S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Which Way For U.S. Diplomacy?

State Dept. under funded and under staffed -- Who gets the money illustrates where the priorities have been placed by our government. National military defense has a far higher value to the country than international
relations and peacemaking. The United States Department of State often people to do its work. It has had to hire contractors
to provide security for State workers in Iraq and elsewhere. And some of the regular diplomatic worker slots have has to be filled with military personnel. Increased interdependence between State and Defense is more and more a fact of life. There is also a rising transfers of funds between the two agencies.

Interagency partnering with Defense Dept. is new -- Is this the forerunner to a kind of "Goldwater Nichols Act" reorganization of the non-military agencies? Tuesday on C-SPAN -- 4/15, the House Armed Services Committee Hearing on State and Defense Department Interagency Partnership, was chaired by Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO). Testifying before the committee were Sec. of Defense Robert Gates, Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice, and Adm. Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. To quote the Washington Post story opening (their links):

Presenting an unusual combined front against skeptical lawmakers, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed Congress yesterday to extend and make permanent a set of initiatives to train and equip foreign security forces and deploy civilian experts alongside the U.S. military.

The programs, part of a proposed Building Global Partnerships Act, involve the flexible use of Pentagon funds for traditional State Department activities in foreign assistance -- an arrangement that Gates and Rice praised as an innovation in interagency cooperation but that lawmakers questioned as "ad hoc" and "stopgap."

. . . Gates and Rice said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan underscore the need for more flexible spending authority that blends the strengths of both departments -- emphasizing the disparity between State's responsibilities and its resources.

Rice pointed out that the Foreign Service is about 6,500 strong, about the same as the number of musicians in military bands. Gates castigated Congress for not giving State "the resources or the power to be able to play the role as the lead agency in American foreign policy."

So far swords out-compete plowshares -- There is a huge disparity between what the U.S. currently spends on the military vs. what it spends on diplomacy. To quote the State Department's 2008 budget figures (Total: $11.949 billion ) --

The FY 2008 budget request for all State Department appropriations totals $10.014 billion, not including additional FY 2008 funding requested for the Global War on Terror. These appropriations fund the programs, operations, and infrastructure essential to conduct U.S. diplomatic and consular relations in more than 180 countries. They also support vigorous U.S. engagement abroad through public diplomacy and international organizations.

. . . For FY 2008, State requirements total $1.935 billion, including $1.882 billion for the full year of the extraordinary costs associated with operating the U.S. Mission in Iraq, including continued expansion of the PRTs.

Defense always wins appropriations competition -- The 2008 Budget of the Defense Department is somewhat larger (98.2%) than that of the State Department (1.8%). The President’s 2008 Budget for Defense (Total: $623.1 billion). To summarize from OMB:

  • Provides $481.4 billion for the Department of Defense’s base budget—a 62-percent increase over 2001—to ensure a high level of military readiness as the Department develops capabilities to meet future threats, defends the homeland, and supports the all-volunteer force and their families;

  • Supports operations in the Global War on Terror by providing an additional $93.4 billion in supplemental funds for 2007 and $141.7 billion for 2008, including funds to accelerate efforts to train and equip Iraqi and Afghan Security Forces;

Truth about lack of security laid bare -- Once again, not enough civilians in the diplomatic corps are willing volunteer to go to the most dangerous places in the world. Amanda at Think Progress discussed the personnel dilemma that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been facing. Rice is considering making attendance compulsory. And she feels offended at the reluctance. To quote:

The State Department’s “looming crisis” stands in stark contrast to statements made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a House Armed Services Committee hearing today, during which she took umbrage at the suggestion that foreign service officers don’t want to serve in Iraq. She said that comments by diplomats who protested the forced assignments last fall were “offen[sive]” and “cast a very bad light on the foreign service.”

Culture wars, perhaps --
Is elitism the problem or natural and normal fear for one's own personal safety? Iraq has become the perfect illustration of what happens when military dollars always win out over diplomatic dollars. The areas of strife around the world, and particularly those in the Middle East do not have enough security for unprotected civilians to do their work effectively. TalkRadioNews put a slightly different interpretation on Rice's remarks:

Rep. Hunter caused a bit of tension when he criticized the “culture of the State Department.” Comments that he made were based on a “town hall meeting” where foreign service officers complained about the idea of being forced to accept high risk assignments in Iraq. He said thousands of military members serve willingly in Iraq and Afghanistan, but was disappointed that the State Department had a hard time filling 47 spots in the Green Zone of Baghdad.

This prompted a heated response from Rice who defended the Foreign Service and said that she has had more than enough volunteers to serve in conflict zones and that certain diplomats, already serving in high-risk assignments, were offended at such an attitude.

National security demands both swords and plowshares -- A year ago Foreign Policy in Focus' Lorelei Kelly authored an excellent background piece on the big picture issues regarding this question, "Unbalanced Security: The Divide between State and Defense." She closes with this:

Our nation sits at a crossroads. Today, both human security and state security must be seen as mutually beneficial, not as tradeoffs.

Advocacy organizations, academics and even the military itself have made the case that we must realign our understanding of national security in the post 9/11 world and allocate resources accordingly. Until our elected leaders decide to act, however, all the rhetoric about prevention, peacebuilding and civil society support are just good ideas with lip-service on top.

There needs to be a far better balance between military and diplomatic spending by Congress. Yesterday's hearing is good cause for optimism that, at least people are being forced to think outside the box. The military needs to be freed up to do its thing and the diplomats need the increased clout to do their thing. We do not need to do it this way for another 100 years. That is just crazy.

View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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The Future Was Yesterday said...

"Which Way For U.S. Diplomacy?"
We have DIPLOMACY now? Wow!!

It's a start.

Carol Gee said...

Future, I should live so long! Those in charge of the nation seem to love to do battle far too much. I hope Barack Obama is different.
When you think about it, diplomacy would be cheaper than war. It has value for that reason alone.
Hang in there, my friend.