The reluctance of state department officials to volunteer to serve in Iraq is the most explicit illustration yet of the gulf between the military and civilian experience of this war. It also undermines a central plant of the stated aims underpinning Bush's surge. The reason why the government is having trouble getting members of the diplomatic corps - particularly middle managers on up - to go to Iraq and help build democratic and civic institutions is not difficult to fathom: they don't want to die . No amount of incentives, danger money and so on seems to be able to woo them and they cannot be compelled. On personal, not to mention political grounds, I don't blame them.
But while around US three soldiers a day die in Iraq - the far higher Iraqi civilian casualties barely intrude into the American psyche - their reluctance does exemplify one of the central tensions between the home front and the front line.
Namely that while the military is being asked to lay their lives on the line, life at home among the people whose freedom they are supposed to be defending pretty much goes on as normal with nobody being asked to sacrifice anything. Taxes are being cut, few legislators have their children out there and extreme weather is as likely to lead the morning news as casualties in Anbar. Indeed there is no relationship between fatalities in Iraq and public opinion on the war. This discrepancy between the civilian and military experience is particularly acute among national guardsmen who in some respect straddle the military/civilian divide - asked to put their lives on hold and in danger while others carry on as though nothing much is happening. As the same members of the military head out for their second or even third tour and diplomats refuse to go for their first, that tension is sure to increase.
Meanwhile the absence of diplomats on the ground leaves a crucial element of the "surge" lacking. Last month Bush was keen to point out that his plan announced in January, against the wishes of Congress, the Iraq Study Group and all opinion polls, was not just a military solution but coupled occupation with nation building, sending "experts to help local Iraqi communities pursue reconciliation, strengthen the moderates, and speed the transition to Iraqi self-reliance." With few diplomats to follow through even this flimsy plan is destined to fail on its own merits - let alone the merits of reality, common sense and decency. It also brings into sharp context what so many Americans mean when they say: "We support the troops." Namely, we're glad they're doing it, because we definitely wouldn't.