Halfhearted oaths at the State Department
For the first time since the Vietnam War, the State Department has notified career diplomats, or Foreign Service Officers (FSO), that they may be required to accept overseas postings not of their choosing. The order from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was necessary to fill 50 or fewer posts in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
FSOs immediately began to express outrage that they might have to leave cushier assignments for tasks in what could be a danger zone. So Miss Rice convened State’s version of a venting session they call a “Town Hall Meeting.”
A 36-year veteran of the diplomatic corps, Jack Crotty, came to the microphone to say: “It’s one thing if someone believes in what’s going on over there and volunteers, but it’s another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment. I’m sorry, but basically that’s a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?” According to reporters, many of Mr. Crotty’s colleagues applauded.
Outraged military personnel, too disciplined to express anger to the media, contacted several retired military people like myself to ask, “What about our service? What about our children? And why are the elite of the State Department allowed to pick and choose their assignments without repercussions? Didn’t we all take the same oath?”
The fact is that the oath FSOs, and everyone of any importance at the State Department, takes is the same oath military personnel take. But there is a vast difference in the way that oath is respected, apparently.
Military people know they face the Uniform Code of Military Justice if they refuse orders. They know they may wind up standing before a court martial. State Department people, it seems, feel completely within their right to defy the secretary of state and their president. Herein lies the dilemma.
After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the president of the United States declared a war on terror and the Defense Department mobilized for war. At Foggy Bottom, many career diplomats yawned. What started as apathy has morphed into defiance. And our military men and women know this.
But it wasn’t just the active duty military who took Mr. Crotty’s remarks and his colleagues’ apparent approval as a serious affront: Retired military and Foreign Service officers began to buzz on the Internet.
Mike Benge is a retired FSO who should know something about duty, honor and respect for those who serve and abide by their oath.
Mike was in the Marine Corps before he joined what is now the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In Vietnam, he served as a Foreign Service officer doing what is now termed “nation-building.”
In 1968, Mike was captured by the North Vietnamese communists and held hostage for more than five years, most of it in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. But since Mike was not a uniformed member of the armed forces, he was not a prisoner of war (POW), so he was held in isolation.
After his release in 1973, Mike again returned to Vietnam as a volunteer and continued his work until the communist takeover in 1975.
Mike, along with many of his colleagues who view service much differently from the current crowd at State, expressed outrage beyond belief that senior State Department officers today are not aware of — or have so little respect for — their oath and their distinguished lineage.
Mike sent us this message: “We had many fine Foreign Service officers who served in Vietnam, quite a few from the State Department who served in various capacities including in danger zones out in the provinces. The closest thing to a ‘green zone’ perhaps was service in Saigon — which was sometimes dangerous,” Mike wrote.
“Every one of these dedicated State Department officers in Vietnam did an excellent job, and many gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in service of their country — 27 State Department officials gave the final sacrifice for their countrymen, I believe. Many more from USAID and other government agencies lost their lives, and some like me, were taken prisoner,” wrote Mr. Mike Benge.
Now, is the United States of America mobilized for and fighting a “Global War Against Terror” or not? Knowing that senior State Department officers can choose not to participate without any repercussions makes one wonder.
John E. Carey is a retired career military officer, former president of International Defense Consultants Inc. and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times.