Permissible Arms

The State Department has a mission, if they choose to accept it.

Posted in us politics by Karaka on 15 October 2009

I still haven’t figured out what to do with the Valour-IT widget, so I’m just going to kick it old school html-tag style and just include a link to the Navy Team page at the bottom of every post. Yes, it will be spammy. But will it work? That’s the question.

Steven Metz has a column criticizing the civilian personnel, or lack thereof, within the State Department available to go to work in Afghanistan in the advisory capacity Richard Holbrooke claims to need:

There are only two solutions. We could belly up and provide the resources for a serious expeditionary civilian corps. But a few hundred or even a couple of thousand people is not enough. We would need many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of advisers with linguistic skills and cultural knowledge willing to leave home and live under risky conditions for years at a time. And we are not talking about 20-somethings paid a pittance and fueled by idealism, but skilled professionals demanding serious pay for their expertise and sacrifice. (The difficulty that the State department had convincing even its hardened professionals to volunteer for duty in Iraq showed what a challenge this is.) Of course, if the pay is high enough, the experts will come. But, at a time of massive government budget deficits and a persisting national economic crisis, this is simply not in the cards.

Matt Yglesias responds a bit, and thinks achieving that CRC (Civilian Response Corps) personnel might not be as difficult as Metz suggests.

For one thing, the massive government budget deficits and a persisting national economic crisis really shouldn’t be a barrier to doing this. If the things that leading Pentagon officials claim to believe about American national security are true, what we ought to do is draw up a bill of what it would cost to properly finance the civilian side of things and cut that much money from the Defense Department budget in order to pay for it. But of course the Pentagon won’t actually agree to that, which sets up the more realistic option of the Pentagon paying lip service to the need for civilian capabilities while in practice building those capabilities in-house.

Relatedly, Mark Safranski at Zenpundit rakes the State Department over the coals for being remarkably ineffective:

No, the hidden problem for the State Department is that in an age of failing, failed and fake states, diplomacy means less than it once did and accomplishes less in a greater number of places. You could replace Hillary Clinton with Talleyrand as SECSTATE and give him $ 100 billion to play with and he’d still be stuck with a collection of chaotic Gap states without effective internal governance, eroding sovereignty and multiplying non-state actors freebooting across international borders. The problem for State is the global evironment and their disinclination to adapt effectively to it as an institution. It’s foreign interlocutors frequently cannot deliver on any deals, even if they wanted to do so. When that is the reality, what role does diplomacy have in policy or strategy?

Which I thought was pretty accurate:

[Metz] strikes exactly what you and I seem to agree on: that there not only needs to be a much, much, much larger corps of civilian officers, but they need to be trained and staffed to positions appropriately. I don’t think anyone has looked at the State Department’s views of personnel and FSO seriously in years, which I find deeply troubling.If all the branches of the military can meet/exceed their recruiting goals for what is arguably a more dangerous career than civil service abroad, why don’t we have a similar recruiting program for FSOs/CRC personnel? Seems like there is a pool of people willing to serve.

And still there is no USAID administrator. *bangs a broken gong*

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