Saturday, November 17, 2007

The State Department in Iraq: One More Strike and You're OUT

The last couple of days I’ve been knowingly sniggering and sneering while reading the latest Iraq War news stemming once again from the State Department, its reputation only getting worse with each passing day.

Now, it seems that many in the diplomatic corps of that organization are
howling over having to serve in a dangerous assignment like Iraq. My first thought was, “YOU Pussies!” After a shrug, my second thought was, “Well, it figures!”

That’s strike two. It SHOULD be three strikes and “you’re OUT!”
The Blackwater transgression of a few weeks ago being strike one. It looks like that private security firm was merely acting out the policies set by faint-hearted Department of State officials who would rather assure their own complete safety rather than "risk a few collateral civilian deaths." That assertion appears to be fairly well born out by a recent assessment by the FBI stating that at least 14 Iraqi civilians died unjustifiably at the hands of State’s "private army."

Strike three, when it comes, should result in the ejection of all State Department officials from Iraq and Afghanistan until the military makes it “safe enough” for these lily-livered civilian bureaucrats to safely coordinate and attend their nightly dinner parties (which is all that they really care about anyway).

Sounds like I don’t have much respect for the State Department. If you think so then good guess. My first run-in with State Department workers was watching a bunch of them scurry away from my comrades and me as we approached them on a bus one evening many years ago. It was about 5 pm and my entire class of about 100
MSGs or Marine Security Guards was just pulling up in front of Condoleezza Rice’s current place of business, the State Department building in Washington D.C.; only at the time, the “head honcho” was The Honorable Cyrus Vance under then President Jimmy “peanut farmer” Carter.

Part of our training before being assigned to any of the hundreds of American embassies around the world was to actually inspect offices at least once for possible security violations. Out in the field that is part of the duties of Marine Embassy Guards. There is a technique to it, and after learning the theory in the classroom they sent us into the lair of “the enemy” to get a feel for the real thing. (Actually, we didn't think of them as "the enemy" so much as they did of us!)

It was funny. As our two Marine Corps buses pulled up to the fancy front glass entrance doors we could see State Department workers—diplomats, FSOs and secretaries—do U-turns back into the building. Some of them actually ran back inside when they spotted us 100 young Marines in our
"C" dress blues descending upon them like the avenging angels that we KNEW we were (grin). It’s a huge building and we would only be able to inspect a comparatively few of the offices, but they didn’t want to take the chance of getting busted and finding a career ruining “pink slip notice of violation” on their desk the next day.

Right away, that made me think little of these people. It told me that they probably didn’t have a very high level of security attentiveness if just our presence made them spin on their heels back into their warrens of paper.

After graduation once I got out into the embassy world, my negative opinion of State people did not waver much except to become even more negative. If you know Marines then you know we can tend to arrogance, but no one is more arrogant than Foreign Service Officers. It seems that they start off this way and become more so the longer they “serve.” I never met an FSO that wasn’t egotistical, absolutely convinced of their own importance.

These people have like four primary jobs—to gather intelligence, to take care of consular matters like passports and visas, to represent the USA in a positive manner, and supposedly to take care of Americans who live or pass through their country of obligation. But there is a fifth "job," and they take it the most serious—to live WELL!

What does that mean? Just like it sounds—to party hardy, to acquire “for free” the best furnishings possible for their “free” luxurious apartment or house, and to save up and invest most of their more than adequate salaries.

I have to laugh whenever I hear statements praising Foreign Service officials for their “service” in backwater and dangerous places throughout the world. The fact is that diplomatic duty is the best-kept secret in the US government. It is rare indeed that any of them ever has to truly suffer or “serve,” because that’s not their style. I dare anyone to honestly compare the living and working conditions in Iraq of any of the “lowliest” FSOs to that of the average US military personnel over there. Believe me, there is no comparison.

