Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Diplomats Give Low Marks To Secretary Rice

KAREN DEYOUNG - The Washington Post
January 9, 2008

WASHINGTON — Only 18% of the American Foreign Service thinks Secretary of State Rice is doing a good job protecting their profession, according to a recent survey conducted by the service's union. Forty-four percent rated her performance "poor" or "very poor," the same percentage who said that "developments of the last few years" had made it less likely they would complete their careers in the Foreign Service. Respondents to the American Foreign Service Association survey rated pay and other personnel issues as top concerns, closely followed by staffing and security problems at the American Embassy in Iraq. The union's president, John Naland, said the survey raised "serious questions about the long-term health" of the service and "the future viability of U.S. diplomatic engagement."

Ms. Rice's leadership has come under scrutiny in recent months as Congress has criticized the State Department about supervision of private security contractors in Iraq and the enormous size of embassies in Baghdad and other combat zones. A number of independent studies have raised alarms about the department's readiness to confront growing challenges abroad, and diplomats have grown increasingly outspoken in questioning Ms. Rice's management.

More than 4,300 Foreign Service members responded to the survey, which was sent electronically to all 11,500 members in late 2007. Seventy percent of respondents were posted overseas. A copy of the results, to be released today, was obtained by the Washington Post.

[Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that nearly half of American diplomats unwilling to volunteer to work in Iraq say one reason for their refusal is they don't agree with Bush administration's policies in the country, according to the American Foreign Service Association survey.

Security concerns and separation from family ranked as the top reasons for not wanting to serve in Iraq. But 48% cited "disagreement" with administration policy as a factor in their opposition.

In addition, nearly 70% of American diplomats who responded to the survey oppose forced assignments to Iraq, a prospect that sparked a storm of controversy last year when the State Department announced it might have to require such tours under penalty of dismissal in the largest diplomatic call-up to a war zone since Vietnam.

The results suggest the State Department may be facing a far more serious revolt over Iraq among its ranks than previously thought, and call into question its ability to fully staff diplomatic missions in Iraq, as well as those in Afghanistan and other dangerous posts deemed critical to the administration's foreign policy goals.

A State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, dismissed the findings, noting that the poll was "self-selective" and not necessarily reflective of the entire Foreign Service. He also defended Ms. Rice's record in fighting for diplomats and the department, which he said she had brought "back to the center of U.S. foreign policy formulation and execution."

Of the respondents, 68%, or 2,778, said they would either "oppose" or "strongly oppose" mandatory assignments to Iraq. Only 34% said they would "support" or "strongly support" such a move. The State Department last year began identifying candidates for so-called "directed assignments" to Iraq but shelved the plan after enough volunteers came forward to fill nearly 50 vacant posts. The move had triggered an outcry among diplomats, one of whom drew applause at a town hall meeting when he likened such tours to a "potential death sentence."

Of respondents who said they were unwilling to serve voluntarily in Iraq, separation from family was identified as a reason by 64%, security concerns by 61% and policy disagreement by 48%. The other main factor, difficulty in doing the job, was identified as a factor by 42%.

Mr. McCormack declined to comment on the implications of the percentage who said they had policy differences, but noted that "when we signed up for these jobs, we signed up to support the policies of the American government. If people have a problem with that, they know what they can do."

Under their contracts and oaths to uphold the Constitution, American diplomats can be required to serve anywhere in the world under penalty of dismissal with limited exceptions. The State Department had sought to play down the controversy, stressing that the diplomatic corps is patriotic and has always stepped up to challenges facing it.]

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