Saturday, October 27, 2007

State Dept. To Diplomats: Go To Iraq or Go Look for Another Job

You've heard of the economic draft -- now we have the diplomatic draft:

The State Department will order as many as 50 U.S. diplomats to take posts in Iraq next year because of expected shortfalls in filling openings there, the first such large-scale forced assignment since the Vietnam War.

On Monday, 200 to 300 employees will be notified of their selection as "prime candidates" for 50 open positions in Iraq, said Harry K. Thomas, director general of the Foreign Service. Some are expected to respond by volunteering, he said. However, if an insufficient number volunteers by Nov. 12, a department panel will determine which ones will be ordered to report to the Baghdad embassy next summer.

"If people say they want to go to Iraq, we will take them," Thomas said in an interview. But "we have to move now, because we can't hold up the process." Those on the list were selected by factors including grade, specialty and language skill, as well as "people who have not had a recent hardship tour," he said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice previewed a possible shortfall in June, when she ordered that positions in Iraq be filled before any other openings at the State Department headquarters in Washington or abroad are available. At the time, Rice said it was her "fervent hope" that sufficient numbers would continue to volunteer. Her order followed a request by Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker in Baghdad for an increase in the number and quality of economic and political officers.

Although a few skilled individuals were ordered to "hard-to-fill" diplomatic posts in past decades, there have been no mass "directed assignments" in the Foreign Service since 1969, when an entire class of 15 to 20 entry-level officers was sent to Vietnam, Thomas said.

Those who receive the selection letters will have 10 days to file a written notice of objection. The review panel will consider the objections, but Thomas made clear that a serious, documented medical condition is likely to be the only valid excuse. The department has the authority to fire anyone who refuses to accept an assignment.

Ron Beasley thinks at least some current diplomats are thinking about helicopters on rooftops.

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