At a meeting at the State Department in Washington late last month, hundreds of angry diplomats protested a government plan to force them to accept assignments in Iraq. Previously, assignments in Iraq had been on a voluntary basis, but because of the present risks involved there, as many as 50 vacancies currently exist. The State Department plans to make up the shortfall by ordering some of its personnel to serve at the American Embassy in Iraq, whether the diplomats like it or not.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to stop the revolt by reminding the diplomats that it is their duty to serve their country regardless of the risks involved. Indeed, all foreign service officers sign an agreement and take an oath to accept any diplomatic posting worldwide, regardless of the danger involved or any personal feelings they may have about such an assignment. “Our mission in Iraq is the most essential foreign policy and national security priority for our nation,” said Rice.

The ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said all diplomats have a solemn responsibility to place the nation’s interest over their own, “and those that don’t are in the wrong business.” California congressman Duncan Hunter [R-Calif.] had an even blunter message: the balking diplomats should be fired and replaced by U.S. military troops who were discharged because of battle injuries, but who still want to serve their country. Hunter said there are plenty of U.S. soldiers and marines at Bethesda Naval Hospital and Walter Reed Army Hospital who would love to embark on new careers. Hunter said he met briefly with President Bush and that the president indicated he might consider the idea.

At that contentious meeting of some 300 foreign service officers who oppose the “directed assignment” to Iraq, senior diplomat Jack Croddy said, “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?”

As Dana Carvey’s “church lady” might say, “Isn’t that precious?” Imagine the reaction of the parents, spouses, and loved ones of a soldier who volunteered to serve and is now billeted to serve in Iraq! Imagine further the effect that Croddy’s self-serving dispensation might have on recruiting efforts for more enlistments in the armed forces. The well-compensated members of the State Department’s diplomatic corps are not free to pick and choose assignments. A condition of employment is the requirement to accept assignments on a worldwide basis. According the State Department regulations, refusal to accept a posting anywhere in the world can result in disciplinary action, including dismissal [Foreign Service Personnel Management Manual, Section 9].

One “Google” article on foreign service jobs with the State Department is titled “Dream Jobs.” It describes the income potential ($130,000 for senior diplomats) plus such perks as embassy housing, moving all belongings to and from their assignment, free air travel back to the U.S. during a two-year tour, observance of all U.S. and local holidays while overseas, and “hardship” incentives (extra pay) while serving in a country that creates some sort of privation. For example, diplomats serving in El Salvador received 5% extra pay and extra R&R because of the likelihood of earthquakes in that country. It should be noted that not all diplomats end up in Iraq or El Salvador. During a 20-year career or longer, many can expect assignments in such places as Paris, London, and Rome. Diplomats are also represented by a union, the American Foreign Service Association.

So far, according to the State Department, three foreign service personnel have been killed in Iraq since the war began. Do the math. There are approximately 11,500 foreign service officers, so the odds of an individual officer being killed are 3,833 to 1, or .0003 percent. Keep in mind also, that terrorists might attack a U.S. embassy anywhere in the world. So some risk exists, regardless of the location. The union says the situation in Iraq is “precarious” and that a new, heavily fortified embassy compound, where the officers live, is still under construction. At the meeting held by the 300 diplomats, it was pointed out that being sent to Iraq “might result in injuries for which the State Department might not be able to provide medical care.”

The United States was founded on the principle of freedom of choice. Currently, no one is being conscripted into military service to fight in Iraq. Likewise, no one is being forced to apply for a job with the State Department. Those who seek these positions voluntarily do so with the clear understanding that they could be assigned anywhere in the world where the United States maintains an embassy or a consulate. Those who apply for these jobs take a solemn oath to serve their country for worldwide availability. Those who suffer from a medical condition or would experience an extreme personal hardship can be exempted from certain assignments.

The question thus arises, in view of the urgency and immediate need of their services in Iraq, why do 300 foreign service officers believe they can refuse to go and still hold on to their jobs? As White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters, “We understand that at a time of war it is distressing for some individuals to serve in these areas. But the mission of the United States is supplemented by the foreign service officers who took an oath to serve their country.” (Emphasis added).

– Chase.Hamil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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