Is Diplomacy Hot Again or What?

“The old state department building in Washington, as it was in 1865.” – From an 1898 publication.

On Hillary’s first day on the job, she gave a well applauded speech, and her new boss and next boss in line came for a visit and not just to shake hands. That’s something. I did not applaud because she said smart power need smart people, although I’m sure that endeared her to our brainiacs at Foggy Bottom. My mind was somewhere else…

For this institution that had been relegated to the wood kitchen or had been invited only into polite company in folding chairs, that early visit sends quite a positive signal. I hope this is the start of a turnaround.

I hope, too that the new occupant of the 7th floor will have somebody do something about Corridor 1500 (see Dead Men Working’s post on this here). It may seem petty, wanting our history back on the wall, but it harms no one; besides they’re mostly dead people now, it’s not as if they’ll ask for directions or a promotion or harangue anyone for any bad decision. Please rescue Elihu Root, William Bryan, Cordell Hull, George Marshall, Dean Acheson, John Dulles, Dean Rusk, even Henry, the Kiss, from the dungeon of Foggy Bottom and let them enjoy their space on our walls once more.

I have to admit that I got a little dizzy yesterday watching Steve Kashkett’s body movement as he spoke (if he is a PD officer, FSI needs to update its training modules on public speaking). Sorry, but I also want a diplomat there who can speak without notes. I hope AFSA is keeping notes for next time. Ambassador Bill Burns did his part just perfectly. I watched the videos and scrolled through the blog comments in the official blog, DipNote (under new management). It crossed my mind that Hillary may exactly be the remedy for the inattentiveness of the American public to the Foreign Service and the work of the State Department.

I still don’t quite understand why Hillary was willing to swap her Senate seat with what is a 4-year, maybe 8-year gig. But if those “18 million cracks” on the ceiling will continue to focus and engage their attention on Hillary and by extension her work at Foggy Bottom, the agency may find its constituent in a roundabout way for the first time. Sure, Colin Powell had rock star quality, but he did not have the 18 million support pack that Hillary carries.

At the Benjamin Franklin Room, around mid-afternoon, Secretary Clinton with Vice President Joe Biden announced Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell and Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. There were speeches all around (excerpts below). The full text is here. The 39 min video is here.

Secretary Clinton:

Mr. President, by coming here to the State Department and through your announcement today of these two positions, you are through word and deed sending a loud and clear signal that diplomacy is a top priority of your presidency and that our nation is once again capable of demonstrating global leadership in pursuit of progress and peace.

We are honored to have you join us on only the second day in office. We are grateful to you for highlighting these urgent issues and the collaboration needed to address two of the biggest foreign policy challenges of our time.

Vice President Joe Biden:

We’ve come here today to the State Department to send a very clear message, a clear message at home as well as abroad that we are going to reinvigorate America’s commitment to diplomacy. This effort will be led by Secretary Clinton.

For too long, we’ve put the bulk of the burden, in my view, on our military. That’s a view not only shared by me, but by your secretary of defense, as well. And our military is absolutely, to state the obvious, absolutely necessary, but not sufficient, not sufficient to secure the interest of this great nation.

President Obama:

My appearance today, as has been noted, underscores my commitment to the importance of diplomacy and renewing American leadership. And it gives me an opportunity to thank you for the services that you perform every single day.

Sometimes I think the American public doesn’t fully understand the sacrifices that you and your families make, the dedication that is involved in you carrying on your tasks day in, day out.


This morning, I signed three executive orders. First, I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture.


Second, we will close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and determine how to deal with those who have been held there.

And, third, we will immediately undertake a comprehensive review to determine how to hold and try terrorism suspects to best protect our nation and the rule of law.

The world needs to understand that America will be unyielding in its defense of its security and relentless in its pursuit of those who would carry out terrorism or threaten the United States. And that’s why, in this twilight struggle, we need a durable framework.

The orders that I signed today should send an unmistakable signal that our actions in defense of liberty will be just as our cause and that we, the people, will uphold our fundamental values as vigilantly as we protect our security. Once again, America’s moral example must be the bedrock and the beacon of our global leadership.

President Obama’s speech includes the following which must also ricochet around Kabul:

The American people and the international community must understand that the situation is perilous and progress will take time. Violence is up dramatically in Afghanistan. A deadly insurgency has taken deep root. The opium trade is far and away the largest in the world.

The Afghan government has been unable to deliver basic services. Al Qaeda and the Taliban strike from bases embedded in rugged tribal terrain along the Pakistani border. And while we have yet to see another attack on our soil since 9/11, Al Qaida terrorists remain at large and remain plotting.

Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta
was already unhappy with Secretary Clinton for calling Afghanistan a “narco-state” during her testimony, this one is not going to make him or President Karzai feel better. Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world’s opium, the main ingredient in heroin. I wonder if calling Afghanistan “opium heaven” would be more diplomatic and palatable than “narco-state?”

