Wednesday, June 25, 2008

WP: 4 Americans Die in Attack During Sadr City Meeting

In today's Washington Post:

4 Americans Die in Attack During Sadr City Meeting
State Dept. Governance Specialist Is Among Victims

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service

BAGHDAD, June 24 -- Steven L. Farley, a State Department official working to build up the local government in the Baghdad enclave of Sadr City, knew he and his colleagues had taken a bold step, his son Brett recalled Tuesday.

Farley and other U.S. officials had learned that the Sadr City District Council's acting chairman was loyal to the anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and had urged other members of the local advisory group to force the man to resign.

That was last week. On Tuesday, Farley, 57, and three other Americans were killed when a bomb exploded in the District Council building, just minutes before the selection of a new chairman was to begin.

Capitalizing on recent security gains in Iraq, U.S. soldiers and diplomats have waded deep into Iraqi politics in an effort to build moderate and responsive government bodies that they hope will erode the appeal of extremists.

Tuesday's attack, which came a day after an enraged former council member in a small town south of Baghdad fatally shot two U.S. soldiers after a meeting, underscored how perilous that mission remains.

"He was a great father and a patriot," Farley's oldest son, Brett, 31, said in a telephone interview from Crescent, Okla. "He said plainly that he was willing to die doing this. He was willing to die for his country."

U.S. officials did not identify the three other Americans killed in the attack. One was a civilian who worked for the Department of Defense and the two others were soldiers. A third American soldier was wounded.


Brett Farley said he learned of the events that preceded the bombing from his father. Sadr City District Council member Jawad Attabi and Maj. Ahmed Khalaf Hussein, an Iraqi army official in Sadr City familiar with the investigation, corroborated the account.

The bomb detonated about 9:30 a.m. inside the council building, which is in the southern portion of the vast Shiite area, a stronghold of Sadr's. The district, home to roughly 2 million people, is the launching site for most rockets fired into the Green Zone, the fortified area housing many U.S. and Iraqi officials, and is the nucleus of anti-American sentiment and rhetoric in Iraq.


The security gains encouraged Farley, his son said. "The floodgates were now open," he recalled his father saying. "He was very enthusiastic."


Brett Farley said his father embraced his work. In February, he and a colleague traveled with Iraqi council members to the United States to give them a glimpse of local politics in American cities.

Steven Farley was moved by the Iraqi representatives' determination, his son said, noting that several had been assassinated.

"He called them his Iraqi brothers," he said. "These were more than just diplomatic relations."

Tuesday's attack appeared to target Hassan Hussein Shammah, the deputy council chief. He and another council member were wounded in the attack, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

U.S. troops took three men into custody. U.S. military officials found traces of explosives on the men's hands, said Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a U.S. military spokesman.


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in Berlin that Tuesday's attack was a reminder of the risks U.S. diplomats are taking in Iraq. She lauded Farley, of Guthrie, Okla.

"He was one of the hundreds of dedicated men and women serving on Provincial Reconstruction Teams, helping the citizens of Iraq to rebuild and revitalize their local governments," Rice said.

Farley was deployed to Iraq as a Navy Reserve officer and was hired by the State Department last year. His contract would have been up for renewal next April, his son said.


You can read the entire piece here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sec. Rice: Condolences for Our Colleagues in Iraq

Below is a letter of condolence from Secretary Rice for those who lost thier lives this morning in Iraq.

Condolences for Our Colleagues in Iraq

The attack in Sadr City that killed State Department employee Steven L. Farley, along with two civilian employees from DOD and two military personnel today, is a terrible reminder of the dangers that our colleagues face daily in advancing our critical foreign policy goals.

Steven Farley’s devotion to public service was reflected in his many years of duty in the United States Navy Reserve, and to his hometown of Guthrie, Oklahoma. Farley was mobilized shortly after September 11th, and served with distinction on the staff of the U.S. Seventh Fleet in the western Pacific. Along with thousands of other citizen-patriots, he volunteered to serve in Iraq, joining the State Department in April 2007. He was one of the hundreds of dedicated men and women serving on Provincial Reconstruction Teams, helping the citizens of Iraq to rebuild and revitalize their local governments after years of Saddam’s tyranny.

