Under the pretense that Iraq is being pacified, the U.S. military is partially withdrawing from hostile towns in the countryside and parts of Baghdad. By reducing the numbers of soldiers the administration can claim its policy is working going into the midterm elections. But the jobs that the military will no longer perform are being sloughed off onto State Department "provincial reconstruction teams" led by Foreign Service officers. The stated rationale is that the teams will win Iraqi hearts and minds by organizing civil functions.
Wow! That's pretty amazing. A "provincial reconstruction team" sounds like a pretty good idea for the Iraqi situation of about...oh... three years ago. During the summer of 2003, they might not have even needed that much protection. If the Iraqis saw the teams as performing a useful function, they might have even attracted defenders from among the population. Now? With the chaos in Iraq these days? My first suspicion was that this had to be a plot by the Bush Administration to empty the State Department of Foreign Service officers. What evidence is there that the Bush Administration has any sort of grudge against these folks? Well,
State department officials in the field are reporting that Shia militias use training as cover to infiltrate key positions. Thus the strategy to create institutions of order and security is fuelling civil war.
Rather than being received as invaluable intelligence, the messages are discarded or, worse, considered signs of disloyalty. [emphasis added]
The state department's Intelligence and Research Bureau was correct in its scepticism before the war about Saddam Hussein's possession of WMDs, but was ignored. The department was correct in its assessment in its 17-volume Future of Iraq project about the immense effort required for reconstruction after the war, but it was disregarded. Now its reports from Iraq are correct, but their authors are being punished.
So, it appears my first suspicion was correct. Foreign Service officers are being offerred up as sacrifices because of their perceived disloyalty. But hold on! Condi Rice (Termed "Darling Condi" by various snarky liberals when describing her relations with the press corps) is responsible for the safety of State Department personnel. Wouldn't mass casualties among the Foreign Service officers cause her to lose face?
Amid this internal crisis of credibility, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, has washed her hands of her department. Her management skills are minimal. Now she has left coercing people to fill the PRTs to her counsellor, Philip Zelikow, who, by doing the dirty work, is trying to keep her reputation clean.
So the answer is, yes it would, IF the slaughter of Foreign Service officers was seen as her fault.
The Pentagon has informed the State Department that it will not provide security for these officials and that State should hire mercenaries for protection instead.Now, I don't pretend to know anything about the mercenaries available to the State Department these days, but mercenaries back during the days of Renaissance Italy had the reputation of being there until they were really needed. Mercenaries made for fine parade-ground soldiers, but when their paymasters were faced with a really threatening force, they made themselves scarce very quickly. Is this going to be a problem with the provincial reconstruction teams? The situation is not identical. When you're a small group defending a small group, it's probably easiest for everybody to stay together. But if you've got a team working with the villagers and the mercenaries are down the road and the bad guys attack from an unexpected direction, it might be easier for the mercenaries to just scatter, away from the fighting and the screaming and the bloodshed. If the provincial reconstruction team gets wiped out completely, who's going to contradict the story that the mercenaries tell? Someone from the team would have to survive for that to happen.