U.S. diplo­mats at odds over hav­ing to serve in Iraq

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Ni­cholas Kralev

The grow­ing pres­sure on State De­part­ment per­son­nel to serve in Iraq, which cul­mi­nated in Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice’s de­ci­sion to re­sort to forced as­sign­ments, has po­lar­ized the For­eign Ser­vice to a level not seen in decades, Amer­i­can diplo­mats say.

Some of them said the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion is strain­ing the world’s largest diplo­matic corps in sup­port of an al­most im­pos­si­ble mis­sion. Oth­ers ac­cuse their col­leagues of whin­ing and not liv­ing up to the oath they took to serve their coun­try.

“We are con­cerned that di­rected as­sign­ments of For­eign Ser­vice civil­ians into a war zone would be detri­men­tal to the in­di­vid­ual, to the post and to the For­eign Ser­vice as a whole,” Steve Kashkett, vice pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can For­eign Ser­vice As­so­ci­a­tion, wrote in a cable to the union’s mem­bers.

Iraq ser­vice was tak­ing its toll long be­fore the an­nounce­ment two weeks ago that Miss Rice would “di­rect” diplo­mats to serve in Iraq, State De­part­ment em­ploy­ees said.

As­sign­ments in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan and other hard­ship posts, last only a year, and more than 1,500 of all 6,500 For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cers al­ready have worked in Iraq. So the de­part­ment’s hu­man re­sources bureau has been spend­ing most of its time on Iraq staffing.

Last year, in an at­tempt to keep Iraq ser­vice vol­un­tary, Miss Rice changed the bid­ding and as­sign­ment sys­tem of the For­eign Ser­vice. No as­sign­ments were al­lowed else­where in the world un­til those “high-pri­or­ity” po­si­tions were filled.

The sec­re­tary also tried in­cen­tives, of­fer­ing bet­ter pay and other ben­e­fits, high­er­chance­sof­pro­mo­tio­nan­de­ven guar­an­teed on­ward as­sign­ments. That tac­tic, how­ever, at­tracted some of­fi­cers who were con­cerned more about money and ca­reer ad­vance­ment.

Sev­eral For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cers who have worked in Iraq said that at­ti­tude cre­ates a ma­jor bur­den.

The Wash­ing­ton Times re­ported more than a year ago that Miss Rice had raised con­cerns about the qual­ity of some diplo­mats at the em­bassy in Bagh­dad. But it was not un­til Ryan C. Crocker, the cur­rent am­bas­sador, ar­rived in late March that the prob­lem be­gan to be ad­dressed.

Mr. Crocker asked Pa­trick Kennedy, the in­com­ing un­der­sec­re­tary of state for man­age­ment, to visit Bagh­dad and take a se­ri­ous look at staffing. Both Mr. Crocker and Mr. Kennedy rec­om­mended that Miss Rice cre­ate about 80 more po­si­tions in Iraq.

Of about 250 po­si­tions open­ing next sum­mer — both at the em­bassy and on the so-called Pro­vin­cial Re­con­struc­tion Teams — about 48 could not be filled with vol­un­teers.

About 200 of­fi­cers have been iden­ti­fied as “prime can­di­dates” and given un­til Nov. 13 to present med­i­cal or other com­pelling rea­sons that could spare them an Iraq as­sign­ment. Those who refuse to go with­out such rea­sons could be ex­pelled from the For­eign Ser­vice.

Duringas­tormy­town-hallmeet­ing two weeks ago with the ser­vice’s di­rec­tor-gen­eral, Harry Thomas, some mem­bers ques­tioned the need for such a big em­bassy in Bagh­dad. Oth­ers ac­cused the State De­part­ment of not pro­vid­ing enough train­ing be­fore diplo­mats head to Iraq.

Miss Rice urged those who have not been to Iraq to “think about their obli­ga­tion not just to the coun­try, but their obli­ga­tion to those who have al­ready served.”

The con­tro­versy ex­posed a con­flict that has been boil­ing in the For­eign Ser­vice for years. Mr. Kashkett wrote in the For­eign Ser­vice Jour­nal in June that “a great and widen­ing gap” was threat­en­ing the “once tightly knit pro­fes­sional com­mu­nity.”

“On the one hand, there are the peo­ple (a vo­cal mi­nor­ity) who feel they have un­fairly spent a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of their ca­reers in hard­ship as­sign­ments, of­ten go­ing from one dusty Third World coun­try to an­other while nurs­ing a sim­mer­ing re­sent­ment of those who they see as slack­ers in­ter­ested only in Wash­ing­ton, West­ern Europe and a few other cushy posts,” he wrote.

“On the other hand, there are the peo­ple (a slight ma­jor­ity) who feel equally strongly that the For­eign Ser­vice needs to pre­serve some bal­ance be­tween the de­mands of hard­ship ser­vice and the de­mands of fam­i­lyfriend­li­ness and ca­reer plan­ning,” Mr. Kashkett said.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Tough town: Iraqis pass by a Bradley ar­mored ve­hi­cle in Bagh­dad’s Amariyah neigh­bor­hood on Nov. 6.

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