Our heartfelt sympathy and gratitude go out to Steven Farley’s family and his wife Donna, and to the numerous men and women who worked alongside him in Iraq. I have conveyed my sympathy to Ambassador Ryan Crocker; I salute the courage and commitment of all of our colleagues in Iraq.

Sad News Out of Baghdad

This is just in from CNN:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An explosion rocked a municipal building Tuesday in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, killing six Iraqis, two U.S. soldiers and two civilian U.S. Embassy employees, officials said.

The U.S. military said troops detained a suspect in connection with the attack. The person was captured "fleeing the scene and tested positive for explosive residue," the military said.

The embassy official said the American civilians include "a direct hire civilian employee of the Department of State and a Department of Defense civilian employee."

The blast occurred during a meeting of the district advisory council in Sadr City, and U.S. troops were in the area, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.

The U.S. military confirmed the deaths, saying an American-led coalition soldier and three council members also were wounded. There have been 4,106 U.S. service members killed since the Iraq war began.

Ten Iraqis were wounded in the blast, an Interior Ministry official said.

The military blamed Iranian-backed militants that U.S. officials call Special Groups for Tuesday's attack.

"This was the fourth meeting of this district council, led by hard-working Iraqis determined to make a difference and set Sadr City off on the right path. Special Groups are afraid of progress and afraid of empowering the people," said Lt. Col. John Digiambatista of the 4th Infantry Division.

The explosion follows a Pentagon report issued Monday that touted a sharp decrease in violence in Iraq in recent months.

Sadr City is the stronghold of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and has seen some of the capital's most intense fighting between Shiite militia members and security forces.

Al-Sadr recently announced his intention to develop a fighting force that would battle U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

A truce was reached last month between the government and al-Sadr's followers, ending weeks of fighting and allowing the Iraqi army to enter Sadr City, but violence persists.

Tuesday's blast comes after gunmen stormed the house of the head of Abu Dsheer City Council on Monday night and fatally shot him.

Mehdi Alwan was an al-Sadr supporter. Abu Dsheer is a Shiite enclave in southern Baghdad's predominantly Sunni Dora district.

The names of the two killed are being withheld pending notification of their families. Our thoughts go out to them.

Monday, June 23, 2008

McCain supports reconstituting USIA

According to a piece in the foreign Policy Association's Public Diplomacy blog, Senator McCain has stated that if elected president, he would reconstitute USIA, the old U.S. Information Agency that was folded into the State Department during the Clinton administration.

In a 2007 op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel, McCain said:

"Dismantling an agency dedicated to promoting America and Americans amounted to unilateral disarmament in the struggle of ideas. Communicating our government’s views on day-to-day issues is what the State Department does. But communicating the idea of America, our purpose, our past and our future is a different task. We need an independent agency with the sole purpose of getting America’s message out in a factual and persuasive manner: managing radio and TV broadcasts to those in need of objective news; establishing American libraries with Internet access throughout the world; sending Americans overseas and sponsoring foreigners’ visits to America for educational and cultural exchanges; and creating a professional corps of public-diplomacy experts who speak the local language and whose careers are spent promoting American values, ideas, culture and education. And it should recruit the best and brightest not just from the ranks of the Foreign Service but from business, academia and the media.”

I wonder what this would mean for those of us who are public diplomacy coned. Would be be forced to leave State and join the new (old) agency? And what of those who are not only public diplomacy coned, but also part of tandem couples? Would we still be able to be assigned overseas with our spouses?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Kind Words

Liam Schartz with the blog Immigration Daily had some kind words to say about this blog. He quoted the piece I wrote in reponse to Dead Men Working's May 23 piece in his June issue of "Consular Corner," writing:

"Quote of the Corner

"Gays and lesbians too continue to love and have faith in this country even though this country STILL does not love and have faith in us. We are STILL expected to ride at the back of the proverbial bus, and I recognize that other minorities are in similar positions. What has happened is not that the country has recognized that discrimination is wrong so much as it has replaced the socially acceptable targets of derision and discrimination. I hope soon though that our country will love and have faith in all of us, and in particular, recognize the greater patriotism is takes to serve a country that does not keep faith with you."

