Embed diplomacy as a core “proficiency” in the US Army?

Mohammad Yaqub Khan with Britain's Sir Pierre ...Image via WikipediaThe world is getting more complicated everyday.

A few weeks ago, we heard that the State Department is building its own mini-Army in the wake of the troops drawdown in Iraq. It will soon have its own helo-fleet.  American diplomats and civilians heading to the warzones are now routinely trained in Indiana in offensive driving, weapons training and a whole lot more… we’re trying to get diplomats to be like, you know, transformed ….to make them more like troops?…I don’t know …. but send them to the boondocks for sure …give them something more than skillcraft pens….

Now, Spencer Ackerman has an interesting piece over at Danger Room: Army Asks Itself: Shouldn’t We Be Diplomats? Quick excerpt:

Oh, for the simple days, when adversaries sent their diplomats to negotiate political disagreements and sent in their armies when talks broke down. Now, a small group of soldiers and civilians are packing themselves this week into the suburban Virginia offices of a major defense contractor to hash out how to make troops more like… diplomats.

A decade in Iraq and Afghanistan has taught the U.S. Army — painfully — that the world no longer works that way. There probably aren’t going to be any experienced diplomats on hand at Combat Outpost Middle-Of-Nowhere, so soldiers have to engage in DIY Diplomacy. Platoon commanders in their early twenties need to go from directing artillery fire one minute and sipping tea with the potentates of the town they just shelled the next. And their late-twenties company commanders may end up negotiating truces or even alliances of convenience with the bad guys who prompted the artillery barrage in the first place.

That’s where something called Unified Quest comes in. Every year, the Army’s chief of staff instructs talented mid-career and senior officers and senior enlisted (wo)men to evaluate where the service is falling short — and propose remedies. On Tuesday, about 120 soldiers and their civilian and foreign-military friends (and even some Marines) swarmed onto the manicured northern Virginia campus of mega-consultant Booz Allen Hamilton to kick off the first four-day debating bull session for Unified Quest 2011, to figure out how best to cultivate the next generation of Army leaders. One answer, hotly debated by the 25 or so soldiers and civilians in attendance: make them better diplomats.
Others on the panel argued to broaden the scope of what Army negotiations are for. They’re not just to persuade opposing or neutral forces. One war veteran remembered, “I spent a lot of time negotiating with my international partner, to get around his national limitations” on engaging in combat. Another pointed out that “it also allows us to build alliances across the interagency” — an ironic statement, considering that the Army might not be so deeply in the negotiations business if the State Department was more willing and able to send its diplomats out to Combat Outpost Middle-of-Nowhere. (Interestingly, according to one of the conference’s public-affairs people, there aren’t any State Department representatives participating in Unified Quest.)

After monthly debating sessions on Unified Quest end in April 2011, Dempsey will provide its holistic view on how the Army needs to prepare its next generation to his boss, General George Casey, the Army’s chief of staff.

Casey will decide whether to accept and how to implement Unified Quest’s instructions on everything from ethics in warfare to cyber operations. The chief is an advocate of Unified Quest — a photo of his face graces the cover to the Official Unified Quest Looseleaf Binder. Still, convincing him to embed diplomacy as a core “proficiency” of the next round of majors and colonels might take some negotiation.

Read the whole thing here.

In my long years as a watcher, I’ve never seen or heard of State do something like the Army’s Unified Quest.  For one thing, I don’t think the agency ever had enough money to do a powwow in Booz Allen Hamilton’s campus to do mega-brainstorms like this.  The other reason, of course, is bench strength. There is just not enough people out there. DOD has more band members, more lawyers, more PD folks, more of everything when it comes to resources.  State has to make do with persistent staffing gaps (Congress’ fault and partly its own for bull headed rigidity) and limited resources sucked up in priority war zones 1 and 2, and almost war zone posts.

That’s not an excuse, dudes.  It just is.  Decades in the making, through several secretaries of state and a fickle Congress who was never quite enamored with diplomats. 

Now, the warrior diplomats — they have historical precedents, of course. An example below from across the pond.

In the 1800s, the Brits wanted a diplomatic mission in Kabul after Russia sent an envoy there. When the Afghans refused, the British government launched the Second Anglo-Afghan war in 1878. We all remember that, right?  A British major was tasked to negotiate a treaty to end the war, and did so successfully. He was knighted and appointed envoy in Kabul only to be shot and killed (together with all his security guards) by the locals.

Did not turn out very well.

In the case above,  the Brits shoot first and talks followed. Is that going to be our new model in the world of the future where America is in perpetual war?

Now– if the Army gets to be diplomats, also — might Congress just decide to defund the diplomatic service? Probably not. After all, USAID is still around, despite the proliferation of aid groups within the federal government.

Of course, one never knows. There is an election down the road, and these are crazy times indeed.


SRAP Holbrooke Visits IDP Camp in Pakistan

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke visits Makli Cricket Stadium Army IDP Camp in Thatta. Ambassador Holbrooke meets Army Brigadier Mehmood accompanied by Karachi’s Consul General William Martin.

Photo from US Embassy Islamabad

Sky News Online reports that Richard Holbrooke said that the country needed to make sure it was getting enough revenue from its citizens amid criticism of the way Pakistan’s rich traditionally pay little tax on income and property.

Mr Holbrooke said: “I don’t want to withhold money, but I think we have to be clear that the US Congress is going to be reluctant to give money if the money is filling in a gap because people are not paying taxes.”

