Diplomat resigns to protest war

A career Foreign Service officer and Army Reserves colonel has resigned from the State Department in protest over several foreign and domestic Bush administration policies.

Ann Wright, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, sent a letter of resignation Wednesday to Secretary of State Colin Powell, telling him that "this is the only time in my many years serving America that I have felt I cannot represent the policies of an administration of the United States."

Wright wrote her letter five weeks ago and delayed sending it in the hopes the administration would avert a war against Iraq, she said in an interview Friday. Her letter is dated March 19, the day U.S. forces launched a strategic air strike on targets in Baghdad. Wright said she sent her letter to the State Department before the strikes began.

"There is no doubt Saddam Hussein is a despicable dictator," Wright told Powell. But she believed U.S. military forces shouldn't be used without Security Council compliance. "In our press for military action now, we have created deep chasms in the international community and in important international organizations," Wright said. "America has lost the incredible sympathy [resulting from the Sept. 11 attacks] of most of the world because of our policy toward Iraq."

Wright's government career spanned the worlds of diplomacy and military affairs. She joined the Foreign Service in 1986, and asked to be assigned to a position as a Defense Department attaché. At the time, however, women weren't allowed to hold those jobs.

In 1997, Wright managed the evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Sierra Leone and of Americans living there when a coup d'etat took place. She assisted in the evacuation of a number of diplomats from other countries, as well, and was given the State Department Award for Heroism for her work.

In December 2001, Wright helped reopen the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. A few months later, she said the administration's preoccupation with Iraq began to show in its slackening efforts to support rebuilding Afghanistan and fostering the roots of diplomacy on the ground.

She accused the administration of expecting other nations to do a greater share of the work, but of shunning the need for international cooperation on the Iraq issue. As a result, Wright said the administration is "leaving in tatters the organizations [particularly the United Nations] that we have helped build," over many years.

Wright made her views on administration policy known to State Department officials through an official "dissent channel," but she hadn't received a response by the time she submitted her resignation.

Wright is the third senior diplomat to resign in two months over the administration's Iraq policy. But in her letter, Wright also expressed her concern that the administration has ignored the threat posed by North Korea as it pursues a nuclear weapons program. Wright also criticized the lack of participation over the past several months by the administration in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and what she sees as the curtailment of civil liberties in the U.S. since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Since sending her letter to Powell, Wright said she has received about 150 e-mails from Foreign Service officers around the world expressing support for her actions.

John Brown, a career diplomat who also resigned this month, has said there is an air of dissent in the State Department over the administration's policies. But it's rare that Foreign Service officers use public resignations as a means of protest, or an attempt to influence administration policy.

Nevertheless, the resignation of three senior diplomats is significant because the individuals had invested so many years climbing the ladder of the Foreign Service. The organization accepts very few applicants and sometimes rewards officers with their desired posting only after they've served in some of the most remote locations in the world. "To dump your career…after 20 years is a major, major step," said Robert Keeley, the former U.S. ambassador to Greece.

A State Department spokeswoman had no comment on Wright's resignation, other than to confirm she was assigned to the U.S. embassy in Mongolia. She said she didn't know when Wright's resignation would take effect.

Wright said she would leave Mongolia within the next two weeks, after she has completed annual reviews of her staff. She has no future employment plans, but will receive full federal retirement benefits.

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