Sunday, August 10, 2008

Kristof: Make Diplomacy, Not War

This was in yesterday's NY Times op-ed section:

Make Diplomacy, Not War


Iraq and Afghanistan are the messes getting attention today, but they are only symptoms of a much broader cancer in American foreign policy.

A few glimpses of this larger affliction:

* The United States has more musicians in its military bands than it has diplomats.

* This year alone, the United States Army will add about 7,000 soldiers to its total; that’s more people than in the entire American Foreign Service.

* More than 1,000 American diplomatic positions are vacant because the Foreign Service is so short-staffed, but a myopic Congress is refusing to finance even modest new hiring. Some 1,100 could be hired for the cost of a single C-17 military cargo plane.

In short, the United States is hugely overinvesting in military tools and underinvesting in diplomatic tools. The result is a lopsided foreign policy that antagonizes the rest of the world and is ineffective in tackling many modern problems.

After all, you can’t bomb global warming.

Incredibly, the most eloquent spokesman for more balance between “hard power” and “soft power” is Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Mr. Gates, who is superb in repairing the catastrophe left behind by Donald Rumsfeld, has given a series of astonishing speeches in which he calls for more resources for the State Department and aid agencies.

“One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win,” Mr. Gates said. He noted that the entire American diplomatic corps — about 6,500 people — is less than the staffing of a single aircraft carrier group, yet Congress isn’t interested in paying for a larger Foreign Service.


With the Olympics unfolding in China now, the Navy and the Air Force are seizing upon China’s rise as an excuse to grab tens of billions of dollars for the F-22, for an advanced destroyer, for new attack submarines. But we’re failing to invest minuscule sums to build good will among Chinese.


Then there’s the Middle East. Dennis Ross, the longtime Middle East peace negotiator, says he has been frustrated “beyond belief” to see resources showered on the military while diplomacy has to fight for scraps. Mr. Ross argues that an investment of just $1 billion — financing job creation and other grass-roots programs in the West Bank — could significantly increase the prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace. But that money isn’t forthcoming.


The next president should absorb that lesson and revalidate diplomacy as the primary tool of foreign policy — even if that means talking to ogres. Take Iran. Until recently, the American officials in charge of solving the Iranian problem were not even allowed to meet Iranians.

“We need to believe in the power of American diplomacy, and we should not believe a military conflict with Iran is inevitable,” said Nicholas Burns, until recently the under secretary of state for political affairs and for three years the government’s point person on Iran. “Our first impulse should be a serious and patient and persistent diplomatic effort. Too often in our national debate we focus on the military option and give short shrift to the diplomatic option.”

So here’s a first step: Let’s agree that diplomats should be every bit as much of an American priority as musicians in military bands.

You can read Kristof's entire piece here.

Connecting the Dots shares Kristof's (and Digger's) frustration with the staffing levels of the Foreign Service when compared with the military, particularly as we have seen increasing threats to global stability in Pakistan and the Republic of Georgia. CDT notes: "All of this will require foreign-service brains, expertise and experience but, as Kristof points out, the US has more musicians in its military bands than diplomats."


Ben said...

Kristoff raised good points about the need to be able to build rather than just blow up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard men say the equivalent of, “you want to help us? Teach our girls to read.” But he needs to refine the prescription offered to our problems on this front. Not to take anything away from hard working and well-meaning diplomats, but a greater number of the same isn’t going to solve the foreign policy problems we face. You cite Dennis Ross — who is likely right about the effectiveness of a billion dollar fund for Palestinian job creation — but more foreign-service officer generalists, even those who speak Arabic, aren’t going to be the difference in achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Our foreign policy challenges are both ideological and practical. From Israel/Palestine to Iraq to Cuba, the first thing we need is an elected leadership that puts forward coherent policies that our diplomatic corps can advance. Diplomats implement policy; they don’t make it. Once we have policies that are achievable and advance our objectives, we need for Congress to allocate more funds to foreign assistance projects (as they do for weapons systems and military expenses) that yield more local job opportunities, improved infrastructure, better education systems, the empowerment of women, and more democratic freedoms in the parts of the world that attract U.S. attention. And once those funds have been allocated, then we need to hire more foreign service functional experts and managers, at the State Department and USAID, who have the skills to shape how that assistance is turned into effective projects that are administered in a way that have the best chance of meeting U.S. policy objectives. We shouldn’t shortchange the expertise it takes to make foreign assistance work.

Many U.S. diplomats work long hours and put whole-hearted efforts into their jobs representing America. But an increase of generalists in the current system and under a leadership that has a similar outlook as this administration will not develop and manage rule of law projects that rebuild judicial systems in areas of conflict, add input to educational curricula reform in places where rote-memorization is the norm, or oversee massive infrastructure projects in parts of the world that are war-torn. We should just be clear that good diplomats and (in an ideal world) skilled specialists are tools to implement foreign policy, just like the military. If the policy doesn’t make sense, however, it doesn’t really matter how many good people we have working to implement it.

Ben Orbach
Author of Live from Jordan

Consul-At-Arms said...

I've quoted you and linked to you here: