Today, the AP reports that U.S. foreign service officers may face compulsory duty in Iraq because of a lack of volunteers:
[T]he State Department is warning diplomats they may be forced to serve in Iraq next year and will soon identify prime candidates for upcoming vacancies in Baghdad and outlying provinces.
A cable sent to all foreign service officers says the department is facing a looming crisis to fill about 300 jobs that will come open in 2009 in Iraq and that it may not get enough qualified volunteers. If it doesn’t, the department will begin selecting diplomats for compulsory duty.
Similarly, last fall, the State Department came under intense criticism for its plan to make approximately 48 diplomats to take forced assignments to Iraq. It eventually dropped the plan when the spots were filled with volunteers.
The State Department’s “looming crisis” stands in stark contrast to statements made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a House Armed Services Committee hearing today, during which she took umbrage at the suggestion that foreign service officers don’t want to serve in Iraq. She said that comments by diplomats who protested the forced assignments last fall were “offen[sive]” and “cast a very bad light on the foreign service.” Watch it:
Rice tried to downplay a town hall meeting last November, during which a diplomat called serving in Iraq a “potential death sentence.” Rice said the remark “was a comment, from a person, who said that he felt in danger in the Green Zone.” But what she left out was that many of the several hundred foreign service officers at the meeting applauded the remarks.
A January poll found that 48 percent of diplomats opposed the war in Iraq, citing “disagreement” with the Bush administration’s policies. Just 18 percent said Rice was “doing a good job protecting their profession.”
First of all, town halls are self-selecting, and I think you will find that was a comment, from a person, who said that he felt in danger in the Green Zone. The great majority of that town hall was not even about assignments to Iraq. The last couple of comments were about assignments to Iraq.
I will tell you, the blogs were lit up in the Department of State by people who were offended — and I mean foreign service officers who were serving not just in Iraq and in Afghanistan and Islamabad, but serving in the deep dark jungles of Guatemala as well, — who were absolutely — or the highlands of Guatemala — who were absolutely offended by those comments.
Foreign service officers are still serving in dangerous posts, they’re still serving in posts where they cannot be accompanied by family, and I had no trouble after saying I was prepared to direct assignments to Iraq, no trouble not just in getting the right people, but in getting them quickly for our assignments in Iraq.
To be fair, we had to change some policies in the way that we deal with people and where their families can stay and so forth, but I’m really proud of the response of foreign service offices. And if I may just give you one illustration of that. I have now, with Amb. Crocker, four people who gave up ambassadorships to go and serve in Iraq alongside him. And that is the true spirit of the foreign service.
I was deeply offended myself, and deeply sorry that these people who had self-selected into this town hall went out of their way, to my view, cast a very bad light on the foreign service.