November 03, 2007

Diplomats and Anthropologists

The Washington Post features two op-eds today on the recent State Department flap concerning diplomats refusing to serve in Iraq. (Abu Muqawama and Charlie first weighed in on this here.) Allow Abu Muqawama to highlight some of Tammy Schultz's piece, which Abu Muqawama felt was both smarter and more nuanced that Austin's Bay's Washington Times op-ed yesterday -- while at the same time reaching the same basic conclusion.

To recap: At a State Department town hall Wednesday, hundreds of diplomats cried foul over a new policy that could cost them their jobs if they turn down assignments in Baghdad or outlying provinces. "It's one thing if someone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers, but it's another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment," declared one Foreign Service veteran. "I'm sorry, but basically that's a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?"

Who, indeed? Undoubtedly, the same question was asked silently by the parents among the approximately 4,000 military personnel who lost their lives and the nearly 30,000 wounded since the Iraq war began.

Ah, but not so fast. It's not so simple as telling the State Department to stop their whining, is it Tammy?

There are some completely practical considerations that make the personal-risk calculation for diplomats different from their military counterparts. For instance, a Foreign Service officer's life insurance policy becomes null and void in a combat zone -- a big deal for someone with a family to support.

But the more significant problem is cultural. Our diplomats are not used to laying their lives on the line in operational roles. Sure, many of them serve in hardship postings. But part of the reason that only three State Department employees have died in Iraq is that most never leave the relative safety of the Green Zone. They're not trained to. Our diplomats have been the conveyer belts of policy -- not the engines of policymaking or operations. But the Long War will increasingly call for civilian expertise in "non-permissive" environments, where the bullets are still flying.

If you're going to call for that kind of commitment, though, you better be prepared to properly resource the agencies you're asking to step up. I'm sure Schultz would not disagree with Hans Binnendijk, writing in the second op-ed, when he raises the important issue of resources:

Civilian agencies are disappearing. The U.S. Information Agency and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency have folded, while the U.S. Agency for International Development operates with less than a third of the staff it had during the Cold War. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's initiative to transform diplomacy lacks fiscal and personnel resources.


Resetting the balance between civilian and military responsibilities will take time. Some recommend legislation that would fundamentally redesign the national security and interagency structures. That goal may be too grand, but steps must be taken in that direction.

First, we must recognize the problem. The State Department and other civilian agencies are instruments of U.S. national security policy but are unprepared. They need to be authorized and fully resourced to do their jobs. The USIA should be re-created, while USAID needs expansion and restructuring. Civilian agencies need operational cultures more compatible with the changing security environment.

In the end, two things should result from all this. One, the foreign service officer corps is going to end up with real egg on their faces. They can cry foul about that all they want, but the U.S. public is going to compare their griping about Iraq with the sacrifices made by U.S. servicemen, and all those old stereotypes about martini-sipping, striped pants-wearing pretty-boy diplomats are going to come flooding back. This is a shame. Abu Muqawama knows a few diplomats who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan as military reservists and then gone back to the State Department, and this is going to embarrass them to no end. But tough. State has brought this one on themselves.

Second, though, a more positive development could take place -- and is taking place already. Several presidential campaigns have embraced Newt Gingrich's call to enlarge the State Department, and many other smart folks -- such as Tammy Schultz's peers at CNAS -- are thinking about ways to fix the inter-agency process. (A process about which Charlie knows a lot more than Abu Muqawama.) If this mess ends up with the U.S. Information Agency reconstituted and more foreign service officers hired, it will have been worth it.


On a completely unrelated note -- but connected to the other big issue this blog covered over the week -- Ken Silverstein at Harper's is now blogging on the FM 3-24 plagiarism "scandal" and David Price's heroic struggle against John 'Jon' Nagl and the united forces of fascism.

Abu Muqawama is tired of this already. One friend e-mailed to say that "storms and teacups" come to mind when reading about this, and Abu Muqawama is inclined to agree. But that same friend asked if FM 3-24 -- as doctrine -- was having a real effect on events on the ground. In a word, yes. In a way, FM 3-24 only serves to crystallize and legitimize tactics and techniques that have been in use in Iraq since well before the doctrine's publication. But the radical departure FM 3-24 represents from the traditional Jominian concept of war employed by the U.S. Army makes FM 3-24 the most influential piece of doctrine published by the U.S. military in at least a generation.*

Now is it making Iraq any safer? Some say yes. And there has been, we all must admit, a real lull in violence in Iraq recently. Abu Muqawama, however, has been holding his breath ever since the surge started and has yet to exhale. It's just too soon to tell whether or not we have "won" anything concrete. (Phil Carter explores the dark side of the "good news" in Slate.)

*For more on the Clausewitz versus Jomini debate, by the way, read the first half of John 'Jon' Nagl's book. Or Michael Howard's excellent short introduction to Clausewitz. If Charlie was up last night reading Mahan (again), Abu Muqawama was reading Book VIII of On Warin a pub for a good thirty minutes last night while waiting on some friends. So don't feel bad, Charlie!