Our Shooty-Shooty and Talky-Talky Teams in Afghanistan

In the February 2009 issue of the Men’s Journal, Robert Young Pelton goes inside our new and brainier strategy in Afghanistan and finds that, on the front line, scientists and soldiers don’t always mix. Afghanistan: The New War for Hearts and Minds, has been called “an absurdist tale of modern warfare,” and there is a good reason for that.

Pelton’s piece focused on the subject of human terrain teams, or HTTs, the idea of putting a small army of civilian social scientists (apparently anthropologists are the ideal ones) and intel-savvy military officers into the field to give brigade commanders a better understanding of local dynamics (social structures, linkages, tribal implications, etc). This is reportedly all part of General Petraeus’s doctrine of a smarter, management-style counterinsurgency.

Pelton reports that there are now “six five-to-nine-person human terrain teams in Afghanistan and 21 teams in Iraq. If the concept proves successful, the $120 million–plus program would grow to 700 HTT and support staff in those countries and other hot spots.”

The man charged with managing the program is retired special operations colonel Steve Fondacaro who freely admits that one of the biggest obstacles to injecting social science into the military will be the military itself. “We are like a virus infecting the host,” he told Pelton. “Either the army will be inoculated and be stronger, or they will expel us in a torrent of puke.” Okay, if that is not a quotable quote, I don’t know what is.

Pelton situates us in Bagram and gives us a feel of the “many tribes” there from the dominant ones “identifiable by their digital camo and bad haircuts,” to the “contractors recognizable by their Fu Manchu mustaches,” and an invisible tribe of about 600 aka prisoners. With Burger King, DQ, and Subway in addition to premium cable available for $115 a month and massages from young Kyrgyz ladies for $15, he calls Bagram “America’s duty-free space station in the war on terror and may be the most culturally isolated outpost on the planet. The world’s most effective killing machine has ensconced itself in a hastily constructed replica of a Midwest strip mall.”


Some more interesting stuff:

A scientist did not want to be photographed or named: Pelton speculates “It seems that within left-leaning academic circles, hanging out with the military is the equivalent of a movie star doing infomercials.”

The research manager, Army lieutenant “Indiana Jones” makes about $30,000 before danger pay, while a top-tier scientist can make $250,000 a year in the program. The interpreter makes four times what the lieutenant earns. Think how much will be in this pot if there is one scientist for each of the 700 HTTs at $250,000 a pop.

Read about a team of three burly, geared-up men known only as Peter, an Afghan-American translator named, Joseph; and Peter’s partner, who calls himself “Paris Hilton;” Their team also called HTT, for HUMINT or human intelligence are the “shooty-shooty guys” according to Paris. Apparently the scientists of the human terrain teams are the “talky-talky” guys. They threw around other acronyms like THT for tactical human terrain teams and CTTs for cultural terrain teams to avoid confusion but gave up on it after a while.

Halfway through the piece, Pelton writes:

“Imagine if dudes with guns like that come into your house at 2 am,” Jones says. He has stumbled across the dirty secret of “human terrain” mapping. In order to snip the connective tissue between the network of evildoers, someone has to figure out who they are. Whether you snip the web by being nice or nasty is irrelevant. The information Jones and his team collect with good intentions is all part of a massive database that may eventually lead to Paris Hilton knocking on someone’s door.”

And like any writer in search of a story, he wastes no time while waiting for a ride. Pelton asked his company to name who are the good guys and the bad guys. You have to wade through many more acronyms but he was kind enough to explain each one. Somebody put JAG, the U.S. military’s investigation unit in the bad guys’ column. Jeez!

He closes his article with a quote from an MBA grad, Masood Karokhail, “You can’t be in the military and expect to work with the very people they are attacking,” and decided that Karokhail has captured the crux of the problem.

“My time with Jones taught me more about how Americans think and operate in Afghanistan than how Afghans think and operate. The resurgent Taliban is thrilled to see the Americans make many of the same mistakes the Russians did here: worn-out troops isolated in hardened forts defending a weakened central government promoting a foreign agenda. HTTs are supposed to bring down the cultural barrier between the military and the locals, but the biggest enemy is the natural inclination of troops to be troops, not social workers. Strangely enough, the Taliban is far more expert at meeting the basic needs of Afghans: namely, by fighting the corrupt central government and providing justice and security. Until that changes the Afghans will be more inclined to identify with the “enemy” than the well-intentioned guests.”

Our national security strategy stands on the three legs of defense, diplomacy and development. Leaning on one leg for much of the last eight years has made for a wobbly stool to put it mildly. As Afghanistan heats up once more, I think this one makes for a very serious reading. I am curious as to how much of the Afghanistan strategy is going to change with the new national security team in place. How much control/oversight will the new Obama team and 111th Congress exercise over the execution of new programs like this, especially one that is part of the Petreus Doctrine.

You’ve got to read the whole thing here.

Danger Room has more articles on the Human Terrain Teams here.