Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Monday, January 28, 2008
The Task is Ridiculous...But it Affords Me Unreasonable Joy
A few times a year, I am blessed with the opportunity to share a meal and some drinks with a few, like minded friends and neighbors, when one of our own returns to town on business. This normally would result in getting together at someone's home for great food, terrific conversation and cocktails, and, it does. But it takes on a bit of a different air, when the guest of honor happens to not only be an old, close, friend, but is also the US Ambassador to Algeria.

To us, he is just "Bob". I bought my house from him, and his mother in law is also a very dear friend and neighbor. But there's no ignoring the fact that "Bob" happens to play a major key role in State Dept. politics and Middle East goings on.

Naturally, the cocktail conversation is little bit different than the usual - "So, How's your job going"?

In July 2008, Secretary Rice has recalled him from his Ambassador post in Algiers, back to the post he had for 2 1/2 years prior to Algeria - as Sr. Political Liaison in Baghdad.

And that just sucks, frankly speaking.

He worked so hard to earn an Ambassador post, and NO one is more qualified than he is (fluent in French and Arabic, served 3 years in a jr. post in Algiers in the 80's), but because they're desperate for Arab speakers with good connections, he is literally the only game in town when it comes to negotiating with the local insurgent leaders and politicos.

The recent news is that he has received serious, legitimate, death threats from Al Quaeda insurgents in Algeria - right down to the streets he travels. That's got to be unsettling.

Even more unsettling is the fact that he is going back to a post with no raise, no improvement in conditions (a trailer in the Green Zone) and no incentive to work in a completely hopeless situation, other than the fact that his country has asked him to do so, while depriving him of a year of his ambassadorship post.

Meanwhile, friends of GW get posh Ambassador posts for France and Europe just for sucking up to him and don't even speak the language. I honestly think all Ambassador posts should be limited to Sr. State Dept. and foreign service professionals. If you think I'm kidding, just look at some of the people Bush appointed during his reign.

During the day, we talked about Palestine, Isreal, Iran, Iraq, etc....... it's not very hopeful for reasons all too familiar: Politics, religion, resources, and most importantly, thousands of years of hate and distrust. Add oil, and religious fantacism and you get a time bomb. You can't even discuss your way out of it, much less get your head around all the issues and factions.

All I know, is that he is the kind of person graciously willing to do what is asked of him by his country, for a political regime (Bush) he does not agree with, and with no personal gain whatsoever. Regardless, he is putting his life on the line, with not a lot of hope for improving the situation in the long run.

We are truly offering our best and brightest and we should all be very, very, grateful and proud of the people who do. I am.

This is an excerpt of an email that Bob's wife sent me nearly 3 years ago to the day - it says it all - including the fact that very little has changed since then:
".. It was a terrible, terrible day when the Governor of Baghdad Province was killed last week. Bob knew him very well. He says the man was the best and the brightest - a true Iraqi hero. He'd been attacked three or four times before, and left a wife and two young children. One of Bob's colleagues, who was here during CPA, had appointed the gentleman to his post. Andy was so upset he had to leave work for a couple of hours.

It's very hard to watch good people who you've worked alongside die. Two of Bob's other contacts were kidnapped a couple of days ago; no word yet on their fate.

"...Bob keeps right on going, just like the Energizer Bunny. Given an absolutely impossible task, he works away, maintains perspective (everything from his sense of humor to his fair and honest analyses), and continues to impress. People I barely know have stopped me in the corridors to tell me how much they enjoyed and learned from Bob when he briefed them; marvel at his cool and camaraderie under stress; explain how he was able to give an outstanding press interview in Arabic at two hours' notice; and compliment his leadership.

The job is extremely satisfying. The task is ridiculous. I wouldn't be here if I didn't fundamentally believe in our system at the macro level, but I do, and I am, and it affords me unreasonable joy."
These are the people that make America great, and it has nothing to do with politics - just the day to day development of personal relationships across vastly different cultures around the world. I cannot imagine a more noble profession, and these are two of the best representatives of that ideal that I have ever known.
posted by Broadsheet @ 7:17 PM  
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