Dissenting Diplomats Say America Isn't Safer
The Associated Press
Sunday 25 May 2003
NEW YORK -- The three U.S. diplomats who resigned to protest the Iraq war say they're glad it ended fairly quickly but still think the war was unjustified -- and doubt toppling Saddam Hussein has made Americans any safer from terrorist attacks.
While there's no clear indication the recent suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco were retaliation for the war, the former diplomats worry the occupation of Iraq could spur similar assaults on U.S. targets -- particularly if order isn't restored soon.
"The longer we stay, and the more that people say the new Iraqi government is a lackey of the U.S., the more dangerous it is for Americans," said Mary Ann Wright, 57, the former deputy chief of mission at U.S. embassies in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and most recently Mongolia.
Wright, also a former Army colonel, quit March 19, following resignations by John Brady Kiesling, the former political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Athens, and John Brown, who spent most of his 22 years with the Foreign Service in eastern Europe and Russia.
In resignation letters to Secretary of State Colin Powell, all three said they found the Bush administration's case for war unconvincing and its approach toward other countries condescending.
The war, they said, would hurt U.S. interests -- and they haven't changed their views since.
"I'm convinced that we've increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks," said Kiesling, 45, who asked in his letter to Powell if the administration had adopted as its motto a phrase popularized by the Roman Emperor Caligula: "Let them hate as long as they fear."
President Bush has said that by toppling Saddam, the coalition has removed an al-Qaida ally and cut off a source of funding and weapons for terrorists.
And American officials have stressed the coalition will withdraw from Iraq after a government that represents the Iraqi people is set up, but they have refused to put a timetable on the occupation, which has had trouble clamping down on looting and restoring basic utilities.
Brown says he still views the Iraq campaign as a diversion from the war on terrorism.
"I'm glad there weren't more casualties, but I'm still not sure where the war fits in with our national priorities," said Brown, who has a contract for a book on propaganda, one of his areas of expertise, and has started working for a U.S.-Russia academic exchange program. "I don't think it makes us any safer."
Diplomatic resignations to protest U.S. policies are somewhat rare, though not unprecedented. Between 1992 and 1994, four Foreign Service officers resigned to protest the lack of decisive U.S. engagement in the Bosnian crisis, the American Foreign Service Association said.
In keeping with its normal policy on personnel matters, the State Department had no comment on the resignations.
Danielle Pletka, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute, disagreed sharply with the diplomats' criticisms, arguing their opposition to the war implied it was acceptable to leave Saddam in power.
"That's reprehensible from a foreign policy standpoint and a moral standpoint," Pletka said. Saddam's removal "will not only make Americans safer, it'll make Iraqis safer."
Brown, Kiesling and Wright said they're not apologists for Saddam, whom they described as a brutal dictator.
They believe the invasion was unjustified because they doubt Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States. Using pre-emptive military force to topple Saddam's regime without international support will hurt American interests and credibility over the long haul -- and could be used by others to justify attacks on the United States, they say.
"Going into another country for regime change opens the box wide open for other people to use that rationale for whatever they feel they need to do for their national interests," Wright said.
Kiesling bluntly accuses the Bush administration of lying about the extent of its knowledge of Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction.
Responsible for convincing his skeptical Greek counterparts that Iraq might be concealing biological and chemical weapons, Kiesling said he was unimpressed with the evidence Washington provided him.
"The intelligence information we had was crap," said Kiesling, whose 20 years in the Foreign Service also included assignments in Israel, Morocco and Armenia. "We didn't know whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."
Once the war started, Kiesling said, the administration shifted the goal of the war from disarming Saddam to liberating the Iraqi people. The switch made many people outside the United States "think the Americans were lying," he said.
The three former diplomats said they did not feel ostracized by their actions. They said they each received more than 100 e-mails from the public -- nearly all positive -- as well as words of support from many in the Foreign Service.
"There's a lot of consternation at the State Department about the policies" of the Bush administration, said Wright, who visited the State Department earlier this month to see former colleagues and talk about the war.
"There were no food fights," he said. "Many people said they were glad I took a stand."
Still, Kiesling said his resignation "has created a significant awkwardness" among his friends at the State Department. "It's not good for them to talk openly about the situation," he said.
Since quitting, Kiesling has spoken at several universities, including Harvard, Rice and even the U.S. Military Academy, and written several articles. He is thinking of writing a book on flaws in U.S. foreign policy and some colleges have raised the possibility of a teaching position, he said.
Wright, who has begun to explore job possibilities with humanitarian groups, said her biggest disappointment about quitting was missing the chance of perhaps someday serving as a U.S. ambassador. But she has no regrets.
"I'm just doing what our country is all about. We can disagree and argue," she said. "It would've been un-American for me not to speak up."