January 19, 2006
US Diplo Service: Out into the Field She Says
This is very good news for the US diplo service, and long over-due. Will make my diplo friends very happy.
The Washington Post arty reports:
Diplomats Will Be Shifted to Hot Spots
Rice Also Plans to Elevate USAID Chief
By Glenn Kessler and Bradley Graham
Thursday, January 19, 2006
My first comment is that all the US diplos ...no, sorry all the US diplos that I have respected over the years... have bitterly complained about the current US diplo service organisation and disincentives to "get out" and as well master languages (yes, learn languages to get little brownie points on the fiscal scale, but not master, and why with the bizarro rotation system that puts rare Arabic speakers in Beijing for years at a time, and vice versa).
Those few US diplos who have defended the system rather struck me as bureaucrats, although usually far more straight up than the delightfully corrupt ones I liked, like my EU colleagues
Some comment on specifics then:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that she will shift hundreds of Foreign Service positions from Europe and Washington to difficult assignments in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere as part of a broad restructuring of the diplomatic corps that she has dubbed "transformational diplomacy."
Well, I don't know about "transformational" blah blah, but getting US diplos out of Berlin and into Baghdad, so to speak, is a good idea. We're not living in 1985, although much of the US overseas presence seems to be predicated on 1985.
The State Department's culture of deployment and ideas about career advancement must alter now that the Cold War is over and the United States is battling transnational threats of terrorism, drug smuggling and disease, Rice said in a speech at Georgetown University. "The greatest threats now emerge more within states than between them," she said. "The fundamental character of regimes now matters more than the international distribution of power."Well, the last line makes me a bit wary (and weary), as she still seems to be banging on about regimes when she could be thinking of non-regime issues...
But on the other hand, taking back that initial reaction, diplomats deal with regimes. Strike me peevish criticism.
As part of the change in priorities, Rice announced that diplomats will not be promoted into the senior ranks unless they accept assignments in dangerous posts, gain expertise in at least two regions and are fluent in two foreign languages, citing Chinese, Urdu and Arabic as a few preferred examples.
Is there anything to say to this besides "bravo!" - about bloody time as well, but good thing to hear.
Of course this supposes that the rotation system (which I stress I only know from the frequent drunken compliants of my delightfully corrupt diplomatic friends - that reminds me, have to call some favours to get my JV partner over to see me in my dying cancerous state, wouldn't want the project to break down) will be changed - hopefully a thorough going relook.
Rice noted that the United States has nearly as many State Department personnel in Germany -- which has 82 million people -- as in India, with 1 billion people. As a first step, 100 jobs in Europe and Washington will be immediately shifted to expanded embassies in countries such as India, China and Lebanon. Many of these diplomats had been scheduled to rotate into coveted posts in European capitals this summer, and the sudden change in assignment has caused some distress, State Department officials said.
Of course it is madness to have large diplo staffs in Western Europe now. They really don't add much value at all. Intel is easily gathered via public sources, state-state relations are not that much handled via Embassies per se in these instances, etc.
As for the whinging and distress, as one of my delightfully corrupt drunken US diplo friends said to me (he's left by the way, quit out of frustration with the current bumbling boobs - I add the fellow also had personal photos of him and Reagan, etc.), in complaining of an inability to get out on the street, etc. "People shouldn't take this fucking job if they're afraid of getting whacked." Or something to that effect, not sure if it was whacked he said. Lots of rhum you know.
Hopefully Rice's plans will not be derailed (as hopefully they will be properly planned and not create bizarrely distortive incentives).
Now this is also interesting:
Separately, today Rice plans to unveil a restructuring of U.S. foreign assistance, including announcing the nomination of Randall L. Tobias as the new administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Officials said Rice plans to elevate the USAID post, giving Tobias -- a former Eli Lilly chief executive who now heads the administration's global AIDS relief program -- an office and a planning staff in the State Department. Rice will designate Tobias as having a rank equivalent of deputy secretary of state.
Although the move stops short of merging USAID with State, it is intended to draw the agency closer into the department's fold, the officials said. Additionally, the new director will be given broader authority over a range of foreign assistance accounts now managed by separate entities. "Effectively, this will allow a single person to have visibility into these various accounts," a State official said.
I wonder what this means.
My exposure to US assistance is fairly limited, but it's not hard to see that on the ground USAID and US regular diplos don't get along. I have never quite understood their relationships on any level.
Anticipating such a change, some outside the government have warned that it could result in a greater politicization of foreign assistance. "We're concerned that the same priority won't be given to long-term development as resources are siphoned to support shorter-term diplomatic or military objectives," said Jim Bishop, a senior officer of InterAction, the largest coalition of non-governmental U.S. aid groups.
Assistance is political. Now, if the US process can't distinguish between long term and short term objectives, having some bizarro wall between the diplos and the assistance people is not going to help much overall.
In any case, I rather suspect Bishop is the sound of comfy sinecures being gored.
But State Department officials described the restructuring as necessary to reverse a growing fragmentation of foreign assistance programs in recent years and to ensure more effective and focused spending overseas.
Perhaps knowledgeable readers can comment, but this sounds good to me, and given my outsider's view, needed.
Of course, the US is light years ahead on coherency as compared to the EU. The EU people, who I love dearly, have some of the most bizarrely and stupidly run programs I have ever encountered (although great cash cows). I recall interviewing someone leaving an EU program for a position with my Fund, and in checking references discovering the EU did zero monitoring on performance for his little slush fund. It was... amazing. He seemed honest enough though.