I can attest to this since I have first hand knowledge. As an embassy guard, operationally assigned to the State Department, I never touched a penny of my military wages. I lived completely off my State Department allowance, and I didn’t draw even half of what the average FSO gets. I was stationed in a supposedly dangerous backwater country, yet we managed to find a party to attend almost every night, if we weren’t throwing one ourselves.

I couldn’t believe how expansive and plush the typical abode was of my fellow State Department workers. Each drew allowances for carpeting, furniture, appliances, even for drapery, yet they didn’t have to spend a dime of it for any of those items since they had access to a State Department warehouse chock full of some of the nicest stuff you could ever want to outfit your home with. I don’t know if they still have this scam going, but a scam is what it was.

What really sealed the deal on how I felt about these oblivious prima donnas was an encounter I had with a young FSO one weekend afternoon. I was standing duty at Post 1 right at the front entrance of the embassy. The bearded young FSO was there to learn the very basics of my job as a Marine watch stander.

I doubt if it’s done anymore, but back then none of the Marines had to stand watch in the embassy during the annual Marine Corps Ball every November 10th, which believe it or not was the embassy’s most important social function of the year. FSOs voluntarily stood watch for one-hour increments, allowing all of us Marines to attend our Birthday Ball.

During my briefing to the young pup, although he was probably a year or two older than me, I explained to him some of the complaints we Marines had with the security setup. It was totally inadequate and obviously so to us. The window to our front was mere Plexiglas, cars could drive up within yards of the front door, and a side door to our left was secured with a chintzy cypher lock that could be easily breeched. I told this guy that if someone wanted to take out the lone Marine on duty then it could be done with only a couple guys with minimum weaponry in all of about 2 minutes. Then I told him exactly what I would do to correct the situation. He shook his head and said something that I think is typical of the thinking of many of the liberal-minded folk working in the State Department.

“Your job is to die,” he declared nonchalantly.

He explained. “The United States has an image to project and turning our embassies into fortresses is not the image that we want the world to see.”

I heartily objected, "Sir! My job is to stay alive so that I can protect Americans, including YOU, in this building. How the hell can I do that if I'm killed in the first five minutes of an attack!" But in his righteous conceit he was not to be dissuaded.

See what I mean? Arrogance! This was just a year or so before the
Iranians took our embassy in Tehran and not too long before Pakistanis almost did the same thing in Islamabad, and in doing so shot and killed a Marine Guard as he stood watch on the roof.

I learned something else from talking to and being around various FSOs; many of them have swallowed a form of anti-Western liberalism and have done so hook-line-and-seeker, probably to the toon of at least half of them to one extent or another. Evidently, left-leaning professors teach a lot of political science in our universities, so it only makes sense that a lot of their students who eventually become FSOs would be thusly "tainted." Therefore, it really doesn’t matter who is Secretary of State, these bureaucrats with their “peculiar way” of looking at the world stay on forever and they know it.

Here's what I know about these folks: they are great at pie in the sky theoreticals, but when it comes to the cold hard reality that IS the real world that's when they fall flat. It's why so many of them can't stomach REAL service in Iraq; as long as they can BS each other during their nightly soirees during one of their normal cushy non-threatening assignments then all is right with THEIR world. They don't do so well though when they get into a place where all the diplomacy in the world won't make people stop wanting to kill them.

So naturally, with the news hitting the wire about these “dissatisfied diplomats,” my dislike for them, for their prima donna arrogance, for their luxurious style of so-called “service,” and THEIR willingness to put others in harm's way even as they protect their own pampered asses from danger, all of those thoughts came roaring back to me while reading about their little “uprising,” their ridiculous treasonous tempertantrum against their boss, Secretary Rice.

How dare she! How dare she ask them to ACTUALLY serve where we really NEED them, and in a place where they might be hurt or killed. Imagine that? Finally, some overpaid American diplomats actually earning some of those inflated allowances and “hardship” pay!

I say fire the whole bunch. Who needs these wimps? Ship the whole timid lot back to the safety of the States, or to some cushy consulate in Europe or Asia. Give General Petraeus the whole kit and caboodle. Hell, bring me out of retirement. I volunteer General, to replace one or two of them Sir. Anyway, with me, at least you couldn't do any worse.


