• The Militarization of the State Department

    August 13, 2012 // 11 Comments »

    Of the many (many) issues that debilitate the effectiveness of the Department of State, none should concern us all more than the ongoing militarization of America’s foreign affairs. I have written about the chilling effects of this, others have written whole books on the subject, and columnists have focused on specific areas of concern, such as Africa.

    The State Department risks almost complete irrelevance, sinking into the role of America’s concierge abroad even as the ever-ironically named Department of Defense grows and grows.

    So it is with more than a little concern that we all listened recently to Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington try way too hard to make it sound different. As the people say, you usually don’t need a lot of words to prove something that is just true. It’s when the salesperson won’t stop talking that you better watch your wallet.

    “The State Department is a national security agency, too,” Shapiro said. “We are helping to save lives every day” (No specifics; really, lives? Everyday? Like at a hospital?)

    State has, in recent years, increased its efforts to become directly involved in security assurance, even during military operations. It had diplomatic staff members on the ground in Libya during intense fighting there last year, Shapiro said. (Doing exactly what? Accomplishing what, other than fulfilling DOD’s “Bring Your Diplomat to Work Day”)

    OK, I wanted specifics and Shapiro gave up what he had to offer:

    • The creation of the Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF), a joint pool of money funded by upwards of $200 million from DOD and $50 million from the State Department to be used for rapid responses to security situations. (If DOD is funding it 4:1, guess who has the biggest say in things?)

    • A January memorandum of understanding signed by the two departments that nearly doubled the size of a personnel swap program, meaning that roughly 100 DOD staff members will be working at the State Department, and 95 State staff members will be working at DOD. (OK I guess, but more uniforms at State is not likely to lessen the effects of militarization, while 95 diplomats will soak into the DOD carpet and hardly be noticed)

    • The creation of a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), modeled on the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) that DoD employs for long-term planning. (Seriously Shapiro? BFD, another paper another planning document. Where’s the action?)

    In short, Shapiro offered little but some happy talk, and of course the tried-and-true sucking up that State does lead in:

    The cooperation between the State Department and the Pentagon is truly unprecedented, and I think this will be remembered as one of Secretary Clinton’s lasting legacies.

    Sorry to say, but if this is all an Assistant Secretary of State can cite to justify his lead-off assertion that “The U.S. State Department has earned a greater say in international security policy, aided by years of joint nation-building in the Middle East that has improved cooperation with the Pentagon,” there is little there to say that militarization of our foreign affairs is not a done deal. Maybe you need to try even harder next time Shapiro.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Military

    Occupy Baghdad

    October 17, 2011 // Comments Off on Occupy Baghdad

    I was wandering around the Seventh Floor of the State Department today looking for office supplies, when I overheard this conversation.

    Hillary: People, we need some new ideas. We’re taking a beating on Iraq. First, the US military is pulling out at the end of the year, and we’ll be reduced to being Fort Apache at the embassy. Our chosen main man in Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki, is acting more and more like just another dictator thug. What can we do?

    Staff Aide: What about holding another election in Iraq? Every time things went south on Bush, he threw together another election there and got great press.

    Hillary: No, no, we ran out of purple ink and besides, Jimmy Carter can’t do any observations, some kind of back and neck problem.

    Staff Aide: Could Bill go instead?

    Hillary: Maybe, I’ll ask Chelsea to ask Bono to Tweet him later but to tell the truth, no purple ink means no nice photos of “democracy.”

    (laughter in the room when Hillary uses ‘air quotes” around “democracy”)

    Staff Aide: I got it. We start telling the press that instead of having the World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad (c), which is now seen less as a symbol of American power and more as a symbol of American excess and hubris, that all the people there are actually part of a new movement, Occupy Baghdad.

    Hillary: I like, I like. Occupy Baghdad. Instead of being seen as a money sink, the last remnants of a dead Bush-era policy, our people in Baghdad will seem cool and hip. Right now the whole mess in Iraq for State seems like a vestigial tail, but by taking the Occupy Baghdad label, we move to cutting edge.

    Staff Aide: Yes Ma’am. Occupy Baghdad. But what will we say are our goals and objectives?

    Hillary: That’s the beauty. Occupy Wall Street has vague goals. Same for us. Like those hippies, we can claim our lack of leadership and unclear purpose is actually a good thing, instead of getting beaten up over them.

    Staff Aide: I see now. I’ll try and get Michael Moore on the phone for you, and check if he’d like us to book him a flight to Baghdad.

    Hillary: Make sure he travels coach. No business class. And no double per diem like the Congressionals get.

    Staff Aide: Yes Ma’am.

    Hillary: Great, innovative. Now, how about some NYPD?

    Staff Aide: Ma’am?

    Hillary: We’ve dropped some $5 billion on training the Iraqi cops, but they are still useless. We’ll need to import NYPD to pepper spray some of our entry level officers in Baghdad to create controversy.

    Staff Aide: We could have the Sadr militia do it instead. They’d probably work for free.

    Hillary: Innovative again! Have Nides add this to his QDDR slides.

    Staff Aide: Anything else Madame Secretary?

    Hillary: Yeah, can you get me some more office supplies? One of those old Foreign Service guys I keep trying to get rid of keeps stealing all my yellow stickies.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Military

    State Department Conducts Open Government Briefing Off the Record

    September 24, 2011 // Comments Off on State Department Conducts Open Government Briefing Off the Record

    You just can’t make this stuff up.

    Politico reports:

    A pair of State Department briefings in connection with the UN General Assembly meetings in New York in recent days suggest President Barack Obama’s drive to bring more transparency to the U.S. government is, well, a work in progress.

    Obama is proudly touting a new open government partnership, a group of 30 countries committing to greater transparency and to share best practices on making government more accessible to the public. However, journalists could not hope but note the irony when State Department officials insisted that a briefing Monday on the new effort be conducted on an anonymous basis, meaning the officials involved could not be identified by name in news stories.

    “Has it struck anyone as odd to [hold] a briefing about open government and transparency on background?” one journalist asked during the session. “Why is that necessary?”

    “Just so you understand this, we have to explain why officials are speaking anonymously,” a flabbergasted reporter said. “To write a story talking about U.S. officials anonymously plugging an Obama initiative for open government just – it makes – I’m sorry.”

    That just says so much about State, where innovation is supposedly a new organizational goal. Clearly the only thing taking place are new, innovative methods of risk avoidance. They are practically at the point of needing an Intervention.

    I’d try and contact State for a comment, but I hate to see grown adults break down in tears and run into the bathroom.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Embassy/State, Military