Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Reflection of State Department Reality?

This past week as Reuters (Condi may not be a rocker but Kiss likes her), AP (Condoleezza Rice enlists in Kiss Army fan club), AFP (Condoleezza Rice meets KISS and tells), even the NYT (Kicking Back with KISS) reports about the Secretary of State’s late-night meeting with a rock group in Sweden (Iraq conference there), somebody else was making news in the other side of the world.

Eric Schmitt reports for NYT from Bangkok on June 2 on the Secretary of Defense and writes in part: “In the strongest remarks yet by a high-ranking American official, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on Sunday that Myanmar was guilty of “criminal neglect” for blocking large-scale international aid to cyclone victims, and that more Burmese civilians would perish unless the military regime reversed its policy."

The day before (WaPo, Sunday, June 1, 2008; Page A17) he also made the news for assailing Burma’s response to the cyclone: "Burma's rulers "have kept their hands in their pockets" while other countries sought to help cyclone victims, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Saturday, branding the military government as "deaf and dumb" for obstructing aid efforts. Despite the dire situation, Gates said at an international security conference that the United States would not force assistance on the country. He also said the next U.S. administration will maintain a strong commitment to Asia and the rest of the world."

Two days before, on the 31st, he was in Singapore talking about US engagement in Asia: “Our relations with partners and friends, and our engagement in Asia, are more and more the fabric that binds together what is becoming a web of relationships including our growing ties with India and our increasing engagement with China. While different in form and scope, we value these ties with Asia’s two most prominent rising powers." A few more excerpts below:

"The United States notes the stirrings of a new regionalism, a pan-Asian search for new frameworks to encompass and thereby moderate inter-state competition. We welcome the resulting search for a “new security architecture,” a search that is still provisional and, by its nature, complementary to the peace and order that prevail today with the help and support of so many of our friends. The search for this regional architecture will continue – after all, one can hardly suggest that it is appropriate for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to develop regional security institutions, but not for Asia to do so."

"However, we do have some benchmarks. For starters, we should avoid an approach that treats the quest for a new security architecture as some kind of zero-sum game. The fact is the region as whole has benefited in recent decades because of cooperation on issues of common concern. The collaborative reality of Asia’s security today is to the exclusion of no single country. It is instead a continuously developing enterprise undertaken with allies, friends, and partners. But it can only succeed if we treat the region as a single entity. There is little room for a separate “East Asian” order."

[...] "We will work to ensure that the United States continues to be welcomed in coming years in this part of the world, as we have been in the past."

Amidst this, I came across Frida Berrigan’s piece “Entrenched, Embedded, and Here to Stay: The Pentagon's Expansion Will Be Bush's Lasting Legacy,surprisingly, I’ve read it in the Baltimore Chronicle but not elsewhere in the larger media outlets. Frida Berrigan is a Senior Program Associate at the New America Foundation's Arms and Security Initiative. She is a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus and a contributing editor at In These Times magazine. She is the author of reports on the arms trade and human rights, U.S. nuclear weapons policy, and the domestic politics of U.S. missile defense and space weapons policies. Her piece is quite long, but I note that item #2 and #6 (excerpted in part below) have specific references to the State Department.


2. The Pentagon as Diplomat: The Bush administration has repeatedly exhibited its disdain for discussion and compromise, treaties and agreements, and an equally deep admiration for what can be won by threat and force. No surprise, then, that the White House's foreign policy agenda has increasingly been directed through the military. With a military budget more than 30 times that of all State Department operations and non-military foreign aid put together, the Pentagon has marched into State's two traditional strongholds -- diplomacy and development -- duplicating or replacing much of its work, often by refocusing Washington's diplomacy around military-to-military, rather than diplomat-to-diplomat, relations.

Since the late eighteenth century, the U.S. ambassador in any country has been considered the president's personal representative, responsible for ensuring that foreign policy goals are met. As one ambassador explained; "The rule is: if you're in country, you work for the ambassador. If you don't work for the ambassador, you don't get country clearance."

In the Bush era, the Pentagon has overturned this model. According to a 2006 Congressional report by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), Embassies as Command Posts in the Anti-Terror Campaign, civilian personnel in many embassies now feel occupied by, outnumbered by, and subordinated to military personnel. They see themselves as the second team when it comes to decision-making. Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates is aware of the problem, noting as he did last November that there are "only about 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers -- less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group." But, typically, he added that, while the State Department might need more resources, "Don't get me wrong, I'll be asking for yet more money for Defense next year." Another ambassador lamented that his foreign counterparts are "following the money" and developing relationships with U.S. military personnel rather than cultivating contacts with their State Department counterparts.

