January 1, 2009 – Sovereignty Day in Iraq

Republican Palace Iraq
Photo by Robert Smith

AP reports that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
will propose Jan. 1 be declared a national holiday to commemorate what he called “Sovereignty Day” — the day Iraq took the lead in security away from U.S. forces, regained control of its airspace and reclaimed a wide swath of Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone including Saddam Hussein’s former Republican Palace which housed the U.S. Embassy. The United States returned the Republican Palace to the Iraqi government as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Meanwhile, Mike in Baghdad, Baghdad Anne’s A100 classmate writes about the diplomats’ move to the New Embassy Compound:

On December 13, my office moved from its old premises in the Palace to its new space in the “New Office Building” (NOB) in the New Embassy Compound (NEC). The move also represents a turning point in the U.S. relationship with Iraq. On December 18, the Ambassador and the rest of the Embassy front office will move, after which we will close out our presence in this remnant of the Saddam regime and return the Palace to the Iraqi government. The transfer of the Palace will accompany the implementation of the Security Agreement and provides a strong signal of the diminished role the U.S. government will play in the running of Iraq’s affairs.

[…]There were a number of other small problems, primarily because we were working against a deadline to move entirely out of the Palace by the end of the year, so the move occurred before everything was quite ready. We’re often doubled up in cubicles, but the cubicles haven’t been provided with extra telephones and still lack the additional computer terminals. We were also told that we would have to choose between the telephone and the terminal because each cubicle only had one extra electronic outlet. I share a waste basket with the next cubicle. I also expect the extra set of drawers that we were promised will be a long time arriving.

The lay-out really sucks. I have to know three combinations to get to my office. My section has also been divided up into two different office spaces, which are actually a fair distance apart. Because of the silly security rules, no toilets could be installed in the classified space where I have my office, so I have to walk around the corner, through two sets of doors, and walk to the far corner of the building before I get to the toilet. We’re not allowed to keep our office door open, so we’re walking down anonymous corridors of locked doors and, once through the doors, find ourselves in a Dilbert cartoon of cubicles with no privacy.

Continue reading Mike’s Farewell to the Palace here. You can also see 13 photos of the new embassy compound here.

2009: Putting the Diplomacy House in Order

(Or Why Diplomacy Needs More Than a Penny)

The trials and tribulations of 2009 will be mainly on the home front. My Chinese crystal ball says that the new year of the Ox is a good time to settle domestic affairs and put our house in order. I think Ambassador Holmes’ piece in Foreign Affairs is a step in the right direction; can’t go forward unless we dare to look back.

In the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador
J. Anthony Holmes, the Cyrus Vance Fellow in Diplomatic Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations who was previously President of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) and U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso pens Where Are the Civilians? How to Rebuild the U.S. Foreign Service.

The title begs the follow up questions of “Who broke it?” And “Why was it broken?” Ambassador Holmes points out that DOD’s 2008 budget was over 24 times as large as the combined budgets of the State Department and USAID ($750 billion compared with $31 billion). And here is something that I did not know: The number of lawyers at the DOD is larger than the entire U.S. diplomatic corps.

Holy goat!

He catalogs “Condi’s False Hope” from transformational diplomacy to the creation and staffing of the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization which was created in 2004 and “had fewer than ten employees in mid-2008 to accomplish what Rice described as a vital component of her vision of a new diplomacy.”

He talks about “Green Zone Blues” and the politicization of the Foreign Service. Here’s the nugget that made me throw my new pair of Manolo Blahnik at my sullen, multi-system tee-vee:

In fact, the Bush administration had effectively engineered the dispute in an effort to publicly embarrass the diplomatic corps. By demanding that FSOs take on the unprecedented, open-ended, and fundamentally impossible challenge of nation building under fire without adequate training or funding, the White House was continuing a myopic tradition of shortchanging the civilian institutions of foreign policy while lavishing resources on the military. Furthermore, the Bush administration’s general efforts to stifle dissent and to reward those serving in Iraq with promotions and choice assignments has led to the unmistakable politicization of the Foreign Service.

Ah well, it’s not a pretty picture (unless you were politicized up) but deserves a good reading by FS professionals; most especially by the incoming administration who has the opportunity to apply the appropriate remedy not just Band-Aid solution to this problem. It’s the year of the Ox; it’s a good time to put this house in order.

Related Item:

Where Are the Civilians? How to Rebuild the U.S. Foreign Service
From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2009