"Digger," a Foreign Service Officer, on the inequities facing gays and lesbians at the State Department. Digger's superb blog can be found here: "

Thanks Liam!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Baghdad, Beirut embassy dissenters to be honored

The piece below is an AP report on the folks getting dissent awards from AFSA (American Foreign Service Association), our employee association (the article calls it our "union," which is not exactly accurate).

I know two of the three folks getting the award. Luke I met recently, but I met Ambassador Feltman some time ago when he had dinner with a group of us going to serve in NEA. He had previously served as Consul General in Jerusalem and was more than willing to share his wisdom and advice on the post. As a newly minted Junior Officer, I appreaciated his being willing to take the time to talk with us. I am glad to see him being honored.

Baghdad, Beirut embassy dissenters to be honored
By MATTHEW LEE - Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON --Two American diplomats who successfully challenged policy in Iraq and Lebanon last year are being honored at the State Department Thursday for their courage in speaking out.

Former ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman fought plans to build the new embassy in Beirut in an area controlled by Hezbollah militants. Iraq veteran Rachel Schneller called attention to the mental health care needs of diplomats returning from war zones. They are getting awards for constructive dissent from the American Foreign Service Association.

The association is the union for U.S. diplomats. It says Feltman and Schneller showed exemplary courage, integrity and leadership by taking on their superiors in Washington and changing the department's institutional thinking.

In cable after cable, Feltman argued it was unsafe to construct the new embassy on property that was bought for that purpose in 2004 but had later fallen into the hands of Hezbollah. Higher-ups in Washington were insisting on going ahead with the project. Finally, last July, it was put on hold.

"Ambassador Feltman challenged this decision and repeatedly appealed directly to the highest levels of the State Department," his citation reads. "His willingness to take a stand on principle and to question the conventional wisdom in order to protect his embassy personnel exemplifies the best qualities of constructive dissent."

Schneller, who served in Basra, Iraq and returned to the United States with post-traumatic stress disorder, took on the department for its failure to provide adequate mental health care to diplomats who serve in war zones. In internal memos and interviews, Schneller made the case that they deserved similar treatment to members of the military.

Partly as a result, the department created a new mental health care office and adopted new leave guidelines to deal with stress-related disorders that plague up to 17 percent of diplomats serving in danger posts, according to one survey.

"Despite personal sacrifice, Ms. Schneller showed enormous courage in challenging the system on an issue of life and death importance to career diplomats and their families," her citation reads. "(Her) actions exemplify the qualities of constructive dissent by demonstrating the intellectual courage and integrity to challenge the status quo while working within the system."

The awards are given annually by the union, which is also giving a dissent honor to a third diplomat this year, Luke Zahner, who documented serious human right abuses by the military-backed government while working at the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh. Zahner convinced his superiors to report those abuses, according to his citation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Only Slightly Off Topic

I just wanted to say congratulations to all the gay and lesbian couples in California who are getting legally married today. Among them is a lesbian couple, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who have been together for 50 years.

M and I were married in our church, the United Church of Christ. As a denomination, UCC supports same-sex marriage, though because it is Congregational, some congregations do not. Our pastor who performed our wedding at United Church of Chapel Hill, is now in California and today is getting legally married to her partner. I wish them all the best, and hope for the day when my religion will no longer be discriminated against and my marriage too will be legal. And for when the Foreign Service will treat same-sex couples who choose to marry the same way they treat heterosexual couples who choose to marry.

Monday, June 16, 2008

WP Op-Ed: Suited for Diplomacy?

Several of my fellow bloggers have been talking about Suited for Diplomacy?, an Op-Ed by James P. DeHart in Sunday's Washington Post. DeHart is a Foreign Service Officer heading to a PRT in Afghanistan.

