The Foreign Service Journal - December 2013 - page 48

Expeditionary Diplomacy When Actually Employed
Despite Erbil’s favorable operational
environment, official vehicular movement
outside the compound still requires
strictly controlled travel in an armored
Chevrolet Suburban.
hood of small shops and
restaurants. The consulate
occupies roughly six square
blocks of Ainkawa. In self-
imposed isolation from the
surrounding city, it is a T-wall-
protected enclave, complete
with its own corner grocery
stores and greasy-spoon
Despite Erbil’s favorable
operational environment,
official vehicular movement
outside the compound still
requires strictly controlled
travel in an armored Chev-
rolet Suburban. This year,
Kurdish security teams have
replaced the previously man-
datory U.S. protective escort,
realizing a significant savings
in cost.
However, travel elsewhere
in Kurdistan still requires a
full, four-vehicle convoy. And
while U.S. personnel may
walk to Erbil’s shops within
100 meters from the main
gate, they must travel in
pairs and be escorted by two
armed Kurdish guards.
Here one sees the slow-
motion end game of expe-
ditionary diplomacy. The
consulate’s relative isolation
is the legacy of many factors.
Most obvious, is our difficulty
converting psychologically
from a military to a civilian
paradigm. Ratcheted security
rules and procedures are
easy to tighten, but difficult
to loosen. Outdated notions,
as seen through an Embassy
Baghdad optic, about Iraqi
violence continues to per-
vade thinking.
The slog of one-year
unaccompanied assign-
ments leaves the consulate
continually facing ad hoc
decision-making. Enormous
sunk expenditures, especially
the albatross of unmovable
infrastructure and security-
related contracts, weigh
heavily. Policies put in place
by predecessors hamstring
current management, which
raises the question: Where
is the sunset clause in our
expeditionary diplomacy?
Consulate Erbil employ-
ees are often excessively
cautious about leaving the
perimeter, while the city
of Erbil is ready for normal
family life, as evidenced by
its growing expatriate com-
munity, including Americans.
An assignment there should
be an exciting prospect and
a great posting for families.
Instead we are stuck in the
past, circa 2007.
Fortunately, the expedi-
tionary diplomacy conun-
drum is growing less dire.
New personnel carry less of
the “Iraq in the old days” bag-
gage. As expensive contracts
expire or get slashed, excess
infrastructure, such as the
nearby embassy diplomatic
support compound, is aban-
doned or offered up for other
Our expeditionary diplo-
macy as exercised in Erbil will
ultimately adapt to meet the
reality on the ground. U.S.
diplomats will shop where
Kurds shop and dine in local
restaurants. They will visit
Kurdistan’s scenic areas.
Family members, and per-
haps children, will eventually
be allowed at post. Morale
will improve. And at the end
of the day, U.S. diplomats will
perform their mission even
more effectively.
One of the most common
ways for Foreign Service per-
sonnel to remain “active after
active duty” is through When
Actually Employed assign-
ments. Here are some isights
I gained during a recent WAE
assignment in Erbil, capital of
the Kurdistan region in Iraq.
Fueled by Kurdistan’s
oil-led economy, Erbil is
a commercially vibrant,
modern city that enjoys a
highly secure environment.
Its malls, supermarkets,
restaurants and cafes are all
packed. There hasn’t been
an attack against foreigners
in the region since 2003 and
locals have a hard time nam-
ing the year when the last
terrorist incident occurred.
Crime in Erbil is insignifi-
cant, or as one contact put
it, “safer than Canada.” As a
result, tourism is expanding,
with such U.S. brand hotels
as Sheraton, Marriott, Hilton
Doubletree and Best Western
under construction. More
than two dozen airlines serve
Erbil’s new international
airport. Visitors from Europe
and the U.S. can obtain a
15-day visa at no cost at the
airport. International busi-
nesses are pouring in. The
world has discovered Erbil
and Kurdistan. Everyone,
it seems, except American
The U.S. consulate in
Erbil is located in Ainkawa, a
religiously mixed neighbor-
Larry Cohen is back home and
currently serving on the AFSA
Governing Board as the VP for
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