The two announcements -- combined with changes announced Tuesday to streamline the movement of people and goods across U.S. borders -- are intended to fill in the details of Rice's promise to make what she calls transformational diplomacy the hallmark of her tenure as secretary of state.
You know, I am thinking Rice is already proving to be a better chief diplo than Powell.
"These proposals are part of the secretary's continuing strategy to dramatically increase America's engagement and dialogue with the world," said Jim Wilkinson, senior adviser to Rice.
Rice has described the notion of transformational diplomacy as a shift from merely reporting on events to influencing them to foster the growth of democratic states worldwide.
Under the plan outlined yesterday, Rice will expand the U.S. presence by encouraging the spread of new one-person diplomatic outposts, now located in a few cities such as Alexandria, Egypt, and Medan, Indonesia. "There are nearly 200 cities worldwide with over 1 million people in which the United States has no formal diplomatic presence," Rice said. "This is where the action is today."
You know, that's interesting, the one person diplo post concept.
The get out on the ground idea is fundamental.
The move is intended to bring U.S. diplomats -- now often barricaded in fortified embassies -- closer to the mood in the streets.
Well, anyone who has read me for a while has heard me whinge on endlessly about the isolated character of the US diplos work set up as compared to their colleagues.
And as noted, the really active ones don't like it one bit.
The State Department will also expand the use of interactive Web sites maintained by diplomats to communicate with foreign citizens, promote the creation of rapid-reaction forces to deal with regional problems and seek to work more closely with military officers to promote the stability of nations after conflicts, Rice said.
Well, I am impressed. No snide comments from me, Rice has put forth some really quite spanky ideas. This is the kind of shake up the US diplo service badly needs.
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Wouldn't the problem with a one-person diplomatic post be that he or she would be easy to kidnap by just about any two-bit baddie?
Posted by: Jackmormon at January 19, 2006 12:11 PM
In general I agree but I have two snarky comments to help you take up the slack.
First, I'm getting a bit tired of people using "the Cold War is over" as an excuse for change. OK, folks, it's now been over for 15 years. Instituting change because "the Cold War is over" is no longer a badge of being a cutting-edge go-getter in a dynamic world. It's now a sign of horrifically embarrassing bureaucratic inertia.
Second, I'm a little iffy about the new language requirment. There are extremely good psycological reasons to regularly rotate diplomats out of their posts. However, given the complexity the world today and the importance of language, it would make a lot of sense to let diplomats specialize in a certain region, e.g. let the MENA diplos rotate in and out of different MENA countries. Giving points for diplos knowing two different languages from two different regions will pretty much guarantee rare Arabic speakers getting posted in Peking and rarer Mandarin speakers getting posted in Algeria.
Posted by: Anonymous at January 19, 2006 03:03 PM
Wouldn't the problem with a one-person diplomatic post be that he or she would be easy to kidnap by just about any two-bit baddie?
Well, that could happen when I take one of the US diplos out for coffee.
Don't like the risk, don't take the motherfucking job is me answer.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at January 19, 2006 04:59 PM
And re TS:
It's now a sign of horrifically embarrassing bureaucratic inertia.
Well, that rather goes without saying. US Gov remains largely geared (in re foriegn issues) to that old Cold War. Military, Diplomacy.
Re the rotation and language issue. Well, psych issues you just have to suck up. I personally think their rotations s/b 4-5 years. Still enough to break up the clientism, but enough that the diplo is actually useful. You have no idea how many papers I have effectively written for US G people supposedly reporting on MENA financial sectors. They're bloody lucky I exist. The little bastids only get useful (aside from semi corruptly rendering me services re USG) after about 2 years.
I am sure regional rotation schemes could be worked out that would have coherence.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at January 19, 2006 05:07 PM
This is all to the good. Overdue in spades.
As to the danger for the solo diplomats, they will have to do what badly understaffed diplomats in remote, semi-lawless, outposts did in the early 20th century. They carried guns when they thought necesary, discreetly of course,knew how to use them and kept good relations with the local security commanders when possible.
It was just considered part of the job back then if you were outside of Europe and intended to wander around the Haitian bush or some lonely desert road.
Posted by: mark at January 20, 2006 01:03 PM
Well, this is not the early 20th century any more, not sure if giving lone diplos a Glock or an HK is a good solution. Hired gun security perhaps.
Overall, however, I don't think the risk is as much as one might think, and if one doesn't want to lose any diplos, well call them all the fuck back home.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at January 20, 2006 03:29 PM
I agree. Psychologically though, its a useful option to have on the books, much like with AF pilots.
Posted by: mark at January 20, 2006 03:59 PM
Thanks, Col, for this pointer.
My sense about State's folding-in-and-upwards of USAID is that it's an effort to glom onto some intelligence-gathering and covert action capacity, so that State can compete with (or have some independence from) DoD and the CIA/DNI blob.
USAID grantmaking for, ahem, democratizing purposes is on a steep increase (Venezuela, Haiti, Palestine, surely now Bolivia...)
Posted by: Nell at January 24, 2006 05:57 PM
Re USAID glomming, hmmm, well I would hope that the development work does not get confused with the intel, would become more useless. Or maybe not.
Well in the end, I don't care very much except for support for economic liberalisation.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at January 24, 2006 07:04 PM