All organizations, whether business, civic, or political, have two kinds of participants. There are those who understand and perform, and there are those who understand and perform when it suits them. There will always be those within groups who are pushing agendas rather than doing the job that needs to be done.
Let's talk about the State Department. "I ______, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will perform the duties of a member of this Board faithfully and to the best of my ability; that i will adhere to the Precepts; that I will apply the Precepts and promotion criteria without prejudice or partiality; and that I will not reveal to unauthorized persons any information concerning the personnel records used or the deliberations and recommendations of the Board, (so help me God)." That is the oath that the members of Foreign Service take as they participate in voluntary service to their country.
I was angered as I watched part of a town hall style meeting at the State Department earlier this week. The preening and whining of career professionals was sickening, to say the least. What in the world is going on there, I pondered. So, I did a little digging into it.
It's been widely known for years that the career employees of the State Department are full of agenda driven opinions and are willing to tell tales to to the press for personal desires. Like any group of people in our country now, there are those who support the work of the military in Iraq and those who are openly working against our efforts in the region. Those at the State Department, being a bit closer to the arguments, are feeling emboldened by politicians declaring the war lost and the president and vice president liars and the military committing murder to innocent women and children in the dead of night.
So, with the embassy in Baghdad in need of filling 48 positions, the State Department called upon the Foreign Service Officers to come forward. Foreign Service Officers "represent the United States' interests abroad. In addition, they are responsible for the adjudication of visa and passport applications and assistance to U.S. citizens abroad. FSOs are classified into various specialties, including Management, Consular, Public Diplomacy, Political, and Economic." That is the definition from the Wikipedia entry.
These were career FSOs at the Town Hall meeting. They were voluntarily working for the State Department as their chosen career paths. Harry Thomas, the Foreign Service director general conducted the meeting. David Satterfield, Secretary Rice's Iraq deputy was also in attendance. Secretary Rice was in the Middle East. Many federal employees have refused repeated requests to go to Iraq and some have demanded they be assigned only to Baghdad, not the Green Zone. The Green Zone is the area where the American Embassy and the Iraqi government ministries reside. A continuing problem has been the lack of cooperation of older, more experienced, mature diplomats to go to Iraq. The majority of those signing up are younger, entry level employees.
"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," said Jack Croddy, once a political adviser with NATO forces. "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?" Lovely.
I suggest if he was required to go and didn't want to because of his disagreement of the policies toward Iraq, as he blatantly stated above, then he should resign and leave. Now. He signed the oath when he was hired and he is no more entitled to run the show than any other FSO. Who does he think he is? Richard Armitage? And as far as the slap about the potential sentence? I assume his children have a mother. I assume he takes advantage of the government goodies of which he is eligible: the life insurance policy, 401K, health insurance for families, free or reduced rates for sporting events, special events and the like? Life is good for the FSOs compared to the common man in this country. Not all assignments can be in Switzerland. Or France. His family would be in a far better position than the National Guardsmen or military lost in Iraq. Oh yeah, he's better than them anyway.
So, as I was feeling the effects of such selfish arrogance, I pondered: does Jack Croddy feel the American military members have the same duty? They are a voluntary force, too, and their commitment should humble the pampered Croddy. From the gray in his hair and the lines on his face, he is old enough to know better.
Who does he think he is? Joe Wilson?
Rep. Duncan Hunter, running for President, had an excellent idea. He suggested that if the diplomats don't want to go to their assigned posts, fire them and hire wounded vets who want to go back and serve. It would be a new career path for them and they richly deserve it, too. Time after time I hear interviews of wounded vets, male and female, who say they just want to go back and help.
They are true patriots. They are not concerned with the gravy train of the diplomatic community.
Since the invasion in 2003, no FSOs have been killed in Iraq. About 1500 have been sent there and served.
After the Town Hall meeting, which also included some who have served in Iraq and spoke to the enriching experience it was for them, many volunteers came forward and only a few slot remain open.
I'm feeling much better about the state of our FSOs now. Why? What should I come across but an article by Kathrine Schmidt of the Washington Bureau of the Houston Chronicle about Kristin Hagerstrom, a Houston woman focusing on helping women in Ramadi as a FSO. She is 57 years old and is the mother of two assigned to a U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team. The team is one of 25 units of military and civilian workers whose mission is to help rebuild regional governments in the country. Her 22 year old son is a Marine who served in Anbar. "This part of the war is just as important as the shooting part of the war," Hagerstrom said via telephone from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
"If you get basis services back to the people, it creates a safe environment. If young men have a job, they won't be tempted to take $500 from al-Qaida to plant an IED," she said. She seeks concrete action over symbolism. "We think it's very important to build up the local government: the imams, the Iraqi police, the tribal leaders." "We stay away from taking a box of school supplies and handing them out."
Focusing on helping women, Hagerstrom said,"One of the things that al-Qaida did was push women out of the schools and out of any place in the economy." "One place we've seen incredible growth is the number of women who will come out to events, who feel safe enough now to do that."
She is in her 17th year of foreign Service. She's been assigned to Peru, South Korea and Burma. She thinks she'll stay in Iraq about a year before her next assignment. She's hoping to be assigned to China.
Hagerstrom's father was an Air Force pilot in WWII, and her mother was a pilot, too. Her son John was her inspiration, though, to serve in Iraq. "My son came here, so I needed to, also. I'm not a warrior. My father and my son are warriors, but there are things I can do to make it better."
"The most gratifying thing is how optimistic the Iraqi people are, "she said. "They really are in this together. They really believe that they can do this."
She sounds like a warrior to me.