Uncle Sam is looking for more and better staff in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. So says a piece in the Washington Post today that laments staffing problems and even suggests that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have to order employees to serve there.

This is clearly a hardship post: Families can’t come, and employees are steering clear if at all possible. At least 20 percent of the Foreign Service has already been assigned to Iraq, and the expansion means that many will receive a “directed assignment,” according to the State Department. They either go or they will have to quit.

This brings back memories of my time as a graduate student in international relations as I considered going into the Foreign Service in the early 1970s. For many of us, the Vietnam War, and a foreign policy that we disagreed with, kept us from joining the State Department. Many career Foreign Service officers at the time left because of their distaste for the war. 

The concern I have now is whether we are seeing another Vietnam parallel developing. Are we having trouble recruiting bright, young people into the Foreign Service because of Iraq? Will we have trouble keeping those who now work at State who will quit rather than be assigned to Iraq? What effect will this have on foreign policy in the future?

The Post story was extremely depressing at a time when we need capable, committed people. We can’t adequately fill our military quotas because of Iraq; are we now going to fall behind with professional Foreign Service officers? Another bad legacy for this Bush administration.