DeHart says:
"Today, we're seeing not only transformational diplomacy but also the transformation of diplomacy. Foreign Service officers emerging from war zones are in many cases being promoted ahead of their peers. This is understandable, but as they rise up the chain and gain a bigger say in future personnel decisions, the practitioners of more "traditional" diplomacy may find themselves relegated to an even slower track.

WhirlView wondered why DeHart would have been at Georgetown before the assignment rather than in language training, and wondered if the answer to her question was...

"...contained in his observation that State Department assignments to war zones are fast tracks up the career ladder and that as war zone vets “rise up the chain and (presumably) gain a bigger say in future personnel decisions, the practitioners of more ‘traditional” diplomacy’” may find themselves second class citizens?

I’m not sure I buy that argument. At least until I see the statistics. I would love to see the numbers that demonstrate that Iraq and Afghanistan State Department veterans are, in fact, getting promoted faster than their peers. If someone can point or e-mail them to me – I’d be delighted. Since this is becoming an increasingly divisive issue in the Foreign Service - based from what I can tell primarily on corridor gossip – a systematic, fact-based, transparent study should be an imperative. But maybe I've just missed it.

I don't think tours in war zones should be a ticket to the fast track. I have already witnessed people who had trouble getting promoted narrowly avoid TICing out of service by doing a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan. Yes, I think people who volunteer to serve there are entitled to the money and the choice of onward assignment. And yes, if they do a great job there, they should get promoted. But it shouldn't be a place for officers who are about to be forced from the service to go to reset their clock. That does a disservice to the service, one we will suffer from for generations.

I do agree with WhirlView though that we need a transparent study. I think the transparency of this year's prime candidate exercize is part of the reason there has been less wailing and gnashing of teeth over getting the "you are particularly well qualified" email. I also think identifying potential candidates earlier, so they can use the bid list to their advantage in terms of linking assignments, etc., is helping the process. (That, and telling us about it all BEFORE telling the press.)

DeHart also says:

"In recent years, the number of Foreign Service assignments categorized as "unaccompanied" -- that is, too dangerous for families -- has surged from 200 to 900. If the trend continues, new recruits may no longer view the Foreign Service as a career but as something to do for a few years before settling down to real life -- a bit like the Peace Corps, minus the peace. In a recent survey by the American Foreign Service Association, 44 percent of active Foreign Service officers said that "developments in the last few years" have made it less likely that they will remain in the Foreign Service for a full career.

Oh well. Maybe the State Department leadership will conclude that a new kind of diplomat is needed anyway, that a liberal arts degree isn't the best preparation for someone who has to learn to live with mortar fire. If so, will the diplomat of the future be just a little less cerebral and a little more likely to salute than to offer constructive dissent?"

Diplopundit envisions the following result:

"Let me put myself in the shoes of a candidate who joins the Service at 25 after Grad School. With three overseas assignment and possibly one hard language training, I could be out of the Service after 10 years with marketable skills. At 35, I could start a second career, get married and start a family. And I won't grow thin hair agonizing over tenure, promotion or directed assignments.

I bet this would also solve the problem of Foreign Service spouse employment! Either I don't get married until I am out of the Service or I get married during one of my tours. But either way, ten years would not severely jeopardize the career and retirement prospects of my trailing spouse or partner.

I wonder if the State Department leadership has a table top exercise for this scenario.

I wonder that too.

We're Here! We're Queer! We're in the State Department!

Those in DC might be aware that Saturday was DC's 33rd annual Gay Pride parade. GLIFAA (Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies) participated in the parade and had a booth in the festival the next day.

There were less than two dozen of us who marched in the steady rain, but I think all of us were filled with pride when we passed the announcers booth as they called the name of the organization and said "On the front lines representing you and the country's diplomatic interests in embassy's and consulates around the world."

That's what we are here for.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Backlist: Identity

Backlist has made the difficult decision to leave the service. I struggle with some of the same issues she does and I wish her luck. You can read her entire post here.

