The Foreign Service Rebellion

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.

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