Kevin said...

Great post. A couple things: Wasn't one of those marines taken hostage in the embassy takeover in Iran one of your classmates?

Secondly, my first-hand experience with the state department supports your thesis. What a bunch of assholes. When those same hostages were released from Iran and came to Wiesbaden, State came in and rode roughshod over the entire hospital squadron. The worst part about that was, the officer corps (Dr's, Nurses, and BSC types) completely buried their noses up the asses of anyone from State. Unbelievable. What an education for an 18 year old kid.

Amadeo said...

I like your last paragraph.

And prior to all this, I actually thought of finding out if somehow the government would have some use for me there. After all, all my kids are gone, the house is paid for, etc.

So why not try something that will make me be part of the effort.

My on-line research did not yield much. Most of those "seniors" taken back in had previous military experience or had served in the armed services. Like a 60ish lady who helps out with food services over there.

So count me in should you get serious about wanting an assignment there. Or maybe you have info on where to ask about this.

Phil said...

Yes Kevin, I believe he was either William Quarles or Ladell Maples. He was indeed in my class in the detachment directly next to mine, the detachments separated by rows of wall lockers. I was trying to find a picture of them both so I can figure out exactly which one was my classmate. He was black and his face had pockmarks from an earlier bad case of acne. All the Afri-Am hostages were released early as a cynical attempt by the Iranians to drive a wedge in American opinion.

I had forgotten that you had your own personal experience with the Iran hostages. So you found out what the rest of us working with the State Dept already know about them, what a bunch of self-serving puffed up weenies.

Amadeo, there are lots of contracting jobs in Iraq, some under the State Dept and others under the authority of the US Military. Of course I would never qualify to go there and work as an FSO. For one thing, I'm not a big enough asshole, plus the job entails some kind of degree, preferably I would imagine in political science; although I'm sure I could do as well or better than most of them, even in my condition.

What State really needs to do is to stop hiring snot-nosed liberals straight out of their lefty-Lucy universities and go instead with ex-military or law-enforcement types who either earned their degrees while in-service or afterwards. Military and police veterans understand the true concept of service, that it doesn't mean living it up and making big bucks, and that danger and death are a very real possibility of that service.

Amadeo said...

Re being an FSO, an older brother took Foreign Service while I did a BA in Pol. Sc., and I thought then that we had practically the same subjects. Except for a couple of subjects in Diplomacy and French, which was then the "language of diplomats".

BTW, the French and French lovers must be in a bind after Sarkozy made that speech in Congress, praising the US to the high heavens.

Even in the Philippine blogosphere those "French lovers" (because they hate the US) were speechless.

Phil said...

Yeah, if Sarkozy keeps this up I'm going to have to rethink how I feel about the Froggies!

KA said...

left-leaning pie in the sky theorists is what the basis of academia is. The abstraction of thought is the highest level of "intelligence" that is worshipped in an academic environment (at least from these higher-level universities that i've come into contact with). Students are always told to "reach for te stars" and it's hard to do that if your feet must be on the ground.

I dont think "liberal" is a bad thing as long as there is some type of pragmatic thinking there too. I think many of us students will be knocked down by life so that we stop reaching for the stars and start looking around us at the things right in front of us. ... Then again, some people don't.

PhilippinesPhil said...

You're right K, but I felt like planting his "pie in the sky" butt firmly on the ground when he told me with all seriousness that my job was to get killed. I wanted to give him a dose of "marine reality," if you know what I mean.

KA said...

... you probably should have planted a firm one on the kids upper lip. At the very least it would have proven to him that it's better to have marines on your side than to have them hating ur stinking gutts.

Lol, plus I considered an FSO job for awhile,but have since re-considered.

Anonymous said...

I don't blame these state department people of avoiding Iraq duty. They have BRAINS!

KA said...