... This was the most difficult decision I’ve ever made. After ten years, this job has become who I am. It’s not as if I’ve been bringing work home. It’s that work is home. We live diplomacy. Our friends are diplomats. Everything we do is what country we’re assigned to. When September 11 happened, I was in Africa. Africans provided solace and other American diplomats provided the tiny circle of grieving. That night I watched French television broadcast the same shot of planes and buildings over and over with a woman who I am friends with, was friends with, will always be friends with in part because she sat with me and shared my shock. She has since left the Service also, and I’m sure is happier for it. When I scrubbed Anthrax from the walls of our little mailroom in a bright green bio-hazard suit, identified a friend three days in the river in a hot African morgue, hid under my desk as molotov cocktails shattered on the walls and flames licked American flags, I took those feelings home, assuming I’d be better for it.

But here’s the bottom line: I’m not better for it, I’m worse. I left for DC ten and a half years ago energetic, normal-sized, happy. All the Foreign Service has given me is weight, pain, bruises in my mind, heart and soul. I’ve spent half that time trying to get myself back; to find the woman I recognize in the mirror and convince her to stay. When I stopped getting glimpses of her, I knew it was time to go.

Sometime this summer, I’ll have my last day. I don’t know when it will be yet. I don’t have a job, although I’m working very, very hard to get one. I’m sure that wherever that job is, I’ll find a missing person: me.

Baldwin Discusses Gay Bills in Congressional Limbo

GLBT News Summary for Progressives - Ray's List also covered Wednesday's discussion.

-Baldwin Discusses Gay Bills in Congressional Limbo

The only open lesbian in the U.S. House of Representatives is predicting that in the next session of Congress, bills related to employment non-discrimination and hate crimes will be more successful than legislation aimed at repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) made the comments today at a Center for American Progress forum geared toward highlighting the importance of the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act, which would grant the partners of gay federal employees the same benefits that are available tothe spouses of straight counterparts. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) joined Baldwin in the panel discussion. Other speakers at the event included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest, who resigned his 26-year career as a foreign service officer last year in protest of federal employment practices. Baldwin said she is "very optimistic" that ENDA and a hate crimes measure would pass Congress next session, particularly if Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, who has supported these initiatives, take the White House.

The event was covered by Daily Motion as well, and this site has video of the discussion.

In 1997 President Bill Clinton nominated Jim Hormel to be the first openly gay Ambassador to Luxembourg. After a 20-month politically divisive battle, Secretary Albright swore in Ambassador Hormel. Two years later, in 2001, President Bush nominated Michael Guest to be ambassador to Romania. While there was no battle for confirmation, what both ambassadors had to cope with was an inequitable system that treated them and their committed partners differently under the law. Federal Employees, whether in the foreign service or working in a regional office of HHS, are denied the ability to purchase domestic partner benefits. The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (S. 2521 and H.R. 4838) would provide domestic partnership benefits to all federal civilian employees on the same basis as spousal benefits. These benefits, available for same sex domestic partners of federal employees, would include participation in applicable retirement programs, compensation for work injuries, and life and health insurance benefits. By offering health benefits to the domestic partners of federal employees, employment practices in the federal government would be in line with those of America’s largest and most successful corporations, including AT&T, General Motors, and Raytheon. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Sen Gordon Smith, Rep Tammy Baldwin and others appeared at a June 11, 2008 event at the Center for American Progress (CAPAF) to discuss the current policy and the future.

We Have to Start Somewhere

The Religious Action Center for Reform Judiasm covered Wednesday's panel discussion on the Domestic Partnership and Benefits Act at the Center for American Progress .

"We've Got to Start Somewhere"

By Kate Bigam

In a bipartisan panel yesterday at the Center for American Progress, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) conveyed their strong support for providing Americans in same-sex relationships with domestic partner benefits. The event also featured former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Michael Guest, former U.S. Ambassador to Romania and this country's first openly gay ambassador. Guest resigned last year when he decided the Foreign Service's "inequities were just too strong" in the arena of discrimination against GLBT employees.

