How to save money in Iraq? Withdraw the troops, send in the diplomats … and get ready with the fire hoses

Via Federal Times:

The State Department’s budget has already taken a hit in 2011, but it appears that its finances will be squeezed even tighter just as the department is trying to regain ground lost to the Pentagon over the past decade.

In the final budget resolution passed for 2011, Congress agreed to provide $48 billion for State and foreign operations. This marked an $8.4 billion reduction from the president’s budget request. It was also $504 million less than the department received in 2010.

For 2012 spending, the House Appropriations Committee announced that it plans to cut $11 billion from the State Department and foreign operations budget request of $47 billion. This includes funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Meanwhile, it plans to cut only $9 billion from the Pentagon’s requested budget of $671 billion, which includes $118 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Read in full here.

At the highest level of the Iraq war which happened during the surge, the average monthly DOD obligations in Iraq peaked at $11.1 billion in FY2008. Note — monthly obligations. Just roughly the same amount Congress plans to cut from the State Department annual, yearly, 12 month budget in FY2012. 

In the infinite wisdom of our elected representatives, given that we will “save” tons of money from the withdrawal of our troops in Iraq, we will “save tons more” by slashing the budget of the State Department — because why not? Instead of DOD completing the job over there, we’ll now have DOS doing the job for a lot less.  A lot less money and a lot less people and a lot less of everything!

Obviously, given the history of that made up controversy about the Iraq recruitment in 2007, State is anxious to show the flag. It will have personnel for Iraq, ready or not.  If it does not have enough folks, it will hire 3161 limited appointees to staff up the place.  It will have its own private army to protect our diplomats. It will have its own air fleet to shuttle our personnel from one end of the country to another. It will have its own life support personnel, presumably all contractors. It will be starting close to scratch on just about everything, from how to bring in food and other supplies, aircraft mechanics for its new air fleet to pest control guys.

But this is a gig set up to fail.

Congress holds the purse strings and the folks over there have never been particularly fond of these foreign affairs officers, as they are with the soldiers in their voting districts. One senator is opposed to the State Dept getting any of DOD’s equipment or creating its own mini-army. Others are not happy about the projected growth of contractors working for State. What, you want our diplomats in Iraq armed with toothpicks? Make up your minds, dammit!

The State Department has never taken on a responsibility like this; there will be lots of hiccups even as demands for quick results go off the roof. Um, okay, hiccup is an understatement.

Personnel will continue to rotate on short-term, one year deployments, on voluntary basis.  At some point, this repeated deployments of an agency small enough its FSOs can all fit in an aircraft carrier, will have institutional consequences and personal repercussions.  Bench strength? What’s that?

Iraq as a democracy in our own image is a foolish dream. The State Department will now be expected to be the firewall against its descent back into chaos. Be ready with the fire hoses …

Um, sorry, Congress had just slashed the money for the fire hoses. 

In related news, the Commission on Wartime Contracting held a hearing yesterday with Ambassador Kennedy, the U/S for Management on the grilling stand. Below excerpted from WSJ:

Former Congressman Christopher Shays, a co-chairman of the commission, raised the possibility that contractors might have to use force to rescue diplomatic personnel caught in a roadside improvised explosive device attack, potentially leading to an overt combat role.

“If you have an IED and you need to get a medic to deal with the injuries that are outside the embassy and—and/or you are under fire and you have to shoot your way out to get back to safety—in either case, you have to get someone there to attend to the wounded and you have to aggressively use force or you have to aggressively use force to get out, why do you think that’s not an inherently governmental function?” he asked Mr. Kennedy.

Mr. Kennedy said he was comfortable with the distinction between the way the military used force, and the more defensive role of contract security.

“We fully understand that we still have challenges ahead as we carry out our diplomatic missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations where we rely on contingency contracting, but we believe we have instituted a sound foundation to carry us forward,” Mr. Kennedy said.

That’s supposed to be a comforting response? But what is he not saying?