Higher Ground: Mary Ann Wright profile

22 August 2004 - 6:00pm

The beginning of US "Shock & Awe" campaign
by Joan Conrow published in the Honolulu Weekly 3 August 2004

Ann Wright doesn’t seem like the type to make trouble. As an Army colonel trained in Special Operations and 26-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, she’s been a team player most of her life. She’s served under Republicans and Democrats -- some of whom she supported, others she did not -- in many isolated and dangerous nations: Afghanistan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua, Grenada and Panama. Through it all, Wright believed it was her duty to serve the American people, including their president-elect and his policies.

She learned to put aside her personal views, or to state them quietly within the proper channels and continue on with her work. Wright and others in the Diplomatic Corps also knew how to use the system to stymie “loony tunes”policies. “Internally, there are ways lightening bolt programs can be slowed,” she explained. “That gives the Administration time to ponder what they’re doing.”

But when President George W. Bush invaded Iraq without the support of the United Nations or many in the State Department, Wright just couldn’t stuff her outrage and dismay.

“I felt the timing was wrong,” said Wright, who helped re-open the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan after America waged retaliatory strikes following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. “I knew first hand how much we had to do to get the security environment under control in Afghanistan. It made no sense to divert resources to Iraq. And there was nothing in the security documents that made us feel we were in imminent danger from Iraq. I knew this was going to go very, very wrong.”

Other Bush policies also were giving Wright “heartburn,” including his stand on the Israeli-Palestine conflict, North Korea’s nuclear build-up and“the unnecessary curtailment of civil liberties” domestically. “It seemed like it was my responsibility to America to sacrifice my career to expose these dangers that I saw not only to our country, but the whole world.”

So on March 19, 2003, Wright tendered her resignation, as did two other diplomats. Forced to quickly leave her post in Mongolia, she returned to Oahu, where she lived briefly in 2002 while on special assignment with the State Department to help Hawaii host the controversial Asian Development Conference. The Arkansas native had bought a condo in Honolulu then, thinking “it might be a nice place to live someday. I just didn’t think someday would come so soon.”

Wright suddenly found herself with time on her hands and decided to throw her indignation, passion and energy into the presidential campaign, an activity previously prohibited to her as a federal employee. She started by supporting Howard Dean, but easily switched to John Kerry. “The way I’m looking at it is anybody but Bush.”

Since her resignation, Wright worked tirelessly to dethrone Bush. She’s done more than 55 interviews for radio, TV, magazines and documentaries, and spoken to groups around the nation, where she’s “thrilled by the outpouring of concern. There certainly is an angst in so many people of America about what’s going on.”

Still, she said, “Bush’s senior advisors have been writing about going into Iraq for many, many years, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone that we went into this. If you look at the backgrounds of the people in this Administration, it is all about oil, although they’ll all deny that.”

The central issue is whether the U.S., “as the world’s sole super power, needed to be aggressive in using its leadership to eliminate governments we didn’t agree with through pre-emptive strikes. Other leaders who did this were tried for war crimes. But we have the biggest military. We can beat anybody up so we’ll never be brought to trial. It’s kind of how they look at it.” That attitude has severely tarnished America’s international reputation, she said. “I don’t think the rest of the world will ever trust George Bush.

And they shouldn’t fully trust America because we do go off on tangents and don’t always stand behind those who stand behind us. I think we can regain a sense of trust.... our moral stature, but we’ll have to start by getting rid of George Bush.”

Many Americans “have a sort of blind spot” about how the nation’s policies affect others, in part because life is so easy and they tend to be ignorant about world affairs, she said. “And unfortunately, a lot of people just don’t care.” Wright, on the other hand, said her “heart just bleeds” for Iraq because both the war and reconstruction were handled badly. “The responsibility for rebuilding was given to the Department of Defense and not the State Department, which is just crazy. (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfield forbade his military officers from even reviewing the huge numbers of documents on reconstruction.prepared at the State Department .”

She’s also concerned because Bush has no realistic exit strategy for Iraq. “It’s really, really dicey. We can’t leave now that we’ve stirred up such a hornet’s nest and eliminated a lot of the security forces that could have maintained some order. We’ll have to keep large numbers of military troops there for a long time to come, and that’s not good because we’ll be a lightening rod for attacks. You might as well paint a big bull’s eye on it (the American embassy) because every rocket in town will be trained on it.”

Defeating Bush is the first step in cleaning up the mess, she said, so she plans to spend a lot of time on the mainland in upcoming months “helping out wherever I’m needed.” Come Election Day, she’s encouraging island residents to cast absentee ballots then serve as poll watchers in Florida and other swing states where many voters were disenfranchised in 2000.

“Everyone must be vigilant,” she warned. “There’s a potential for a lot of crooked things to go on.”

When the election is over, Wright likely will focus on local issues, including the continuing military build-up in the islands. “As a citizen of Hawaii, I would be speaking out very strongly against increasing the amount of training space in Hawaii. There are other ways you can move and train troops without disrupting the remaining unique places in the world. It’s more expensive to train elsewhere, but that’s OK. That’s why we pay taxes.”

Wright was most recently the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. She helped open the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in January 2002. The following is a copy of Mary (Ann) Wright's letter of resignation to Secretary of State Colin Powell.



U.S. Embassy
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
March 19, 2003
Secretary of State Colin Powell
US Department of State
Washington, DC 20521

Dear Secretary Powell:

When I last saw you in Kabul in January, 2002 you arrived to officially open the US Embassy that I had helped reestablish in December, 2001 as the first political officer. At that time I could not have imagined that I would be writing a year later to resign from the Foreign Service because of US policies. All my adult life I have been in service to the United States. I have been a diplomat for fifteen years and the Deputy Chief of Mission in our Embassies in Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan (briefly) and Mongolia. I have also had assignments in Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Grenada and Nicaragua. I received the State Department's Award for Heroism as Charge d'Affaires during the evacuation of Sierra Leone in 1997. I was 26 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and participated in civil reconstruction projects after military operations in Grenada, Panama and Somalia. I attained the rank of Colonel during my military service.