Smith's end of the discussion was particularly interesting, especially when an audience member pointed out the proverbial elephant in the room: If Smith is so supportive of GLBT equality, why did he favor 2006's Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have amended the Constitution to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman, and which was vigorously opposed by supporters of the GLBT community? Smith responded passionately, insisting that although his religious beliefs couldn't allow him to support same-sex marriage, he is committed to ensuring GLBT equality in terms of opportunity and benefits (he also supports adding sexual orientation to federal hate crimes laws). What's more, Smith seemed genuinely optimistic that the legislative tides are changing in favor of equality, citing a "change in the hearts and minds of Senators on LGBT issues" and the increasingly popular view amongst members of Congress that providing domestic partner benefits, at least, is "a simple issue of fairness and equality."

Despite our drastically different beliefs on the issue of marriage equality, I very much respect Sen. Gordon Smith's comments on this subject, to which he has clearly given much thought. Ensuring domestic partner benefits is one of many crucial steps that will ultimately lead to full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people - including marriage equality. And we've got to start somewhere.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Domestic Partner Benefits for Federal Employees

I found this today on the Center for American Progress's video blog, SEEPROGRESS. In addition to the text below, you can watch some video highlights from yesterday's panel discussion.

In 1997 President Bill Clinton nominated Jim Hormel to be the first openly gay Ambassador to Luxembourg. After a 20-month politically divisive battle, Secretary Albright swore in Ambassador Hormel. Two years later, in 2001, President Bush nominated Michael Guest to be ambassador to Romania. While there was no battle for confirmation, what both ambassadors had to cope with was an inequitable system that treated them and their committed partners differently under the law. Federal Employees, whether in the foreign service or working in a regional office of HHS, are denied the ability to purchase domestic partner benefits. The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (S. 2521 and H.R. 4838) would provide domestic partnership benefits to all federal civilian employees on the same basis as spousal benefits. These benefits, available for same sex domestic partners of federal employees, would include participation in applicable retirement programs, compensation for work injuries, and life and health insurance benefits. By offering health benefits to the domestic partners of federal employees, employment practices in the federal government would be in line with those of Americas largest and most successful corporations, including AT&T, General Motors, and Raytheon. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Sen Gordon Smith, Rep Tammy Baldwin and others appeared at a June 11, 2008 event at the Center for American Progress (CAPAF) to discuss the current policy and the future.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Domestic partners discriminated against

This event took place today at the Center for American Progress and was covered by Talk Radio News.

Domestic partners discriminated against

The fact that the U.S. government covers the travel cost of a family pet yet does not cover that of a domestic partner was brought up at a discussion held at the Center for American Progress (CAP). Unlike spouses of married foreign service personnel, domestic partners are ineligible for medical benefits, life insurance and are not even permitted to attend a two-day safety training course which the State Department offers to spouses.

Digger comments:
Members of Household are now allowed to attend that course, the Security Overseas Seminar.

Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, spoke during the discussion, recollecting when James Hormel became the first openly gay ambassador appointed by President Clinton to Luxembourg in 1999. Albright also considered former ambassador Michael Guest’s resignation as ambassador to Romania a big loss to U.S. foreign policy. Guest resigned from his post because his partner was unable to receive the same benefits that spouses of his straight colleagues were offered. Albright wondered how America could expect itself to be a leader in promoting civil liberties when it still discriminated its own people.

Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), also speaking at the discussion, pointed out that to an employee, health benefits are second in importance only to salary. Smith described how, in order to keep the best and brightest Americans working in the public sector, equal health benefits should be afforded to all. Also, Smith discussed his theory that a key to reducing health care costs is to widen the pool of those eligible, even if the “paradigms of families get shifted”.

Digger comments:
I was at this event today. I was impressed with all of the speakers, though naturally I would have preferred that Senator Gordon Smith also support gay marriage, which he does not. He is a strong proponent of religious freedom (he sponsored the Smith Amendment, which requires Russia to prove it is not disciminiating against religious groups there before it can get any money from the U.S.), and yet he supports denying religions the right to decide what constitutes a marriage. My church, United Church of Christ, endorses and performs same-sex marriage. M and I were married in our church.

