"Hell no, we won't go!' say U.S. diplomats
- "Hell no, we won't go!' say U.S. diplomats
October 31, 2007
WASHINGTON The usually staid corridors of the U.S. State Department
erupted Wednesday with the sounds of a diplomatic revolt over a
management decision to force foreign service officers to take jobs in
Iraq under threat of dismissal.
With some likening it to a "potential death sentence," several hundred
U.S. diplomats vented anger and frustration at the largest diplomatic
call-up since Vietnam. In a contentious hour-long "town hall meeting,"
diplomats faced off with officials behind the order that will require
some to serve at the embassy in Baghdad and outlying provinces.
Many expressed serious concern about the ethics of sending diplomats
against their will to work in a war zone where the embassy staff is
largely confined to the protected "Green Zone" as the department
reviews use of private security guards to protect its staff.
"Incoming is coming in every day, rockets are hitting the Green Zone,"
said Jack Croddy, a senior foreign service officer who once worked as
a political adviser with NATO forces.
He and others directly confronted Foreign Service Director General
Harry Thomas, who approved the move to "directed assignments" late
last Friday to make up for a lack of volunteers willing to go to Iraq.
"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," Mr. Croddy said. "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?"
His remarks were met with loud and sustained applause from the
approximately 300 diplomats at the meeting.
Mr. Thomas responded by saying the comments were "filled with
inaccuracies" but did not elaborate until challenged by the head of
the diplomats' union, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA),
who, like Mr. Croddy and others, demanded to know why many learned of
the decision from news reports.
Mr. Thomas took full responsibility for the late notification but
objected when AFSA President John Naland said a recent survey found
only 12 per cent of the union's membership believed Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice was "fighting for them."
"That's their right but they're wrong," Mr. Thomas said, prompting a
"Sometimes, if it's 88 to 12, maybe the 88 per cent are correct," Mr.
"88 per cent of the country believed in slavery at one time, was that
correct?" shot back Mr. Thomas, who is black, in a remark that drew
boos from the crowd. "Don't you or anybody else stand there and tell
me I don't care about my colleagues. I am insulted," Mr. Thomas added.
Ms. Rice was not present for the meeting, but her top adviser on Iraq,
David Satterfield, did attend.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack acknowledged the session had
been "pretty emotional" but praised Mr. Thomas for holding it. He also
stressed that all diplomats sign an oath to serve the country that
obligates them to be available to work anywhere in the world.
"It's a pretty sensitive topic and understandably, some people are
going to have some pretty strong feelings about it," Mr. McCormack
told reporters after the meeting. "Ultimately, our mission in Iraq is
national policy, it is the foreign policy set out by the secretary as
well as the president of the United States.
He added that the results of the AFSA poll about Ms. Rice were "very
unfortunate" because "she is deeply concerned with, by and involved in
the management decisions regarding the foreign service (and) working
as hard as she possibly can to get the resources for the State
Other diplomats at the meeting did not object to the idea of directed
assignments but questioned why the State Department had been slow to
respond to the medical needs of those who had served in dangerous posts.
"I would just urge you, now that now we are looking at compulsory
service in a war zone, that we have a moral imperative as an agency to
take care of people who ... come back with war wounds," said Rachel
Schnelling, a diplomat who served in Basra, Iraq and said the
department had been unresponsive to requests for mental heath care.
"I asked for treatment and I didn't get any of it," she said in
comments greeted with a standing ovation.
Mr. Thomas, who has been in his current job for just a few months,
said the department was working on improving its response to
stress-related disorders that "we did not anticipate."
Under the new order, 200 to 300 diplomats have been identified as
"prime candidates" to fill 48 vacancies that will open next year at
the Baghdad embassy and in the provinces. Those notified have 10 days
to accept or reject the position. If not enough say yes, some will be
ordered to go.
Only those with compelling reasons, such as a medical condition or
extreme personal hardship, will be exempt from disciplinary action.
Diplomats forced into service in Iraq will receive the same extra
hardship pay, vacation time and choice of future assignments as those
who have volunteered.
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