I just saw that Ambassador Adam Ereli (until recently US Ambassador to Bahrain) has arrived in Baghdad to serve as Public Affairs Counselor for 2008-2009. The embassy notice says: From 2007 to 2008 Ereli has served as Ambassador to Bahrain. He will return to post when his tour in Iraq is completed in 2009. (Ambassador Ereli, like all ambassadors still has to tender his resignations when the new U.S. President takes office in January 2009). Anyway, prior to his appointment as Ambassador to Bahrain, Ambassador Ereli was Senior Advisor to the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy for Overseas Communications, based in London. Prior to that, he was the Deputy Spokesman of the Department of State (2003-2006) and was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar, from 2000 to 2003.
The U.S. Ambassador to Algeria, Robert Ford, is reportedly also heading back to Baghdad as chief of what is probably now the largest Political Section in the world. Ambassador Ford was previously Political Counselor of Baghdad from 2004-2006, the same job that he will encumber this time around. I could be wrong but this might actually be his third tour there. He previously served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bahrain from 2001 until 2004.
According to the Office of the Spokesman, the most recent DCM in Baghdad was previously the Ambassador to Belarus, who was replaced by a former Ambassador to Bangladesh. The Political Section, most recently was headed by the former Ambassador to Syria who will be replaced by our Ambassador to Algeria. Another former ambassador reportedly became the political-military counselor, and yet another became coordinator for the economic transition. Assistance work and the PRTs reportedly have their own ambassador –rank staffers, too.
Ambassadors here, there and everywhere. Of course, in addition to Ambassador Crocker, who plans to retire in January.
The Spokesman says that this really paints a picture of a Department that has stepped up and answered the call that the Secretary has put out for experienced, seasoned people to serve in Embassy Baghdad. That is well and good but – does State really need that many ambassadors and that much experience and talent expended in one area of the world? This makes me wonder about the Department’s overall talent management strategy here.
Strategic use of limited resources: Is there one? The most senior members of the FS have 20-30 years of experience under their belts. Although they are "generalist" who could be assigned anywhere in the world, the truth of the matter is they have relevant expertise only in certain areas of the world. By placing them in Iraq, State has taken away talent that could be its most effective representative elsewhere in the world and lumped them together in an already saturated talent pool called Baghdad. Somebody please explain this to me. I know the reasoning must be simple, but I just can’t understand why we have so many ambassadors working in Iraq. Won’t they trip over each other?
Stretch assignment: State has always prided itself with offering stretch assignments, allowing junior and midlevel officers to serve a rank or two above their grades. It is good practice but also a pragmatic one, since State has been afflicted with the curse of deep staffing gaps for years now. Is State using stretch assignments in Baghdad, or has it been decided that the practice is great elsewhere but not in Iraq? I’m not proposing sending our JOs straight out of A100 to Iraq, but c’mon, I’ve never seen this many senior officers assigned to a single place except Iraq, and well, there's Foggy Bottom. An argument could be made that this simply shows that Iraq is our most important foreign policy engagement at the moment. If this is so, shouldn't people up on the 7th floor be holding office in Baghdad on a monthly rotation instead of doing quick trips? I'm sure somebody would tell me, "But Iraq is not the world!" there are other hotspots around the globe.
True, Iraq is not the world, it says so on my NGS map - so why can't we rightsize the embassy in Baghdad as we're trying to do with the rest of the State Department's overseas presence around the world? And wouldn't this be a good job for the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation? And while I'm in an inquiring mood, does anyone have a good rationale for the staffing pattern in Baghdad? I really would like to know. I don’t think even AFSA knows except that we need more people there.
The thing is - I don't know very much but I understand that we have 29-30 poloffs in Baghdad. Even with minnow-brains, I have to ask if we really need 30 political officers working at the Political Section there? How often do these officers travel outside the Green Zone (GZ) to meet with their Iraqi contacts? Do we have 30 portfolios for these officers to tackle during their year of service in Iraq? Is there continuity to the work they are doing there, or do they spend their first three-six months starting from scratch with every officer rotation? How many Blackwater Worldwide guards are required to escort each Political Officer on every excursion outside the GZ? How many Diplomatic Security Agents are required to escort each Blackwater mission escorting each Political Officer on every excursion outside the GZ? See, how that gets a bit confusing?
If the US Embassy in Baghdad is the forerunner and model for the much touted “expeditionary” diplomacy of the future, I think it might need to go on a lean diet before it could effectively run.
Steve over at Dead Men Working, by the way, has an excellent piece that explains, Why Don't We Just "Soldier Up" in response to the Washington Times editorial, the paper's opening salvo for the nth Annual "Bash the Foreign Service" Party. You understand, it's a summer thing. Steve wrote an enlightening piece for those not too familiar about the Foreign Service and you can read it here. Consul-at-Arms has also written about this last week here. In case readers missed the point, there was also an accompanying editorial cartoon for this year's festivities. John Naland of AFSA has responded to that here.
I apologize that I don't have much to add except to politely request all past and future bashers - why don't you slap us naked and hide our clothes after we've done all the packing/unpacking in Ouagadougou, Timbuktu, Banjul, Ashgabat and elsewhere in this worldwide available universe? Or better yet, why don't you come join the fun, as in sign up and walk in these reportedly comfy and cushy shoes? Shh.... just between you and me, they're not as comfy or as cushy as they were made out to be, but we get beaten up for it still the same.