Our favorite "Senator from France" Chuck Hagel: still telling it like it is

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) arrives at Camp Rama...Image via WikipediaIt’s not everyday that we find a politician who is able to keep his/her reputation of candor in office or out.  Hard to keep in office, because politicians pander to their constituents and are afraid to lose their votes; and outside, because they may be after a position here or there and presumably does not want to compromise their appointment prospects with the administration of the day.  But we are happy to see that Chuck Hagel still wear the same stripes, still own the same spots, and have not exchanged his views for political convenience.  And god bless the guy, he still makes sense.

Michael Coleman did an interview with the former Senator for The Washington Diplomat. Quotable quotes below:

“I think we’re in a mess in Afghanistan and I think we’re in a mess in Iraq,” said Hagel, who voted in support of the war in Iraq based on the intelligence assessments and later admitted he regretted his vote.

“Our military has been more valiant and done a better job than we could have ever hoped. But we have put the military in an impossible situation.”

“Look at the facts: No government, less electricity and people want us out,” Hagel pointed out. “Anyway you measure Iraq today I think you’re pretty hard pressed to find how people are better off than they were before we invaded. I think history is going to be very harsh in its judgment — very, very harsh. And I think we’re headed for a similar outcome in Afghanistan if we don’t do some things differently.”

“We are where we are today — going into our 10th year in Afghanistan, our longest war — because we did take our eye of the ball,” he said. “It’s becoming clearer and clearer. We really made some big mistakes during that time. I have never believed you can go into any country and nation build, and unfortunately I think that’s what we’ve gotten ourselves bogged down in.

“You can dance around that issue any way you like, but the fact is that there are billions and billions of dollars we’ve spent and are still spending, over 100,000 troops, and all the assistance we’ve got going in there,” Hagel continued. “It’s nation building. We should not nation build. It will always end in disaster.”

“We became completely disoriented from our original focus,” Hagel charged. “That problem in Afghanistan isn’t going to be solved with 100,000 American troops.”

“We’re sinking down further and further into the bog,” he lamented. “We’re going to have to unwind this because politically it’s not sustainable in the United States.”

“It’s the most combustible area of the world,” Hagel, a former senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, explained. “You’ve got three nuclear powers [China, India and Pakistan] that all come together at the same border and on the other side you’ve got Afghanistan and Iran. The worst thing we can do is continue to stay bogged down in those areas where we continue to undermine our own objectives.”

“I’ve been called the senator from France and all this stuff,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “But I’ve never thought that engagement was appeasement.

 “I’ve always found that engagement is critically important to statecraft,” he added. “That doesn’t mean that engagement is giving things away or appeasement. Engagement is a long way away from negotiation. But it will allow you some time and give you some high ground, some optics, some support worldwide and a dimension to try to assess things from as close to the scene as you can.

 “We say, ‘We’ll show you — we’re not going to talk to you. We’ll penalize you,’” he continued. “Well, it really doesn’t penalize anybody but us because we can’t make good judgments on just what we think. We have to engage.”

“The consequences of the blunder we made and the extenuation of the disaster in Afghanistan is going to play out in a number of ways that will affect our country,” he said. “Start with the Pentagon. Does anybody not think that these two wars have ground our people down? Our generals are saying it — record divorces, record suicides, not to mention the equipment — anyway you calibrate it. Quite frankly, I think there has been so much damage done to the infrastructure of our military and our force structure that it’s going to take a generation to build back.”

He pointedly added: “You can’t run people like machines  — even machines break down.”

Some quarters have actually cited his candor as “biden-nisque” that could cost him a possible position in DOD or DOS.  We don’t mind it if he’d suffer from occassional foot in mouth disease — somebody’s gotta tell it like it is. 

Keep going, Chuck! Maybe one day, the somebodies will listen.

Read the whole thing here.

Belt Tightening and Something Familiar from the Canadian Foreign Service

From the Montreal Gazette:

Canada’s top ambassadors, once accused by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of spending too much time clinking glasses at cocktail parties, have seen their hospitality budgets slashed dramatically due to recent cost-cutting.

Government restraint resulted in a sharp decline in early 2010 in spending on meals and other social events for ambassadors in key capitals including Washington, Tokyo, Paris, Moscow, and Berlin, as well as at the European Union mission in Brussels and the United Nations mission in New York.

The reduced spending, which reflects restraint measures taken last year, has sparked criticism from one of several retired senior diplomats who have accused the Harper government recently of not respecting the importance of cultivating social relationships with key officials and politicians in foreign capitals.

Paul Heinbecker, former ambassador to the United Nations, said chaining diplomats to their desks means the huge cost of establishing and running embassies abroad is squandered.
In an opinion piece published this week in the Ottawa-based weekly newspaper Embassy, Heinbecker cited the work of Allan Gotlieb, the ambassador in Washington during the Canada-U.S. free trade negotiations.
Gotlieb and his wife Sondra were famous in the 1980s for their lavish parties that drew the biggest political names in Washington.

He quoted Gotlieb’s recent comment that an ambassador without an entertainment allowance is “a dead duck, frankly.”

Harper, while in opposition, signalled his mistrust of Canadian diplomats during a 2005 campaign speech when he said he would extend Canada’s fisheries jurisdiction off the East Coast even if it resulted in a diplomatic row.

“When a country’s national interests are at stake . . . we won’t hesitate to have diplomatic battles,” Harper said. “That’s what foreign services is for — not just to clink glasses at cocktail parties.”

The year after winning power in 2006 he told a meeting of journalists from Canada’s multicultural communities that Canadian diplomats often undermined the government’s foreign policy.

Active links added above.  Continue reading: Former diplomat decries cuts to foreign service hospitality budgets.