There is a story in today's Washington Post about Matthew Hoh, who is called a Foreign Service Officer, resigning in protest over the war in Afghanistan.
As soon as I heard a few days ago that this story was going to break, I had flashbacks to the whole directed assignments to Iraq debacle. The blogsosphere is already full of this story (google listed 164 hits in just the past 24 hours) and I am just waiting for the inevitable criticism to start: "Those Foreign Service Officers are just a bunch of cowards. They don't want to serve in dangerous places while our men and women in uniform are dying."
So for the record, he wasn't a Foreign Service Officer in the terms you think of. He was hired as a non-career, one-year renewable hire. He was one of those folks hired directly for his experience and expertise, the very kind many have said should be hired rather than the Department going through the time-consuming process of selecting generalists via the Foreign Service Officers Test (FSOT) selection process (which can take a year or more to navigate).
I am not saying we shouldn't make such hires. I have not yet served in Afghanistan, so I can't judge what he experienced or his analysis of it. But I can say that he is not someone who took the written and then oral exam, who went through A-100, who did a consular tour whether he was consular coned or not. So whether you agree or disagree with his motives and decisions, don't direct your praise or criticism at us. We are not one-year renewable hires. We are career officers.
Also for the record, the directed assignments debacle was nonsense from the start. The Department never needed to direct a single person to Iraq and Afghanistan because career officers have and continue to step up and serve in those and other dangerous posts. Of the 1,000 needed in Afghanistan, there are only 80 vacancies. The missions in Afghanistan and Iraq are the only missions staffed at close to 100% precisely because even though we are short-staffed, we are stepping up. Within a few years, it will be rare to find anyone in the Foreign Service who hasn't served in one of those places, many more than once.
State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly clarified for the press that Hoh was not a commissioned Foreign Service Officer. He said that while he does not want to diminish all of the personal sacrifices Hoh made both as a marine and during his four months as a non-career employee with the State Department, it was important to recognize the difference between his resignation and the resignations of Foreign Service Officers who had years invested in careers in the Department.
To date, he said, while there have been resignations of FSOs in protest over Iraq and Bosnia, NO Foreign Service Officers have resigned over Afghanistan.
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