Quickie: Why can’t the State Department get any love?

Author of Afghanistan Journal, Joshua Foust who writes at Need to Know in PBS and blogs at Registan.net has the answer.

Over the weekend, he wrote a piece at PBS on Gutting the State Department and what the proposed budget cuts say about the growing militarization of U.S. foreign policy. Warning: It is quite a depressing read since our elected reps obviously have a love-hate relationship with State (they love you when they go on CODELs, they hate you when they have to justify your funding aka: foreign aid cents to their constituents).   Excerpts:

In the midst of an historic impasse over the 2012 funding of the federal government, Republicans and Democrats agreed to cut billions of dollars from the nation’s foreign policy budget. However, reading the list of what got cut (pdf) one agency is conspicuously missing: the Department of Defense. Most of the cuts to American foreign policy — nearly $8 billion — came from the State Department. What gives?
Some readers here may we aware that I’m not the biggest fan of USAID: I think we need to implement substantial reforms to the foreign-aid industrial complex. But you cannot reform an agency if you eviscerate its budget. If some of the middle-management and long-serving career officers are a problem at the State Department, as some ex-employees have attested in private, then cutting the budget doesn’t actually fix the problem. If, as Republicans allege, the State Department is ineffective, then cutting its budget doesn’t actually make the agency any more effective (and since government agencies are not a competitive market, it’s not like some better-designed organization will spring up filled with diplomatic entrepreneurs).

It’s no secret that many programs at the State Department are broken or severely handicapped. But it would be madness to think that cutting its budget right when a growing number of crises require strong diplomacy and smart civilian management.
A lot of critics point to a 2007 Town Hall meeting, in which a few Foreign Service Officers — diplomats — complained of being  stationed in Iraq. The event was hugely embarrassing for the department, but the derision levied at the entire agency seemed misplaced. After all, U.S. soldiers have committed crimes, they’ve whined in public and one even went to jail for refusing to deploy over his rejection of President Obama’s birth certificate. Yet, there is no widespread disgust at the military, or of the troops who serve.

Next time you’re at Target, take a look at the bumper stickers on the SUVs in the parking lot. In all likelihood, you’ll find a good half-dozen or more that say “Support the Troops” in one way or another. You will not find “Support the Diplomats” anywhere. […] State Department has about 22,000. The DoD, in contrast, has nearly 450,000 employees stationed overseas, with 2.5 million more employees in the U.S.

So with no built-in constituency to argue for its interest, and an acutely lopsided share of the foreign policy budget (under 6 percent), it seems natural the State Department would face cuts first. It never really stood a chance. That doesn’t make it right, however. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been warning for years of the militarization of U.S. foreign policy — and he’s not alone. Even so, the relentless attacks on the civilian side of the foreign policy budget continue without much public outcry, while cuts to the growth rate of the Defense budget are met with howling and apocalyptic foreshadowing.

The $8.5 billion of cuts in the 2012 budget would be a rounding error in the DoD’s $671 billion budget. But in the State Department’s $47 billion budget, it is devastating. Until this dramatic imbalance in spending priorities is reversed — until both parties in Congress agree that our foreign policy should not be dominated by the military — this trend of gutting civilian programs will only get worse.

Read the whole thing here.

The 2007 Town Hall set-up to fail meeting — oh yeah, whose idea was that again?