A Diplomatic Surge? What’s the Campaign Plan?

Danger Room has a couple of Afghanistan specific news of late that relates to the State Department: U.S. Cancels Huge Kabul Embassy Expansion on February 9 and Time for a Civilian ‘Surge’ to Afghanistan? posted on February 11, the latter one excerpted below:

“Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has a message for the State Department and other civilian agencies: It’s time to step up to the plate in Afghanistan. Yesterday, the Obama administration kicked off a 60-day policy review of Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy; options may include reinforcing the Afghanistan mission by sending as many as 20,000 to 30,000 more troops. Speaking Monday to soldiers at Fort Drum, N.Y., Mullen said it was time for a “commensurate surge” of diplomats and U.S. government civilians to reinforce stability operations and reconstruction. “It is not possible to win this or succeed in Afghanistan militarily alone,” Mullen said, according to a Pentagon news item. “

Back in October 2008, I anticipate that Obama’s call for Renewing American Diplomacy would be a “harder, tougher, rougher road for diplomats. I wrote:

In many ways, an Obama Presidency, which puts a premium on talk and engagement, would be a harder, rougher, tougher road for our diplomats. Talk is cheap but requires sweat, energy, imagination, creativity, and all things that do not include the firing of bullets. Things like hardship and unaccompanied assignments will most likely not get any better. Why? Simply because the state of our world has become more complex and our relationship to it, particularly in the last several years, has become more fragmented. And also because the “tough, hopeless corners” where America needs to re-engage are probably not the friendliest places for our diplomats and their families to be (Read the full blog post, Previewing Barack Obama and the Foreign Service).

I have to admit that I am a bit more optimistic that the Obama Administration will get the resources needed to fix the Foreign Service, but I also expect that it will not be shy about sending people out to re-engage in all corners of the globe. Before folks even talk about a “diplomatic surge” in Kabul or elsewhere – we need to pause a moment and get our bearings here.

There is no question that the draw-down of our military forces in Iraq is going to happen; it’s only a matter of time.

There is also no question in my mind that Iraq has sucked up State Department resources, especially in terms of personnel during the last several years resulting in the serial understaffing of many of our embassies around the globe. How much more State Department resources would it gobble-gobble when the military finally departs Iraq?

If you haven’t heard, we’ve got a giganotosaurus of an embassy there. Our officers and support personnel also rotate every year. Unless that place is rightsized, the call up for Iraq among diplomats is not going to ease up anytime soon. Then there’ll be a call up for Kabul and surroundings. Plus Pakistan? Tehran? What about a diplomatic “surge” in Pyongyang? Quite exciting, yes?

And here is the true cost of the Iraq escapade to our lead foreign policy agency.

With many of our diplomats rotating in and out of Iraq, with miniscule increase in staffing in the last few years, and with no training float, why would anyone expect that we have enough diplomats prepared for the Afghanistan surge or any other kind of surge elsewhere?

Might someone ask FSI how many diplomats have they trained to speak Pashto and Dari?

How many have been hired to staff the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS)?

How much of the Civilian Response Corps has been constituted and ready to go?

Former Secretary Rice reportedly requested funding for 250 full time employees for an interagency Active component comprised of trained and equipped R&S first responders who can deploy in 48 hours to countries in crisis. The request would also fund training for 2,000 Standby members drawn from within the different agencies. There was even a ceremony for this back in July 2008. If somebody knows where the resulting 250 employees are, please zap me an email. Curious minds would like to know.

My concern here is not that the “surge” is going to happen; it will probably happen whether the Department is ready for it or not. My concern is that Iraq is a “center for lessons learned” by and in itself, but that the hard lessons there may be quickly forgotten now that it no longer is the central front.

We stuffed a roomful of political officers at the Embassy in Baghdad, to what end?

Since their movements are hindered by security, how effectively are they able to do their jobs?

Officer and support personnel are rotated every year, how much program continuity are we talking about here?

Employees spend maybe 3-6 months to transition to a new job and spend the next 3 months to lobby for their next jobs (forward assignments have been assured at some point, don’t know if it’ll continue). How good is State’s knowledge management apparatus?

How many can step into their new roles in Baghdad and around Iraq, and hit the ground running without hitting a brick wall? Or does everyone start from scratch?

How many local employees have immigrated to the U.S.? How quickly are we able to recruit people to fill their place in the pipeline? How fast are we able to train them without compromising the effectiveness of the mission?

And where is the Department’s Rightsizing the U.S. Government’s Overseas Presence (M/R) office in all these (currently at Error 404, link may go live again sometime)?

Will the GAO get to do a look ‘n see of our Baghdad Embassy operation before another “surge” happens elsewhere?

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I’m actually glad they’ve canceled that embassy construction in Afghanistan. It should not be a matter of “if you build it, they will come,” but rather a pragmatic look at what State need to and can accomplish there, followed by an assessment of the corresponding workforce needed to achieve that mission. Why, of course, it’s not the other way around!

The elite Special Forces tasked with the search for UBL in Afghanistan in 2006 complained to a Bush adviser of being run by a two-headed hydra, each headed off in different directions. And they asked the Bush adviser, “What’s the campaign plan?” The adviser was forced to admit that there was no real campaign plan, just a series of tactics and approaches that evolved over time (The Inheritance, p.162).

If we had diplomats in Baghdad asking “what’s the campaign plan,” we probably won’t hear about it until Ambassador Crocker writes his memoir. Or maybe not.

I understand that a diplomatic surge maybe inevitable in Kabul to shore up Bush and Company’s other “mission accomplished.” But —

Sun Tzu in the Art of War writes: “The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses the battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: How much more do no calculation at all pave the way to defeat! It is by attention to this point that I can see who is likely to win or lose.”

When that “surge” happens, our men and women in the Foreign Service and USAID will be doing another kind of battle in Afghanistan – but what’s the campaign plan and are they equip for it? Afghanistan has been described as more closely resembling a post-conflict state in Sub-Saharan Africa than it does Iraq. It has a population of 32 million compared with Iraq’s 27.5 million; it has sectarian, ethnic and tribal challenges but unlike Iraq, is more fragmented and rural. It has a land mass larger than Iraq, and a literacy rate of 28%.

With the diplomatic surge in the horizon, do we even have time to pause long enough to make “many calculations?” And yet, it must be done, or it’ll be Iraq all over again, and again and again…

Related Post:
Previewing Barack Obama and the Foreign Service

Related Item:
Robert Kaplan: Obama’s Afghanistan Hurdles