Subscribe Today

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 2003, page 28

Special Report

Three U.S. Foreign Service Officers Resign Over Iraq War

By Andrew I. Killgore

Foreign Service Officer John Brady Kiesling resigned from the U.S. Foreign Service on Feb. 27, 2003. F.S.O. John H. Brown resigned March 10. F.S.O. Mary A. Wright resigned March 19. The issue was President George W. Bush's determination to militarily attack Iraq.

The resignation on a matter of principle of three officers from the elitist Foreign Service is unprecedented. It can be assumed that the three represent a wide segment of opinion in the State Department and Foreign Service officer corps, even though so far there have been no further resignations.

John Kiesling was political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece. As head of the political section, he was principally responsible for reporting on politics in that country. A strongly intellectual officer who speaks Greek, Armenian, German, Italian and Spanish, and passable Arabic, Turkish and Hebrew, he is only 45. This means that he retires without a pension, truly a great sacrifice.

John Brown, a Princeton Ph.D., had served in London, Prague, Krakow, Kiev, Belgrade and, most recently, Moscow. President Bush, he said in his letter of resignation, had failed "to clearly explain why our brave men and women in uniform should be ready to sacrifice their lives in a war on Iraq at this time." Brown noted that he was "joining" John Brady Kiesling in his resignation. He seems to have satisfied the 50/20 requirement—50 years old, 20 years of service—so he will be eligible for an immediate pension.

Mary A. Wright, deputy chief of mission (number 2 after the ambassador) at Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, had served as DCM in Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Afghanistan. Her other assignments were in Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Grenada and Nicaragua. In 1997 she received the State Department's award for Heroism as chargŽ d'affaires during the evacuation of Sierra Leone.

After Iraq, Wright listed the administration's failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She advocated exerting "financial influence" to stop the Israelis "destroying cities." Kiesling found Israel "blind in the occupied territories" to the fact that overwhelming military power is not the answer to terrorism.

John Kiesling, who spoke at Washington, D.C.'s Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine on March 31, was described by a former ambassador who knows him well as so outstanding that, within four or five years, he might have become ambassador to Greece. With becoming modesty Kiesling declared that he is not a "martyr." Other factors might have weighed in his decision to resign: But the factor that pushed things "across the line," he said, was Iraq.

Kiesling described Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as favoring the line: It doesn't matter if they love us so long as they fear us. Confessing some uncertainty over why we are fighting Iraq, Kiesling ventured that Sept. 11 had so shifted the political and financial power, that Rumsfeld suddenly had found himself empowered to act out his fantasies.

The former political counselor in Athens said that the United States had poisoned the intellectual atmosphere. We have alienated not merely countries who didn't like us, he said, but some of our oldest friends. "Collateral damage" from Iraq already had cost us an agreement on Cyprus, which could have entered the European Union as a unified nation.

Kiesling posed a nightmarish scenario that could result from a Baghdad that refuses to surrender. The United States Army surrounds Baghdad, he conjectured, but the Iraqis have decided to fight for the city. What does the United States do, he asked—particularly if the "coalition forces" have found no weapons of mass destruction?

Do we put Iraq under siege? Do we fight the Iraqis street to street? In these circumstances, Kiesling suggested, we would face a situation as grave as faced President Harry S Truman in 1945, when he was told that the U.S. might lose a million men if we had to invade Japan. Truman chose The Bomb. (Kiesling was not implying that we might try nuclear weapons in this instance, but simply trying to describe the gravity of the situation we might face.)

Andrew I. Killgore, a retired foreign service ambassador and former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, is publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.