Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Diplomacy Lite, Military Heavy

Now back to something a little (a lot) more serious. Pat Kushlis had a great piece yesterday over at Whirled View that I think you ought to read.

Diplomacy Lite, Military Heavy
By Patricia H. Kushlis

Why is American foreign policy so diplomatically light but so militarily heavy? No, I’m not imagining things. And it’s been that way for decades – George W. Bush and Dick Cheney just pushed the envelope further in that direction after 9/11.

Yet this is a fundamental question that Americans should not only be asking, but also attempting to resolve because diplomatic solutions, negotiations and conflict management are far less expensive (listen up Teapotter conservatives who long for small government and a miniscule federal budget – except, of course, for the military, roads and their Medicare and VA benefits), certainly less lethal, normally more effective with the neighbors and often just plain good foreign relations common sense.


The way the Cold War was conceptualized in the US, America tilted heavily towards reliance on preponderant military strength. This was also used as a way to persuade the American public to and sell the US Congress on support for a policy weighted towards consequent military growth.

One also has to wonder, however, whether at the time the alternative would have been a retreat into the equally misguided isolationism of Jesse Helms and if the Containment policy wasn't partially, at least, designed as a counter-balance. Then, of course, Joe McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunt came along which damaged not only American universities, intellectuals, and the entertainment industry but also the State Department decimating the ranks of the China hands who, because they predicted Mao's victory, were somehow blamed for it.


Today the problem is - because of continued over-reliance on the military to solve all foreign policy problems - the US Armed Forces have been ordered to assume roles and engage in tasks for which they are eminently unsuited, unskilled and ill-prepared. Unfortunately, the State Department and what’s left of USAID have been so weakened over the years to be unable to take them on successfully either.

How to make fundamental changes?

The question in my mind, then, is how to effect the systemic seismic changes required. I agree with Suri who argues that the US should eliminate the concept of containment from its foreign policy lexicon and emphasize that of engagement (which I think Obama has largely done), that alliances should be seen as ongoing processes and relationships and that there needs to be a Constitutional revision of the National Security Act. Suri also suggests the establishment of a ROTC for the State Department as a way of training future diplomats.


Increases fine - but it will take far more to correct the Herculean problems

Congress has just agreed to increase the number of Foreign Service Officers by 1,000 (700 at State and 300 at USAID) next year. That’s all to the good. But what about the Peace Corps and where will those 700 newbies at State be assigned? Stamping visas every one?

In reality, these projected increases are 1) a drop in the bucket (the good news is that the phrase that there are more members of military bands than US Foreign Service Officers has finally become part of the vernacular) when the State Department still can’t manage its personnel well; 2) the Foreign Service Act of 1980 continues to force out too many competent officers at the peak of their careers for no good reason; and 3) it takes years (like about 20) to develop a seasoned officer with the requisite skills and foreign language ability to function well overseas. Just in time, as it turns out, for many to be retired prematurely.


You can read the entire piece here.


Anonymous said...

Yes, the forced retirement age thing really, really upsets and bothers me. It just seems so... wrong.

But I'm new and I know I have much to learn...

Anonymous said...

Why, because of Alger Hiss. Because diplomats consider themselves to be above and better than most Americans. Because diplomats are decidedly ambiguous about their love of country. Also, because they have so few successes. You guys are doing such a bang-up job on the Iranian nukes. Well, you don't even consider the Iranian nukes a problem.

Digger said...

If you want to have a civil discussion, I'm willing. But don't tell me that most diplomats consider themselves above Americans or that we are ambiguous about our love for our country. We don't, and we aren't. I am a diplomat BECAUSE I love my country and I want to represent my country's interests overseas.