The Foreign Service Journal - September 2017
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question of Iraq’s possession and development of biological,

chemical and nuclear weapons, American leadership dis-

counted or disbelieved reporting by United Nations inspec-

tors, crediting instead information provided by an Iraqi

defector and other unreliable sources. “The reports were of

remarkable clarity,” said Marc Grossman, then under secre-

tary of State for political affairs, in his 2006 ADST oral history interview. “Maybe we should have thought, ‘How can they be

so exact, so precise?’ And it was all false.” Ambassador Joseph

C. Wilson IV, who had served in both countries, investigated

an alleged sale of uranium ore by Niger to Iraq. “Intelligence

related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program,” Wilson wrote in


July 2003 New York Times op-ed,

“was twisted to exaggerate

the Iraqi threat.”

A refusal to accept as valid information that challenged

assumptions or disproved hypotheses left facts in dispute. With

no accepted body of fact to build on, analyses could be shaped

to fit leadership preferences. Foreign Service officers may have

been complicit in the erosion of honesty. In 2008, AFSA Presi-

dent John Naland wrote: “Have some senior career officials ‘sold

their souls’ over Iraq … to advance their careers? I believe they


Despite the strategic failures of the Iraq war, and the col-

lapse of the justification offered for its prosecution, Foreign

Service dissent from U.S. policy remained at a low level. In

contrast to the hundreds who resigned during Vietnam, the

number of resignations directly related to the war in Iraq was

just three—Ann Wright, John Brady Kiesling and John Brown—

all of whom resigned at the war’s outset, in the spring of 2003.

Service discipline prevailed. The department threatened

to pursue directed assignments but did not need to resort to

ordering members of the Service into the region. Over the

decade from 2003 to 2012, about 40 percent of the Service had

tours of 90 days or more in Iraq or Afghanistan, all as volun-

teers. Many had misgivings—Secretary of State Condoleezza

In the past 18 months,

State Department dissents

have twice become public

and earned headlines.