I dont blame these state department people for avoiding Iraq duty... they don't have balls.

Anonymous said...

After serving in Iraq, they're lucky if they come home with their balls.

KA said...

I know... courage, duty, honor, service are such emasculating things. Aren't they?

PhilippinesPhil said...

It takes a combination of brains AND guts to do the work. We don't need people in the field if they are going to put their personal safety and fortune strictly ahead of the mission. You make my point Anonymous, your thought process, albeit sarcastic, reflects exactly how most civilians think. Most veterans have spent entire careers knowing that risk comes with the job and press on even so.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Military personnel, AFTER they volunteer to serve, don't have a choice on where they go or IF they go. Its interesting and revealing that these State Dept people feel that THEY do. No wonder there is so much embarrassment in the upper echelons of State. I'd just tell these folks if they don't want to go then quit the Foreign Service. Make your choice people.

KA said...

Hey phil ...I agree with you 100% for once! No "yes, but..." comment from me this time around.

PhilippinesPhil said...

I am delighted, and will make a note in my personal calendar to mark the day it happened!

Consul-At-Arms said...

Did it ever occur to you that your reminiscences (from the Carter administration, fer cryin' out loud!) might be just a little bit out of date?

Personally, I have the highest respect for my MSG colleagues. I'm sorry your experience with your FSO colleagues was so negative.

Consul-At-Arms said...


If you're truly interested in serving in Iraq in a civilian capacity, see the information here:

PhilippinesPhil said...

I still deal with them, as do my friends. I"m an expat. Few of my fellow expats have anything kind to say about how they treat us. Believe me, we all have horror stories in our dealigs with the local American embassy. Sorry if I've impugned you personally. I'm sure there are plenty of folks like yourself who are a credit to the service, but it only takes a handful to besmirch the rest. Hang tough.

Consul-At-Arms said...

@ phil,

"the job entails some kind of degree, preferably I would imagine in political science"

Actually, the primary qualifications are being a U.S. citizen over 21 y.o. (and under 60), passing the written and oral exams, passing security background investigation and medical clearance, as well as something called a "suitability" evaluation. No degree required, although about 99 percent have them. In my experience, most have graduate degrees as well. They're not mandatory but they certainly help prepare you for passing the exams.

Information on careers with State (and Peace Corps, and USAID) here:

Consul-At-Arms said...

I have friends and colleagues who've served in Manila, both as State or military, as well as having some personal family connections with the P.I.

Unfortunately, my consular-related experiences connected with the Philippines (they pop up all over the world) have been about 90 percent negative due to the high incidence of fraud involved. I've been happy to help the people who're straight with us (such as the U.S.Army CW4's mom who had no birth records, having been born during WW2; while my grandfather languished in a POW camp on Luzon) but it can really wear you down after awhile.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Nail on the head Consul. "Those people" in Manila treat ALL of us as here as if we are frauds. THAT consulate also treats us Americans here as if we are a pain in their ass, as if they would prefer that we not bother them. Conversely, a buddy ran into medical problems in Thailand and the embassy rep treated him wonderfully. It was refreshing to hear, because that's not what happens in this country.

Amadeo said...


Well, what do you know? Yesterday, after some grueling hour or so, I actually completed the rigorous process of applying for a job under USAJOBS (Iraq).

Creating a resume and answering a phalanx of essay questions later, I had a slight hint that maybe they would at least read my application.

Here's hoping they do. Thanks for the concern, anyway.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Wow, you're really serious about this aren't you. Good luck to you.

Consul-At-Arms said...


Good for you! Best of luck on your application; what sort of work are you looking to do in Iraq?

Amadeo said...


I thought of using my almost 15-year experience in branch banking in a third-world environment in seeking a job as banking and finance advisor.

Thanks to you and Phil.

PhilippinesPhil said...

You're watering my eyes Amadeo. You are a true American! God bless.

Consul-At-Arms said...


I've linked to you here:


That certainly sounds like a skill useful in reconstruction. Best of luck!