Thursday, February 07, 2008

Delivering the Foreigners

Avuncular American, a retired Foreign Service Officer, has an interesting piece about what he calls "the increasingly subordinate role performed by American diplomats vis-a-vis the U.S. Military."

"What Diplomats Do: "Deliver the Foreigners"

Parents in the diplomatic service have to answer the same questions that other mommies and daddies do, but their answers are of necessity more complicated. Children aren't the only ones flummoxed by what diplomats do; many an American Foreign Service Officer working for the State Department has experienced the bemused looks of neighbors and family back home. "State" department sounds like you work in Harrisburg, Tallahassee, or any other American state capital bureaucracy. What you're doing in Tallinn or Algiers, they have no idea."

Digger comments:
This is definitely true. I was in NC when I joined the FS. I told one woman I was going to work for the State Department and she asked if I was moving to Raleigh. I finally gave up on telling people I was a Foreign Service Officer and just said diplomat instead, sacrificing my desire to not sound pretentious in exchange for at least a little clarity.

AA continues:
"But now, thanks to the increasingly subordinate role performed by American diplomats vis-a-vis the US military (see my blast when General David Petraeus insisted on referring to the US Ambassador to Iraq as his "diplomatic wingman"), we have a new wrinkle on the concept of diplomats-as-enablers. The January 18, 2008 Washington Times ("State Doubles Military Advisers," by Nicholas Kralev) tells us that diplomats are much in demand in the burgeoning US military:

The State Department is doubling the number of resident diplomatic advisers that it sends to the offices of the nation's top military commanders at home and overseas — a move encouraged by the Pentagon as its uniformed leaders take on larger public roles abroad.

The diplomats also help to "deliver the foreigners," as one official put it, whenever advice or assistance is needed from allies or other countries. Sometimes, they simply offer their counsel on foreign affairs, ensuring that the commander is familiar with current U.S. policy before making public remarks.

It's good that seasoned diplomats advise generals on current US foreign policy. After all, they have to do the same thing when US presidents persist in sending fat cat campaign donors abroad as political appointee ambassadors, in recognition of their generosity. But it's the preamble of the article that hits the core problem: "a move encouraged by the Pentagon as its uniformed leaders take on larger public roles abroad."

"Delivering the foreigners" for four star (and more junior) generals is increasingly the lot of American diplomats. Increasingly, the US military is taking on "roles and responsibilities" (to use a good Pentagon term) that are very far from basic soldiering. You need a website to bring the Muslims around to the American Way? The Pentagon has it. How about development projects, to win hearts and minds? We got that too: the Special Operations Command excels in "public safety, agriculture, finance, economy, and support of dislocated civilian operations."

In the recent "stand up" of the Pentagon's newest regional combatant command, AFRICOM, the US military proceeded to reinvent the diplomatic and development wheels that the State Department and USAID have had in Africa ever since President John F. Kennedy determined that the United States would have a "universal" presence in every one of the newly-independent African countries that started appearing during his tenure. A USAID veteran told me of his particular experience:

I've had conversations during 2007 with university colleagues whose brains are being picked by the Africa command folks on this side of the Atlantic. The content of these DOD-university dialogues is often incredibly basic. As a consequence, the new partnership crowds out long-established relationships that USAID and USDA [Agriculture Department] had/have with the university agriculture community. The Administration has duplicated USAID with MCC [Millenium Challenge Corporation], and now the Pentagon will do so again with the Africa Command's emphasis on civilian topics.

Meanwhile, USAID's well-planned agriculture projects in Africa limp along with stagnant funding. "

Digger comments:
I think much of this is a duel problem of State having too little money and too much focus on Iraq. I am not one of the nay-sayers who thinks we should withdraw immediately from Iraq (in fact, I hope the military stays there until at least after I serve my tour there, as we all will, because I am a big fan of having folks there with guns who are on our side!). I don't even think withdrawal is a realistic possibility, though I do think our embassy there is too large given the current environment (any other embassy on earth would have been long ago evacuated). I do think that having Iraq as our primary foreign policy focus is short-sighted (at a Junior Officer conference, department leaders from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) said anything outside of Iraq and the Middle East was just "fisheries." I suppose that means Russia and China are not important) and has lead to vast amounts of money being pumped into the military at State's expense. One might even argue that State's initial reluctance to go into Iraq without proper planning for reconstruction opened a door for the military to take the lead, and we have remained somewhat marginalized.

That the military is taking over so many of the functions we should be doing (and could do better because that is our area of expertise) is no surprise given the size of their budget. And no one can blame them for trying to increase their budget by taking on new projects. The problem is an issue of soft power versus hard power. We should be using diplomacy as a soft power before we use hard power and we should be properly funding the soft power so it can do the tasks it was meant to do. Regardless of what anyone thinks about the war, we are there, and we need to do our jobs. And conducting diplomacy abroad is the role of the State Department, not the military.

The point is we need both, each doing what we are expert at doing and letting the other do what they are expert at doing. The carrot and the stick approach only works when you have both a carrot AND and stick and the two are held in different hands.

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