Friday, November 02, 2007

State Dept. staff protesting against Iraq assignments

Juan Cole has taken up the cause of career diplomats who are objecting to involuntary assignment to Iraq.

Pat Lang and Philip Carter do not sympathize with the diplomats' protest. Lang argues that for the Foreign Service proper, "They are not members of the uniformed services, but nevertheless are actually something more than mere employees. Like soldiers they are sworn to their duty when commissioned."

Carter advises them to "suck it up folks". And he makes the point, "Rarely have we seen clearer evidence in support of the statement that 'America is not at war; only America's military is at war'." But Cole also has a valid practical point:

... [T]ypically embassies in war zones are shut down by the secretary of state and the president for precisely this reason. Foreign Service Officers are civilians. They are not combat personnel and cannot perform combat duties. Indeed, if they had any military aspect it would doom their entire mission and make them useless.
At the risk of sounding like a Mugmump on the issue, I think there is validity in both perspectives. The State Department civilians have valid objections to being sent to the Green Zone in Baghdad. But Foreign Service personnel do have an obligation to accept hazardous assignments when needed, and they do have the option to quit their jobs if they strongly object, though quitting can have a big financial impact on both current income and pensions.

That's why it makes sense to me to see this incident as a particular kind of antiwar dissent. People not only have perfectly sensible practical personal concerns about very hazardous duty in a war zone. They also have concerns about taking on such duty in a situation where they are unlikely to contribute much beneficial, and may even object to the very nature of their assignment. Cole argues that they are being sent there to serve as "a shadow colonial administration of Iraq, which is not their job".

So, when activists from the 60s are wringing their hands over the supposed lack of an antiwar movement, this is one more place to look for it.

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