FSOs Into Iraq, Leaves In The Wind (updated)

Once more into the breech dear friends, once more! We’re of two minds on this. On the one hand, drafting people without any requisite skills into Cher Condi’s ruinous ‘transformational’ policy of democracy building in Iraq? On its face both absurd and dangerous; on the other hand, we’ve never been impressed with foreign service officers (FSOs) overall, much less about their complaints re a screening lottery process which includes their past postings and their desirability/luxury.

Candidly, with the exception of a handful of people, we’ve never really met any — or heard of any — exceptional foreign service officers. The entire culture of the foreign service is about conformity and ‘not rocking the boat’. It’s hard to describe or convey in a mere blog post but it’s real. The reasons are many, not the least of which is the whole performance review process. A rating of “Excellent” (or less) can and often does kill a career. (It needs to be “Outstanding”). Naturally, any nail that sticks out . . . Accordingly, in the Foreign Service, there are alot of “C” people, some “Bs” a few “B+s”. Very, very few “As”. Once an FSO is in, the relative quality also depends on what “cone” is being discussed. At an embassy, the most desirable and best staffed is the political cone, followed by the economic cone, etc. (FSOs traditionally were also ranked in seniority from 5s (most junior) to 1s (senior)).

“Back in the day”, the old Foreign Service Institute is where FSOs and other government entities would send people for area studies and language training. (Both often seen as career killers or dead ends for ambitious non-FSO apparatchiks. Who needs language skills or area studies to understand the world?). Now, there is this ridiculous, sprawling militarized and fortified campus called — as we noted in another post, with the obsession for bestowing the title of ‘National’ now on everything — the National Foreign Affairs Training Center. They at least were decent enough to name it after George Schultz. Unlike many other secretaries of state, Schultz understood the value of area studies and put a great deal of support behind it.

So, like we said, we are somewhat ambivalent. 1,500 FSOs have already served in Iraq and the regime and its Ambassador Ryan Crocker are looking to fill now 31 slots (48 originally but 17 have since volunteered). Serving in the fortified Green Zone is hardly the “death sentence” that FSOs and their association are claiming.

But it is also true that FSOs in general have no relevant skills for democracy building or civil society creation, let alone tribal arbitration. On the other? It’s hard for the Stiftung to feel sympathy for a Department that overall has been so mediocre for so long. State actually enabled this regime even while pouting in passive aggressive so-called ‘resistance’. If 31 FSOs are forced to give up the cocktail circuit in Paris or Vienna for one year in the Green Zone (ten months in country, 2 months vacation) with a major monetary bonus while their families are taken care of, and then given priority first pick of their next assignment, well there are worse things in the world.