they have the RIGHT to pick-and-choose.

In the Army, you get to choose assignments. You get to fill out a "dream sheet" and pick locations in which to serve.

Whether you get your first choice, third choice, or any choice depends upon the Mother of All Modifiers, "needs of the service."

Now let's talk about "wasting" a year in the Green Zone. As this blog notes below, it seems to be the case that the death rate is dropping in Iraq. Success of the surge? Maybe. Success of the ethnic cleansing? More likely.

But let's assume for sake of argument that Iraq is becoming, relatively speaking, less dangerous.

At what point do Croddy, et al., start to say, "Well, NOW Iraq is worthy of my time and effort"?

And it's not all Green Zone. I know from experience that the Provincial Reconstruction Teams have made a difference. But these folks are refusing assignments to PRTs, as well.

Should a racist FSO -- of which I know several -- have the "right" to refuse service in Africa? Because it's full of brown people, and they disagree with programs that help brown people?

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on November 3, 2007 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

""Well, NOW Iraq is worthy of my time and effort"?"

If, and only if, there are any signs at all that the various parties in power in Iraq actually want to come together and that there is a framework on which to build, neither of which is true in Iraq today.

It's not just fear that's keeping these people away; it's the "isolation and sense of futility," and the lack of a "successful strategy."

Posted by: PaulB on November 3, 2007 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

get them out of the woodwork

If there are any decent people working at the State Dept., there might be a few, they should not resign in protest to W. Bush's policies. They should stay and do everything they can to obstruct and publicly reveal the president's policies.

Posted by: Brojo on November 3, 2007 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

But I thought the surge was a success.

Posted by: bob h on November 4, 2007 at 7:49 AM | PERMALINK

He dramatically cut American and Iraqi casualties. Now I hope some State Dept. person can step up and achieve comparable things on the diplomatic side.

He has dramatically cut American casualties to about what they were BEFORE the surge. Iraqi casualties have been decreased by changing the way we count them--and because ethnic cleansing has been very successful in many neighborhoods.

For the State department to achieve similar results, first they would have to fuck up the situation in Iraq even worse than it is now, and then get it back to where it is now, and then declare victory.

I'm sure Condi et al can achieve the first part of the plan quite easily.......


Posted by: dr. luba on November 4, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

"These people didn't sign up to be in combat or to be moving targets. Not to mention they would have no real contact with the people of Iraq, which is a lot of what diplomacy is built on."
_______________________

I am unaware of any public law stating that FSOs get to choose where they serve. Perhaps some are objecting to a departure from long-standing practice. But the privilege to serve probably does not include having a veto on where one will serve.

As to contact with Iraqis goes, that's exactly what the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) are for in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Military commanders need the assistance of people with FSO skillsets in both countries.

Posted by: trashhauler on November 5, 2007 at 12:56 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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