Embassy Staff In Baghdad Inadequate
Our ambassador to Iraq believes the State Department’s contingency there is inadequate.
Ryan C. Crocker, the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, bluntly told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a cable dated May 31 that the embassy in Baghdad — the largest and most expensive U.S. embassy — lacks enough well-qualified staff members and that its security rules are too restrictive for Foreign Service officers to do their jobs. “Simply put, we cannot do the nation’s most important work if we do not have the Department’s best people,” Crocker said in the memo.
The unclassified cable underscores the State Department’s struggle to find its role in the turmoil in Iraq. With a 2007 budget of more than $1 billion and a staff that has expanded to more than 1,000 Americans and 4,000 third-country nationals, the embassy has become the center of a bureaucratic battle between Crocker, who wants to strengthen the staff, and some members of Congress, who are increasingly skeptical about the diplomatic mission’s rising costs.
“In essence, the issue is whether we are a Department and a Service at war,” Crocker wrote. “If we are, we need to organize and prioritize in a way that reflects this, something we have not done thus far.” In the memo, Crocker drew upon the recommendations of a management review he requested for the embassy shortly after arriving in Baghdad two months ago.
But some lawmakers have balked at what they consider the unbridled expansion of the embassy. “Having said over and over again that we don’t want to be seen as an occupying force in Iraq, we’re building the largest embassy that we have. . . . And it just seems to grow and grow and grow,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said to Rice during a hearing last month. “Can we just review who we really need and send the rest of the people home?”
Crocker’s aims seem mutually exclusive. One can’t simultaneously have a giant staff on a war footing and a normal embassy with unobtrusive security. It’s unclear, too, what he wants additional staff to do. Certainly, 5000 people strikes me as a massive contingent.
Steve Benen and Kevin Drum both argue that the staffing problems can be traced to the decision by the Bush team to staff the Coalition Provisional Authority with loyalists from “the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks, and GOP activists” and that it’s understandable that the State Department’s best and brightest aren’t eager to sign up to clean up the mess. There’s certainly something to that, although the policy was abandoned years ago.
Mostly, as John Burgess and I argued recently, it’s a matter of the real differences in culture between State and Defense. Long tours of duty in hostile fire zones isn’t what FSOs sign on for.