Who Died and Made you Queen struck a nerve with me today with her post about "whining diplomats". You can read her entire post (which says positive things about both the FS and the military) here.
Where exactly do diplomats get off thinking they get to pick where they serve? What part of their oath of office did they conveniently forget? Was it that pesky line and I will well and faithfully execute the duties of the office which I am about to enter. I further solemnly swear that I take this oath freely without mental reservation or purpose of evasion?
Coming from the wife of a military officer who was stop-lossed after September 11th, this is not cool at all. Our soldiers and sailors can't whine their way out of duty in dangerous places overseas, why should our diplomats get to do it? A first step in rebuilding our diplomatic corps is getting Foreign Service Officers willing to serve wherever, whenever, and however the country calls. Maybe State can learn a little something from Defense, after all.
Having our diplomats serve where ever we are told is not the "first step" to rebuilding our diplomatic corps. The Foreign Service was gutted under Clinton as part of the "peace dividend" and we are paying for that gutting now.
There are two issues here. First, there are about 6,500 Foreign Service Officers (diplomats), and another 5,000 or so Foreign Service Specialists (support personnel). The numbers are simply not there to continue staffing the Embassy in Baghdad at a rate of 96% (while the average staffing rate at every other Embassy hovers around 79%) even if every single one of us were willing to go.
She brings up a valid (and oft cited) point about our oath, which brings me to the second issue. We did sign up to be worldwide available. But the "office I am about to enter" has never included active war zones. We recently drew down one Embassy over the possibility of violence relating to a TAXI STRIKE. Sending us into war zones is something new altogether. Yes, you will hear the example of the officers who were forced to go to Vietnam. They too were evacuated when the danger was too great, and further, that was a class of junior officers. ALL junior officers are "directed" for their first two tours.
We are not soldiers, and this means many things. First, like commissioned officers, we can quit. Second, we do not have any training or means of defending ourselves. We are not allowed to carry guns. Third, we generally do not rotate out of our tours to places like Baghdad to places like Germany or the states. Instead, we end up in other garden spots like Sudan or Kosovo. Seventy percent of us serve in hardship posts. And we are happy to. That is what we signed up for. That is what worldwide available is. That we go, over and over, to places like that to serve our country. The difference with Iraq is that in the past, we have been able to count on the Department to get us out of the country when it is too dangerous (and if need be, to have our country send in the soldiers who are trained to deal with that). And now we can not count on that.
Like a soldier, I will go to Iraq if I am ordered (I will not volunteer, but because I have regional experience - yes, I have already served in the Middle East - I will likely be directed there eventually). But unlike a soldier, I will not have any means to defend myself (and God forbid I go after the military leaves!). And unlike Foreign Service Officers of the past, I will not be able to count on being evacuated to safety if rockets start landing on the shipping container I will call home for that year.