2009: Putting the Diplomacy House in Order

(Or Why Diplomacy Needs More Than a Penny)

The trials and tribulations of 2009 will be mainly on the home front. My Chinese crystal ball says that the new year of the Ox is a good time to settle domestic affairs and put our house in order. I think Ambassador Holmes’ piece in Foreign Affairs is a step in the right direction; can’t go forward unless we dare to look back.

In the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador
J. Anthony Holmes, the Cyrus Vance Fellow in Diplomatic Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations who was previously President of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) and U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso pens Where Are the Civilians? How to Rebuild the U.S. Foreign Service.

The title begs the follow up questions of “Who broke it?” And “Why was it broken?” Ambassador Holmes points out that DOD’s 2008 budget was over 24 times as large as the combined budgets of the State Department and USAID ($750 billion compared with $31 billion). And here is something that I did not know: The number of lawyers at the DOD is larger than the entire U.S. diplomatic corps.

Holy goat!

He catalogs “Condi’s False Hope” from transformational diplomacy to the creation and staffing of the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization which was created in 2004 and “had fewer than ten employees in mid-2008 to accomplish what Rice described as a vital component of her vision of a new diplomacy.”

He talks about “Green Zone Blues” and the politicization of the Foreign Service. Here’s the nugget that made me throw my new pair of Manolo Blahnik at my sullen, multi-system tee-vee:

In fact, the Bush administration had effectively engineered the dispute in an effort to publicly embarrass the diplomatic corps. By demanding that FSOs take on the unprecedented, open-ended, and fundamentally impossible challenge of nation building under fire without adequate training or funding, the White House was continuing a myopic tradition of shortchanging the civilian institutions of foreign policy while lavishing resources on the military. Furthermore, the Bush administration’s general efforts to stifle dissent and to reward those serving in Iraq with promotions and choice assignments has led to the unmistakable politicization of the Foreign Service.

Ah well, it’s not a pretty picture (unless you were politicized up) but deserves a good reading by FS professionals; most especially by the incoming administration who has the opportunity to apply the appropriate remedy not just Band-Aid solution to this problem. It’s the year of the Ox; it’s a good time to put this house in order.

Related Item:

Where Are the Civilians? How to Rebuild the U.S. Foreign Service
From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2009