Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Struck Nerve

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.

She writes:
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.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments; they were thought-provoking. I sort of think my post was rather cherry-picked and that it starts with an acknowledgment of the role both our departments play in attaining policy objectives. I replied to your comment on my post, I'll add it here in hopes of more fully explaining myself:

Your points are compelling, and raise some issues I hadn't thought of. I agree that both the foreign and armed services were gutted and our national interest suffers as a result.

After reading your post, I realize I came to take for granted what the armed services throw around as "the inherent right of self-defense". My husband carries a gun on missions and is, by himself, the sole authority on when it should be used - he needs no one else's permission. Under the principle of sovereign immunity, even the ships themselves are sovereign United States territory, and even to unreasonably detain one is considered an act of war subject to retaliation.

The issue, as you see, is visceral for me, as I can tell it is for you too. I pray for all those who serve our country, whether they take their instructions from the Pentagon or from Foggy Bottom.

Thanks for your service. I respect and am grateful for what you do.

Digger said...

Thanks to you and your husband too for your service (because military and diplomatic spouses also serve, and I think lots of folks outside the services forget that).

It is visceral for me too, because I am very proud of the work we do and proud to serve my country. I didn't mean to cherry pick your post...I do appreciate you laying out the strengths and weaknesses of both the military and the foreign service. I have edited the original post to make it clear where folks can go to read your entire post.

Anonymous said...

I think the 1990s did your department a far greater disservice than ours, and I don't remember if I said it but I meant to - is that the credibility of our military is weakened without a credible diplomatic corps to wield the "soft power".

And the funny thing is? I'm a mom. I have three girls, ages 7, 5, and 3. I'm not only a Navy wife, but grew up as a Navy daughter. One of my goals as a family member is to keep the fighting over there and not let it come home to my kids, as much as I'm able. We live in Warrenton and my husband takes the VRE to work so we can get out of the city.

The first thing I said in my post this morning was that this was my first ever post on political matters. Maybe I should just go back to writing about wifing and mommying. :-) I will, however, continue to read your writing. Again, thanks for what you do and wish you the best.

Anonymous said...

Bravo to both of you for this civilized discourse! It is a breath of fresh air after all the stale hot air aspirated over this issue in other media.

Consul-At-Arms said...

Well, most of us are not soldiers, although, as a group, more of us are or were soldiers than would be so in any similarly-sized group of randomly selected fellow citizens. In other words, we are, like federal employees in general, more likely to have served our country in uniform than the average American. Which I don't think reflects negatively on either group.

I've quoted you and linked to you here: