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State's Dipnote debate

You've probably been reading all the brouhaha coming from the State Department as there was an almost all-out revolt when foreign service officers were going to be forced to go to Iraq [LAT, 11.14.2007]. (The NYT has an op-ed piece today headlined Send the State Department to War [NYT, 11.14.2007].)

But there is a fascinating Web 2.0 connect here. There is a wide-ranging discussion about the to-go or not-to-go debate taking place on the State Department's new blog, Dipnote. (Read FCW's story about Dipnote here and FCW's Buzz of the Week about Dipnote here.)

The debate started with the official posting A Letter From Iraq to My Overwrought Colleagues, from John Matel, a career foreign service officer (FSO) who is serving as team leader of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Al Asad, Al Anbar Province. Matel has his own blog where he posts regularly from Iraq.

I just finished reading a news article discussing some of my FSO colleagues' vehement and emotional responses to the idea that a few of us might have directed assignments in Iraq. To my vexed and overwrought colleagues, I say take a deep breath and calm down. I have been here for a while now, and you may have been misinformed about life at a PRT.

I personally dislike the whole idea of forced assignments, but we do have to do our jobs. We signed up to be worldwide available. All of us volunteered for this kind of work, and we have enjoyed a pretty sweet lifestyle most of our careers.

I will not repeat what the Marines say when I bring up this subject. I tell them that most FSOs are not wimps and weenies. I will not share this article with them, and I hope they do not see it. How could I explain this wailing and gnashing of teeth? I just tried to explain it to one of my PRT members, a reserve Lt. Col. called up to serve in Iraq. She asked me if all FSOs would get the R&R, extra pay etc. and if it was our job to do things like this. When I answered in the affirmative, she just rolled her eyes.

Calling Iraq a death sentence is just way over the top. I volunteered to come here aware of the risks but confident that I will come safely home, as do the vast majority of soldiers and Marines, who have a lot riskier jobs than we FSOs do.

I wrote a post a couple days ago where I said that perhaps everyone's talents are not best employed in Iraq. That is still true. But I find the sentiments expressed by some at the town hall meeting deeply offensive. What are they implying about me and my choice? And what do they say to our colleagues in the military, who left friends and family to come here and do their jobs? As diplomats, part of our work is to foster peace and understanding. We cannot always be assured that we will serve only in places where peace and understanding are already safely established.

If these guys at the town hall meeting do not want to come to Iraq, that is okay with me. I would not want that sort out here with me anyway. We have enough trouble w/o having to babysit. BUT they are not worldwide available and they might consider the type of job that does not require worldwide availability.

We all know that few FSOs will REALLY be forced to come to Iraq anyway. Our system really does not work like that. This sound and fury at Foggy Bottom truly signifies nothing. Get over it! I do not think many Americans feel sorry for us, and it is embarrassing for people with our privileges to paint ourselves as victims.

Matel's post has spurred some 140 comments -- many clearly from State Department employees.

I give State Department officials a lot of credit for creating Dipnote -- they certainly didn't have to -- and for posting Matel's comments and for encouraging this kind of discussion. The Web 2.0 mantra: All of us are smarter than any one of us.

It's unclear whether this will alter any decisions, but it is good to have an open debate about these kinds of thorny issues.

A hat tip to John Monroe, 1105 Government Information Group's Web editor, who heard about this and passed it along to me.

Posted on Nov 14, 2007 at 12:17 PM


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