As Southcom head Admiral James Stavridis vividly put the matter, the command now likes to see itself as "a big Velcro cube that these other agencies can hook to so we can collectively do what needs to be done in this region."

6. The Pentagon as Humanitarian Caregiver Abroad: The U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department have traditionally been tasked with responding to disaster abroad; but, from Indonesia's tsunami-ravaged shores to Myanmar after the recent cyclone, natural catastrophe has become another presidential opportunity to "send in the Marines" (so to speak). The Pentagon has increasingly taken up humanitarian planning, gaining an ever larger share of U.S. humanitarian missions abroad.

From Kenya to Afghanistan, from the Philippines to Peru, the U.S. military is also now regularly the one building schools and dental clinics, repairing roads and shoring up bridges, tending to sick children and doling out much needed cash and food stuffs, all civilian responsibilities once upon a time. The Center for Global Development finds that the Pentagon's share of "official development assistance" -- think "winning hearts and minds" or "nation-building" – has increased from 6% to 22% between 2002 and 2005. The Pentagon is fast taking over development from both the NGO-community and civilian agencies, slapping a smiley face on military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond.

Dad burn it! Ah hit my finger widda hammer jest reading this!

To read the whole piece, click here - and watch yer fingers!

Truth to tell, I can’t make up my mind if I want to borrow Secretary Gates or adopt him for Foggy Bottom. I mean really, I have not seen anyone stumping harder for more money for the State Department. Most recently, at the Brookings Institution dinner he says: […] “the State Department must be strengthened even further – in money, people, and bureaucratic clout – to truly fulfill its responsibilities as the lead agency in American foreign policy. He indicated that there is strong support in the ranks of the military for building up this civilian capacity. Which prompted Melinda Brouwer over at the Foreign Policy Blogs to ask if State is DOD’s charity case given that Admiral Mike Mullen, as Chief of Naval Operations also said at a Brookings event last year (and repeated by Secretary Gates in this speech) that he’d be willing to give part of the Navy’s budget to the State Department. Anyway, just how much of the goings on in Sweden actually made it to the front page of your newspaper, except for the KISS part? Dang! Not much! I’m not saying it is the SecDef’s fault that he is getting more press these days in the international arena than the SecState (he did not even meet with a rock group). But here I am left wondering – has the mainstream media decided that Condi=Iraq is not really newsworthy anymore? Or that the “bureaucratic imperialism” by the Pentagon is not worth its paper and ink? Or that Robert Gates has more interesting things to say about the world and where it is going? Is it a matter of responding to the public's mood or are they shaping the public's perception?

I can't say. But I do know this - the traditional print media's clout is fast eroding. The news fit to print are now on the web, served รก la carte, coming from the most unusual places. Take your pick just don't get stuck in grandpa's daily. That said, I can't shake the thought that this is not all the media's fault. As scholar, Fred Charles Ikle says, "When a nation becomes engaged in a major war, a new set of men and new government agencies often move into the center of power. As diplomacy breaks down the role of foreign ministries [...] is much diminished."

In this era of the "long war," are we perhaps simply seeing the news cycle as a reflection of reality here - a much diminished State Department, serially underfunded and before long, a "lead" agency in name only?


T. Greer said...

Well, here is what I think Gates would say upon reading this post:

"In this area, the past is prologue. Ever since General Winfield Scott led his army into Mexico in the 1840s, nearly every major deployment of American forces has led to a subsequently longer military presence of substantial troop size to maintain stability. General Eisenhower, when tasked with administering North Africa in 1942, wrote, “The sooner I can get rid of all of these questions that are outside the military in scope, the happier I will be! Sometimes, I think I live 10 years each week, of which at least nine are absorbed in political and economic matters.”

The requirement for the U.S. military to maintain security, provide aid and comfort, begin reconstruction, and stand up local government and public services will not go away. At least in the early phases of any conflict, military commanders will no more be able to rid themselves of these tasks than Eisenhower was. As a former U.N. Secretary General once said about peacekeeping, “[It] is not a job for soldiers, but only soldiers can do it.”

These kinds of operations are likely to continue because, as I told an Army gathering last year, it is hard to conceive of any country confronting the United States directly in conventional military terms for some time to come."

~T. Greer

P.S. I have linked to you here: http://scholars-stage.blogspot.com/2008/06/diplomat-in-arms.html

DS said...

T.G. Thanks for the comment and the link. The expansion of the Pentagon is a creature of our times. I doubt if we can find a single politician who would advocate rightsizing the Pentagon in times of war. That would be committing political harakiri. That said, underfunding our nation's soft arm is a worrisome trend.

It may be true that the future belongs to unconventional confrontations, and for such a reason, I think we need a robust diplomatic presence in all the right places in the world.