At the presentation, the VP of the center said that there are an estimated 216,000 GLBT folks in the Federal government. And John Podesta, the president of the center and Clinton's former chief of staff, said the cost to give benefits to us would be about $260 million over ten years, a drop in the bucket compared with the total federal budget. Eighty-seven state and local governments already offer benefits to same-sex partners.

Both Baldwin and Smith said they did not expect to put the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act before Congress until the next administration because they feared a presidential veto.

Ambassador Guest finished off the event. He said of his retirement: "the career I loved at first sight had come into conflict with the partner who I had also loved at first sight." He said he had expected more of Secretary Rice and that "this is still discriminatary and it deserves no place in the institution the Secretary leads."

Monday, June 09, 2008

DMW: Why We Don't Soldier Up

Dead Men Working has a comment on the Washington Times editorial that Consul-at-Arms commented on. DMW says:

The Foreign Service is not the military. And comparisons to the military are ill-informed.

It is unfortunate that our leadership has not stepped up to clarify that fact.

It is appalling when the second largest newspaper in our nation's capitol is incapable of telling the difference.

DMW explains in the piece why such comparisons are ill-informed. You can read his entire piece here.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

A Few Good Men (and women)

Consul-at-Arms has an excellent response to an offensive and biased editorial from the Washington Times. The people in the Foreign Service deserve better.

Washington Times Editorial: A few (hundred) good men (and women)

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Foreign Service has not seen great numbers of officers forced to a war zone since the Vietnam war. But the prospect of such "directed assignments" looms today for Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact is, too few Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) have volunteered for these challenging and dangerous positions. An estimated 300 vacancies remain for 2009 - and someone needs to fill them. "Soldier up." Or hit the private sector.

CAA responds:
The really funny thing here is that throwaway phrase "300 vacancies remain" that the writer puts out there without explaining that there are 300 vacancies every year, because they are one-year assignments, and also that they just now beginning to identify candidates to fill them. The jobs aren't even available to be bid upon, so it's hardly as if no one's stepped forward.

Every single position the Foreign Service has fielded in Iraq since 2003 has been filled by a volunteer. Given the small size of the Foreign Service, re-filling those 300 plus jobs each and every year with qualified officers is itself a non-trivial problem, but so far we've been able to pull it off.


Recall that the striped-pants folks partially revolted in November when the prospect of forced tours first emerged. Service in Iraq is "a potential death sentence," one veteran FSO famously complained to Harry K. Thomas Jr., executive secretary of the Department of State and head of the Foreign Service. "Any other embassy in the world would be closed by now."

CAA responds:
And before the CPA was replaced by the first re-opened U.S. embassy in Baghdad, way back in 2004 and while I was still in uniform serving in Iraq, I made the exact same evaluation as another officer reportedly did last year, that at any other U.S. embassy in a security environment like Baghdad's, they'd be evacuating staff and preparing to close up the whole place. Of course, the national mission in Iraq takes precedence over that, but the point remains perfectly valid.

You can read CAA's entire post here.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

AFSA responds to Washington Times cartoon

Below is an AFSA letter that appears in the June 3 Washington Times.

The Washington Times
Letters to the Editor
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Page A-18

Sufficient Volunteers

Your Monday editorial cartoon showing a group of U.S. Foreign Service members holding signs saying "Heck no, we don't want to go" [to serve in the war on terror] does not reflect reality.

First, by representing the Foreign Service as being made up only of white males, the cartoon's conception of our nation's career diplomats appears to be stuck in the year 1950.

Second, the cartoon also misrepresents recent historical fact. All Foreign Service members currently serving in Iraq are volunteers. All Foreign Service members who will rotate to Iraq this summer are volunteers. All Foreign Service members who have served in Iraq since 2003 have been volunteers.

No Foreign Service member has ever had to be ordered to serve in Iraq. The same is true for our diplomats serving in Afghanistan and the dozen other locations designated by the Department of Defense as being combat zones.

The State Department is in the process of selecting Foreign Service volunteers to rotate to Iraq in summer 2009. I am confident that, once again, sufficient volunteers will step forward. I will be one of them.

