Diplomatic Draft to Occur in Iraq

The Washington Post reports today that due to foreseen shortfalls in the number of diplomats volunteering to serve in Iraq, up to 50 foreign service officers may be “drafted” into service.

Over 10% of the diplomatic core has already served in Iraq, which “has become the largest U.S. Embassy in history.” It currently employs nearly 6000 people and has only gotten larger since its reopening in 2004, says the Post.

The “recruits” are tipped to fill positions with the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), which were intended to be staffed by diplomats and civilians. When the relatively small State Department couldn’t muster enough employees, the Pentagon sent staff to work instead. The State Department has continued to seek volunteers for the positions, but nevertheless came up short.

The Post writes that 200-300 officers will receive written notification that they are “prime candidates” for service in Iraq, with the expectation that most, if not all, will understand they should volunteer. Exceptions will be made only for documented medical reasons. As the State Department has the right to direct the service of its employees, those who refuse to serve can be fired.

The article notes that the last diplomatic draft occurred during the Vietnam War, when 10-15 entry-level officers were sent to Vietnam four years after the first troops. In contrast, the current draft will affect in one year five times that number of experienced officers with years of service in political and economic spheres. While the article outlines the benefits awarded to foreign service officers in this hardship post, it sadly fails to mention the risks they face while serving their one-year tour. How many foreign service officers have been injured or killed in Iraq in the line of duty? Have any been kidnapped? Must they live together in a guarded compound? The psychological costs noted only hint at the physical.

Further, what impact will the draft have on morale and on the number of employees volunteering for service? Might the State Department follow the military model, keeping its recruits longer than promised and calling them back for extended tours? Will voluntary vs. involuntary service in Iraq become a litmus test within the State Department? Without further expansion, half of the department will have served in Iraq in little over a decade. Will this affect the ability to recruit talented new applicants into America’s diplomacy apparatus?

Thanks to Courtney for the link to the article.

— posted by poetloverrebelspy


5 Responses to Diplomatic Draft to Occur in Iraq

  1. Dana says:

    I also recently heard that every new State Dept. employee has to do a year in the passport office, because they’re so behind. (Total hearsay, of course.) Sounds like fun times for people with foreign service aspirations.

  2. Courtney says:

    My dad is a retired State Department officer who served hardship tours in (I think) seven countries over his 30 year career, and he seems to be rolling his eyes at the frantic responses that some people are having to this “diplomatic draft,” for a handful of reasons: it’s not really a draft, it’s part of the job description, and Iraq is not the most dangerous place where American diplomats are serving.

    It’s not really a draft: Anyone who is assigned to Iraq who doesn’t want to go can quit or be fired. People quit the Foreign Service all the time, it’s not that big of a deal. If I refused to do something that my job requires of me, I’d be in the same situation. Military service people have no such freedom, they have to go where they’re told and do what they’re told or they wind up court martialed. And even they haven’t been drafted. They volunteered. We haven’t had a draft in this country in decades.

    It’s part of the job description: When Foreign Service officers are hired, they agree to serve their country, period, not when it’s convenient and regardless of politics. Foreign Service officers are needed in Iraq. Do the math.

    It’s not the most dangerous place where American diplomats are serving, or have served: Over the course of my dad’s career, American embassies have been bombed in Tanzania, Kenya, Beirut, Pakistan. American diplomats have been taken hostage and killed at the Iranian embassy. American diplomats have been murdered in Jordan, Pakistan, Yemen, Grenada. My dad has never been at any of the most dangerous posts, but he has been through coups in Thailand, revolutions in Poland. During the first Iraq war, intelligence suggested that Americans in China might be targeted by Iraqis and he had to take extra security measures. In Kosovo and Albania he could not leave his secure base housing without an armed guard. The US has embassies in countries where violence and civil war are common, and hundreds of American Foreign Service officers have risked their lives to serve their country in these places, and continue to do so.

    My dad’s kind of crazy, though. He says if he were not retired he would probably volunteer to go to Baghdad. The pay is great, the perks are better, and the living expenses are not existent.

    Dana – my understanding is that new State Department hires have always had to do at least a couple of years of more drudgery work before they get to take on more interesting assignments.

  3. Dana says:

    Courtney – Yeah, I know. I just find it amusing that right now they have to do it by processing passports, because a big part of my current job at the moment involves making sure students going abroad have their passports updated. Now I get to picture poor, idealistic State Dept. newbies processing passport after passport, dreaming that someday they too might get to actually use one again. Then again, I’m glad they’re there, because my students NEED passports NOW.

    Very good point about State Dept. officials always having to go where they’re assigned anyway. Kind of a “duh,” once the hysteria of “they’re being sent to Iraq!” is taken out of the equation.

  4. poetloverrebelspy says:

    Here’s the real question: yes, State Dept. employees *in theory* have to go wherever they’re sent, but how often does that really happen? Usually they fill out a list with places they’re inclined to, they rotate in and out of “hardship” posts — but these are all places that they have selected themselves, no? Courtney, it seems that the dept. has run out of volunteers like your dad. This decision to “draft” is one which will affect up to 50% of the dept. in the next 10 years.

    He also makes the point that other bureaus are more dangerous. Yet the State Dept. doesn’t find themselves struggling to fill those posts, do they? Is the difference here purely psychological, or is it more related to the sheer size of the Iraqi Embassy?

  5. poetloverrebelspy says:

    Here’s an update on the situation.

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