Sunday, February 17, 2008

WhirledView on the Miranda Memo

Whirled View has an excellent commentary on the Miranda Memo:

The Miranda Memorandum: the pot calls the kettle black

Whatever one thinks of the recent nine-page memorandum by Manuel Miranda, a Republican political appointee operative, at the conclusion of his obviously less than satisfactory one year tour at the American Embassy Baghdad, one has to question the judgment of the State Department for hiring him and assigning him there in the first place. Surely, the powers that be should have known his reputation as the staffer in charge of shepherding the Bush administration’s most controversial judicial appointments through the Senate Judiciary Committee then an aide to Senator Frist, positions from which he resigned under a cloud.

I can’t help, however, but agree with several of Miranda's observations concerning the management style and administrative abilities of the State Department. I have never thought the department was the right place for administering programs whether nation- or democracy-building, international educational exchanges, international tours for performing artists, publications, exhibits, narcotics eradication or, well, you name it. State just wasn’t and isn’t nimble enough. It is foremost a policy, not a program agency. That’s why once upon a time we had two separate specialized civilian agencies: the US Information Agency for media, cultural and educational exchanges and USAID for international development. USIA was destroyed in 1999 and USAID is now a mere shadow of its former self.

A substantial number of Foreign Service Officers – at least those who have already served in Iraq if the most recent American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) opinion survey is accurate and I think its numbers and scope are compelling - would agree with Miranda that assigning yet more State Department officers to the country is no answer to the enormous problems that State has agreed to tackle there. To do so, it has let all its other installations abroad operate on skeleton staffs for far too long. Where I disagree with true-believer Miranda is that I do not think that anyone short of Hercules himself could put the Iraqi Humpty-Dumpy together again once the Bush administration had pushed it off the wall.

Moreover, the Foreign Service does not have agronomists, electricians, well-drillers, police trainers, or guerrilla fighters on staff. Nor should it. That is not what diplomacy is all about: diplomacy is all about relations between countries and their governments. It is not about running someone else’s government, society, economy, electrical or water systems. This is a form of post-colonial imperialism at its worst - and least effective.

The Foreign Service and the State Department do, however, have plenty of – some might argue too many – lawyers. I find it, therefore, difficult to understand why a position with the questionable title “director of the office of legislative statecraft” could and should not have been filled by someone from the department itself.

In all my years in the Foreign Service – and I served in some very large embassies - did I ever meet anyone with a title remotely resembling Miranda’s. Regardless, the Department has any number of officers who have served in staff positions on Capitol Hill and a fair number of them had had legal training. Certainly they would have been more qualified than Mr. Miranda to embark upon the difficult Iraq legislative training task at hand. Could Miranda’s have been simply a made up title for a difficult to place Republican stalwart in need of a lucrative paycheck thrust down the department’s neck by the White House Office of Personnel. Who knows who owed what to whom and why. Miranda did not bring Arabic language skills or Iraqi cultural or even Iraqi legal understanding to the position. Whether the US legislative experience is relevant to Iraq is questionable.

Made-up titles for phony jobs for politicos have certainly happened before in US diplomatic circles except they often occur in Washington. Otherwise, the recipients of such “largesse” often wind up with Ambassadorial titles to places like Paris, London or Rome not stuck in a mid-level job in the Emerald Palace on the Tigris. Mr. Miranda, however, would never have made it through a Senate Ambassadorial confirmation hearing - especially with the Democrats in charge of the Senate - even one in an out of the way hell-hole, given his record on the Hill.

Yet as I read, then reread Miranda’ Memo addressed to Ryan Crocker, US Ambassador to Iraq, a diatribe which was clearly designed to garner the most media attention possible and leaked on a slow news day, I couldn’t help wondering what Miranda thought he should have been teaching Iraqi officials during the time he was apparently assigned to witness endless furniture rearrangement and staff reorganizations in the Green Zone.

The major thing that came across in this now infamous memo was the necessity of teaching the Iraqis the practice of lobbying, a dubious endeavor at best but one which Miranda appears to equate part and parcel with the core of the democratic process. If so, then I think Ambassador Crocker and his staff should be congratulated for keeping Miranda otherwise engaged.

Miranda also criticized his predecessor’s overly ambitious claim to progress on gaining passage of Iraq’s “oil law,” a claim which Miranda thought was at best premature. But wait a minute. Wasn't the task of ensuring the oil law’s passage farmed out to private contractor Bearing Point last year? Given Miranda’s position that government can do no right and the private sector can do no wrong, this should have made him ecstatic – although, of course he’s hot to trot to blame the State Department, not the contractor, for failure to deliver.

I was initially taken aback by the cavalier brush-off that State’s Public Affairs Office gave to the hapless reporter who asked a question about Miranda’s memorandum. But given the political landmines any substantive answer might have triggered, perhaps the department was right – the less said, the better.

Yet, I was equally annoyed by ABC’s decision to publish the entire text of Miranda’s memo with no apparent research into the writer’s background or motives. You would think in these days of easy access to myriads of data through Google and other Internet search engines far more reporters would have put two and two together and at least raised more than the few questions about Miranda’s own background and motives before unquestioningly taking the document’s contents at face-value. Unfortunately, all too few did.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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