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. I disagree with the Administration's policies on Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, North Korea and curtailment of civil liberties in the U.S. itself. I believe the Administration's policies are making the world a more dangerous, not a safer, place. I feel obligated morally and professionally to set out my very deep and firm concerns on these policies and to resign from government service as I cannot defend or implement them.

I hope you will bear with my explanation of why I must resign. After thirty years of service to my country, my decision to resign is a huge step and I want to be clear in my reasons why I must do so.

I disagree with the Administration's policies on Iraq

I wrote this letter five weeks ago and held it hoping that the Administration would not go to war against Iraq at this time without United Nations Security Council agreement. I strongly believe that going to war now will make the world more dangerous, not safer.

There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein is a despicable dictator and has done incredible damage to the Iraqi people and others of the region. I totally support the international community's demand that Saddam's regime destroy weapons of mass destruction.

However, I believe we should not use US military force without UNSC agreement to ensure compliance. In our press for military action now, we have created deep chasms in the international community and in important international organizations. Our policies have alienated many of our allies and created ill will in much of the world.

Countries of the world supported America's action in Afghanistan as a response to the September 11 Al Qaida attacks on America. Since then, America has lost the incredible sympathy of most of the world because of our policy toward Iraq. Much of the world considers our statements about Iraq as arrogant, untruthful and masking a hidden agenda. Leaders of moderate Moslem/Arab countries warn us about predicable outrage and anger of the youth of their countries if America enters an Arab country with the purpose of attacking Moslems/Arabs, not defending them. Attacking the Saddam regime in Iraq now is very different than expelling the same regime from Kuwait, as we did ten years ago.

I strongly believe the probable response of many Arabs of the region and Moslems of the world if the US enters Iraq without UNSC agreement will result in actions extraordinarily dangerous to America and Americans. Military action now without UNSC agreement is much more dangerous for America and the world than allowing the UN weapons inspections to proceed and subsequently taking UNSC authorized action if warranted.

I firmly believe the probability of Saddam using weapons of mass destruction is low, as he knows that using those weapons will trigger an immediate, strong and justified international response. There will be no question of action against Saddam in that case. I strongly disagree with the use of a "preemptive attack" against Iraq and believe that this preemptive attack policy will be used against us and provide justification for individuals and groups to "preemptively attack" America and American citizens.

The international military build-up is providing pressure on the regime that is resulting in a slow, but steady disclosure of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). We should give the weapons inspectors time to do their job. We should not give extremist Moslems/ Arabs a further cause to hate America, or give moderate Moslems a reason to join the extremists. Additionally, we must reevaluate keeping our military forces in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia. Their presence on the Islamic "holy soil" of Saudi Arabia will be an anti-American rally cry for Moslems as long as the US military remains and a strong reason, in their opinion, for actions against the US government and American citizens.

Although I strongly believe the time in not yet right for military action in Iraq, as a soldier who has been in several military operations, I hope General Franks, US and coalition forces can accomplish the missions they will be ordered do without loss of civilian or military life and without destruction of the Iraqi peoples' homes and livelihood.

I strongly urge the Department of State to attempt again to stop the policy that is leading us to military action in Iraq without UNSC agreement. Timing is everything and this is not yet the time for military action.

I disagree with the Administration's lack of effort in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Likewise, I cannot support the lack of effort by the Administration to use its influence to resurrect the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. As Palestinian suicide bombers kill Israelis and Israeli military operations kill Palestinians and destroy Palestinian towns and cities, the Administration has done little to end the violence. We must exert our considerable financial influence on the Israelis to stop destroying cities and on the Palestinians to curb its youth suicide bombers. I hope the Administration's long-needed "Roadmap for Peace" will have the human resources and political capital needed to finally make some progress toward peace.

I disagree with the Administration's lack of policy on North Korea
Additionally, I cannot support the Administration's position on North Korea. With weapons, bombs and missiles, the risks that North Korea poses are too great to ignore. I strongly believe the Administration's lack of substantive discussion, dialogue and engagement over the last two years has jeopardized security on the peninsula and the region. The situation with North Korea is dangerous for us to continue to neglect.

I disagree with the Administration's policies on Unnecessary Curtailment of Rights in America

Further, I cannot support the Administration's unnecessary curtailment of civil rights following September 11. The investigation of those suspected of ties with terrorist organizations is critical but the legal system of America for 200 years has been based on standards that provide protections for persons during the investigation period. Solitary confinement without access to legal counsel cuts the heart out of the legal foundation on which our country stands. Additionally, I believe the Administration's secrecy in the judicial process has created an atmosphere of fear to speak out against the gutting of the protections on which America was built and the protections we encourage other countries to provide to their citizens.


I have served my country for almost thirty years in the some of the most isolated and dangerous parts of the world. I want to continue to serve America. However, I do not believe in the policies of this Administration and cannot defend or implement them. It is with heavy heart that I must end my service to America and therefore resign due to the Administration's policies.

Mr. Secretary, to end on a personal note, under your leadership, we have made great progress in improving the organization and administration of the Foreign Service and the Department of State. I want to thank you for your extraordinary efforts to that end. I hate to leave the Foreign Service, and I wish you and our colleagues well.

Very Respectfully,
Mary A. Wright, FO-01
Deputy Chief of Mission
US Embassy
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia


hit tracker