FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
The State Department Staff at the Baghdad Embassy is Embarrassing Itself
A Tuesday New York Times article called “U.S. Planning to Slash Iraq Embassy Staff by as Much as Half” purported to describe the plight of U.S. State Department employees in Iraq, whose diplomatic efforts are being rebuffed by a host nation and government that has little use for them. According to the Times, the 16,000 employees (including 2,000 diplomats) at “the $750 million embassy building, the largest of its kind in the world, were billed as necessary to nurture a postwar Iraq on its shaky path to democracy and establish normal relations between two countries linked by blood and mutual suspicion. But the Americans have been frustrated by what they see as Iraqi obstructionism and are now largely confined to the embassy because of security concerns, unable to interact enough with ordinary Iraqis to justify the $6 billion annual price tag.”
Times reporter Tim Arango goes on to describe the hardships being suffered by State employees at the hands of the Iraqis (emphasis added):
After the American troops departed in December, life became more difficult for the thousands of diplomats and contractors left behind. Convoys of food that had been escorted by the United States military from Kuwait were delayed at border crossings as Iraqis demanded documentation that the Americans were unaccustomed to providing…
At every turn, the Americans say, the Iraqi government has interfered with the activities of the diplomatic mission, one they grant that the Iraqis never asked for or agreed upon. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s office — and sometimes even the prime minister himself — now must approve visas for all Americans, resulting in lengthy delays. American diplomats have had trouble setting up meetings with Iraqi officials.
For their part, the Iraqis say they are simply enforcing their laws and protecting their sovereignty in the absence of a working agreement with the Americans on the embassy.
While the bolded lines above should demonstrate how ill-advised (and poorly thought through) the State buildup was in the first place, this paragraph jammed into the middle of the article shows just how sensitive our vaunted State employees are to the hardships of “deployed” life:
Within days, the salad bar at the embassy dining hall ran low. Sometimes there was no sugar or Splenda for coffee. On chicken-wing night, wings were rationed at six per person. Over the holidays, housing units were stocked with Meals Ready to Eat, the prepared food for soldiers in the field.
Emphasis added once again, of course. You know who I’m sure is full of sympathy for these poor State employees? Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, many of whom were deployed to Iraq multiple times, had roughly zero of the niceties the embassy staff enjoys on a daily basis, and would have gladly accepted a half-dozen chicken wings at meal time (not to mention a dip in the embassy pool).
Lest we forget, many of these same diplomats who are complaining to the public through the New York Times about the criminally torturous delay in the delivery of their precious Splenda fought tooth and nail to avoid being posted in Baghdad in the first place. As Bill Kristol and the late Dean Barnett wrote, in 2007:
the State Department found itself enmeshed in a surprisingly intense internal dust-up. Not enough career diplomats at Foggy Bottom were volunteering to serve in Baghdad. To remedy this situation, the State Department announced its intention to assign some foreign service officers to Baghdad, whether they volunteered or not. This announcement triggered an urgent State Department “town hall” meeting that took place October 31, where one Jack Croddy, a senior foreign service officer, spoke out. “It’s one thing if someone believes in what’s going on over there and volunteers, but it’s another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment,” Croddy carped. “I’m sorry, but basically that’s a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?”
What has happened to any sense of decency and propriety when a senior foreign service officer can say such a thing in public? Or when the State Department countenances a meeting that invites such a public display of petulance? Do the foreign service officers in Washington feel no sense of solidarity, if not with our soldiers, at least with Ambassador Ryan Crocker and their colleagues serving in Baghdad? Serving in Iraq is hazardous duty. It seems that three State Department employees have died there since 2004, among some 1,500 who have served or are now serving in Iraq.
At the same time, more State Department employees have been killed by al Qaeda and allied groups outside Iraq, in East Africa and Jordan and elsewhere, in recent years. Does their sacrifice count for nothing? Is the State Department not also involved in fighting these brutal terrorists? Are timidity and grievance-mongering appropriate for senior U.S. government officials engaged in the conduct of the nation’s foreign policy?
It’s certainly the prerogative of government employees not to “believe in what’s going on over there.” But until they resign, they are still supposed to help carry out U.S. government policy.
Now the poor diplomats assigned to the Baghdad embassy have been sentenced not to death, as one predicted five years ago, but to a life with occasionally delayed deliveries of Splenda. The horror.
Back to the Times article. Arango writes (emphasis added):
The swift realization among some top officials that the diplomatic buildup may have been ill advised represents a remarkable pivot for the State Department, in that officials spent more than a year planning the expansion and that many of the thousands of additional personnel have only recently arrived.
So the wizards at State has suddenly realized that constructing a 104-acre, $750,000,000.00 embassy complex and building up the embassy staff to 16,000 people (including 2,000 diplomats and several times more contractors), without running either by the Iraqis first, “may have been ill advised.”