Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Before The Inevitable Criticism Starts...

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.

Just saying.

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.


m said...

This has always baffled me - even though the Department never needed to direct anyone, I worked with two individuals who resigned rather than be sent to Iraq after being told by their CDOs (two different people) that those were their only choices. Regardless of whether or not those CDOs were wrong, they held the power in the situation (or, at least, appeared to) and the employees took them at their word. How does the Department track those? Is it considered a resignation only and not a forced choice - directed or resign?

Digger said...

I don't know if the Department tracks those. I would bet not. And they have not, to my knowledge, actually gone through the steps of directing anyone yet...I think it is more like a game of chicken.

We miss you, by the way.

Brian... said...

Your initial reaction to the Hoh resignation becoming public was different than mine, but it was enlightening to read. I wasn't a part of the Department back when the directed assignments were getting a lot of media attention.

What is most frustrating is the focus on the resignation and not possible solutions to the problems he identifies.

Anonymous said...

Digger, thanks for your blog.

What is the role of people in Hoh's position within the greater FS? Are there many people hired on temporary positions in places like Afghanistan/Iraq?


Digger said...

They can be hired for any of a variety of positions. So for him, he was the head of a PRT. I don't know how many such appointments there are within the State Department.

jc said...

As you note, the Spokesperson tried to make very clear that this was different from the resignation of a Foreign Service Officer and thus downplay the implications.

With that said, I'm disappointed that the Spokesperson is either poorly informed or disingenuous in suggesting that Matt Hoh's appointment was of a very rare type and was not a 3161 position like those in Iraq. I've heard the Limited Non-Career positions in Afghanistan referred to as "3161s" (by people trying to fill them). Having not read the underlying legislation, I don't know whether LNC hiring in Afghanistan is based on a different authority than that in Iraq, but the talk about a "civilian surge" in Afghanistan - and the job announcements posted to USAJOBS indicate that if this type of appointment is now rare in Afghanistan that may not continue to be true in the future.

jc said...

Should have mentioned earlier that the Washington Post story does point out that he was on a limited non career appointment. You have to read to the third page (on the internet) to find that out, but it's there.

Rob said...

Most of the S/CRS and even S/SRAP people I have met have expressed openly how much they don't want to be in-country.

That attitude persists today in my ny gig where I interact with SRAP personnel everyday of the week. As recently as 45 minutes ago.

Does that mean FSO's like yourself are the exception, and not the rule? I would hope not, I can only go off what I have seen (which is 4 deployments in multiple theaters, including HOA).

Alison said...

Great post, thank you. There is indeed a large difference between giving up a long-term career and resigning from a temporary position. For the same reason, though, I suspect that there are career FSOs who felt the same way as Hoh but were not willing to abandon their careers in order to make a public statement about it. I hope that such people will make good use of the dissent channel.

Anonymous said...

YES! As an FSO who was forced to do 20 months and 73,000 Non-Immigrant Visa adjudications in two visa mills on two continents before getting his ass kicked on a semi-weekly basis by Ambassador Ricciardone for a typo in the 12th paragraph of a cable, Matthew Hoh, while a brave man doing an important job, obviously was not cut out for work as a "Foreign Service Officer.' The one thing they teach you in A-100 is that if you quit, it's a one-day story. Stay in, write a dissent cable, and you actually might change things.

Anonymous said...

Good Morning,

I realize this is a bit dated but I came across your blog while searching for something completely unrelated and I have heard all too many FSO feel the need to point out that Matt was not an official FSO. Can you explain why this is so important because I have never really been able to grasp it?

I have known Matthew for many years and, with all due respect, find your need to categorize him as "not an FSO" offensive. It smacks of the typical FSO elitist attitude that is so pervasive and so unfortunate.

You wrote: "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." Perhaps I misread your tone and if so I apologize.

Matt may not have taken the exam or gone through A-100 but he is brilliant - I can tell you that - having known him for more than 10 years. Also, I might respectfully ask if you have gone through Marine Basic Training or received a metal of honor for commanding 200 men and women in a war zone or seen several of your closest friends blown up in front of you...or cleaned the car of one of your soldiers that committed suicide because he was discharged from the Marines for having depression.

My point is that it should not matter whether or not he went through A-100. I would argue that his intellect and experience more than qualified him to serve in an Foreign Service designated post. He is an American citizen that served the United States in many different capacities and he (and his resignation) should be treated by the diplomatic community with respect, even if you disagree with his beliefs.

Digger said...

I have no doubt of his intellect or his devotion to service. That was never my point. You are correct that I have never gone through Marine basic training or done many of the things he has. Which is why, even though I could serve as part of a Marine unit in a PRT, I would never call myself a Marine. My particular concern when I wrote this was that by identifying himself as a Foreign Service Officer when he resigned, he would reopen the floodgaes of all of the critics of the Foreign Service who think we are afraid to serve in dangerous places.