John K. Naland
American Foreign Service Association

Sad News from Jerusalem

I learned today that one of my FSNs in Jerusalem died this morning.

I have mentioned him before, though not by name. He was 63 years old and had worked for the American Consulate since 1968. He worked with me as a fraud investigator when I was the fraud prevention manager. He seemed to delight in catching people trying to pass fake documents, whether they were Palestinian or Israeli.

He put up with a lot to serve our government. His salary supported 14 members of his family who were unable to work because the Palestinian economy makes it so difficult to find jobs. The Israelis at the checkpoint knew him, and yet every morning, they made this older man who had worked for the U.S. government for half his life, take off his shoes, shirt and belt before letting him pass throught the checkpoint. It was humiliating for him, and yet he endured it so he could support his family.

He always said he would die at that checkpoint.

This morning he did.

TWIST: About those "qualifications"...

The Way I See Things apparently also received a recruitment email. TWIST has some comments on being "particularly well qualified."

I'm Not Really as Qualified as I Claimed I Was


Let's start with the big news: the Department has once again launched the bidding season with a call for volunteers for Iraq. This time they've been a bit more forthcoming, and have sent letters to prospective "volunteers" informing them what jobs they'll be asked to volunteer for. Perhaps finding it out this way, rather than via the Washington Post is the reason that reaction to the letters has been much more muted than it was last year. Perhaps. I'm skeptical myself. My informal survey of the lucky volunteers thus far has revealed a surprising number of people who have already done hardship tours. (Actually, it's not surprising at all---one of the "criteria" for the positions is that you have served in an NEA post in the past. Most NEA posts are hardships.) So building upon this observation, I speculate that there is less wailing and gnashing of teeth this year because these are people who were under no illusion that they could spend their entire careers in posts without hardship or danger.

[A brief aside: it's not actually an illusion that one can spend his or her entire career without serving in a hardship or danger post, despite what our human resources bureau keeps telling us. In fact, since returning to Washington, I've been presented with no small number of role models who not only survive the foreign service without doing their "fair share," but who actually thrive. Click here and here for just two examples.]

Anyway, back to Iraq volunteers...while the reaction has been muted, there has been some. The one or two people I've heard of who are not at hardship posts and have been deemed "qualified" have responded with the plaintive cry that they are not, in fact, qualified for the assignment! This was a consistent theme last year, and one that I've been thinking about a lot. Yes, I suppose that people who already have Arabic and area experience are qualified for these jobs. On the other hand, how many of our colleagues stood up in A-100 when handed a flag and declared, "oh no, I can't go to [fill in the blank]! I'm not qualified!" Better yet, how many people, when they joined the foreign service and were told they would have to be worldwide available, responded, "well, okay, but I'm really only qualified to serve in Canada, because that's the only place I've visited and I only speak English"?


I suspect that the very same people loudly declaring that they should not be sent to Iraq because they are not qualified, would not have the same concerns if the Department suddenly decided to direct them to Europe or Australia.

One could argue that Iraq is a special case. It is a war zone, and, thus, requires more experience than an Embassy in Western Europe. As someone who received one of those "you're qualified, so you're volunteered" letters though, let me assure you that I have no special training in war fighting (or surviving). If Iraq is a special case, nothing in my career as a generalist, including my service in NEA, has especially prepared me for it. I have no background in Iraq and/or its politics. I imagine I'll learn. I am a generalist, afterall, and am supposed to be able to do my job anywhere in the world.

It was really annoying last year to hear some of my colleagues scream and moan and insist that they shouldn't go for any number of reasons. To me that sounded like, "not me, take so and so instead." If the policy of sending so many people to Iraq, including against their will, is bad, it's bad; there's no need for foreign service officers to throw each other to the wolves to limit the personal impact of that bad policy. Some of the outcry last year left a very bad taste in my mouth as I watched at least one A-100 classmate loudly and publicly proclaim that her life was so much more precious than everyone else's and, as a result, it was absurd that the Department would even consider sending her. In the end, they didn't. She has now moved on to complaining about other things, like the inconvenience of flights to her next (non-Iraqi) post.

You can read the entire post here.