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Archive for October, 2009

Added to the Blogroll

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Decided to beef up the diplo section here to balance out all the COIN/strategic studies blogs on the roll.

Karaka Pend 

John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review, Version 2.0 

Consul-at-Arms II


Check them out!

More blogging later today…..

Featured at the Atlantic Council

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

My post below, with minor alterations, has just been re-published at the Atlantic Council on their blog, courtesy of managing editor, Dr. James Joyner.

State Department Must Reform or Die

Much appreciated, Dr. Joyner!


Karaka Pend ties related posts on the inadequacy of the State Department together:

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

Karaka also points to this TNR op-ed by Dr. Steve Metz of SSI:

The Civilian Surge Myth

….No one welcomes this more than the military. In the absence of civilian capacity, soldiers end up managing public services like trash collection, or trying to teach democracy and good governance. At a major conference on irregular conflicts last month, I listened as a decorated Marine colonel heading for command in Afghanistan talked of how that conflict would unfold when the civilian surge was in place. As a Pentagon official heard this, he told me, “The military is looking to off-load nation building; they are so desperate to do that–and so eager to enshrine the lessons from the Iraq counterinsurgency–that they have convinced themselves of the necessity and plausibility of a civilian surge.”


The Incredible Shrinking State Department must Evolve or Die

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

A quick ‘think” post.

It is generally a bad sign for a SECSTATE so early in an administration to have to come out and deny that they have been marginalized by the White House, as Secretary Clinton felt compelld to do the other day. The denial itself serves as confirmation of the fact.

It is tempting to write this off as another example of traditional, politically-motivated, battles between White House staffers, determined to protect the authority of the POTUS over foreign policy and the bureaucracy at State.  We have seen this struggle in the past with Al Haig, Cyrus Vance, William Rogers, Cordell Hull, Robert Lansing and other SECSTATEs who sooner or later found themselves sidelined and excluded from key foreign policy decisions by the president. However, this is not just a case of Obama insiders distrusting and attempting to “box in” the Clintons as political rivals, by using other high profile players ( though that has been done to Clinton).

Nor is it just that State is grossly underfunded relative to its responsibilities by the U.S. Congress, which it most certainly is. I’m pretty critical of State but to do everything they *should* be doing, and to do the job right, requires a sizable budget increase, perhaps upwards of 50 %. This cut off the nose to spite our foreign policy face niggardliness by the legislature is not new. Go back and read the memoirs of diplomats of a century ago. They wrestled with the same budgetary penury as State has to deal with today; even during WWII when you’d have thought money would be no object, Congress stiffed diplomats in hazardous, war-zone, postings on their food allowances. The foreign service was long the preserve of wealthy, well-connected, white men because back in the day, only they could afford to live on a State Department salary.

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?

State needs to overhaul its personnel system and FSO culture to embrace the reality that interagency teamwork at the inception of policy planning is the only way the USG will be able to effectively advance its interests and nurture stability. The age of ambassadors or even mano-a-mano superpower summitry is over, even among great powers because State cannot execute policy across the DIME bureaucratic spectrum much less bring in the private sector on its own. It has neither the imagination nor the power to go it alone. For that matter, State is having enough  trouble just managing its core functions plus public diplomacy and development aid ( the last two so poorly they should be hived off immediately).

SECSTATE Clinton would like to be the Mario Andretti of Obama ‘s foreign policy but what she’s driving amounts to an Edsel. State needs an engineer to re-design it, and an advocate who can pull in the funding, not an operator or manager of the status quo. If State does not change its culture and its structures in the next decade, it is just marking time until some catastrophe results in it being retired to the historical graveyard and replaced with a new agency better suited to the conditions of the 21st century.

The Temptation of Xenophon

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009


This is my latest contribution (and part XII) to the Xenophon Roundtable at Chicago Boyz:

The Temptation of Xenophon

….Xenophon was a relatively young aristocrat who struck out for the East, for greener pastures because any ambitions were likely to be thwarted at home. Athens was a broken empire,just defeated at the hands of Sparta in classical antiquity’s equivalent to WWI. The opportunities for service abroad in the name of Athens were nonexistent. Chances for leadership within the city itself were likewise grim. Xenophon came from a notorious circle in Athens, the followers of Socrates, who were in disfavor with the ruling democrats, being suspected of “factious” inclinations and oligarchical sympathies. Two of their number, Alcibiades and Critias were reckoned as infamous traitors and usurpers. Furthermore, Socrates’ continued lack of participation in the Assembly and the private symposia held by his aristocratic students, appeared to indicate a latent political opposition to Athenian democracy itself.

Xenophon Roundtable XI.

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

From Joseph Fouche at Chicago Boyz.

Xenophon Roundtable: Politics in a Bottle

…..Cyrus, as shown by the spectacles that he repeatedly puts on as motivation exercises for his reluctant mercenaries during the descent to Babylon, is a showman. Many citizens of modern liberal democracies miss the subtlety of manufacturing consent in a traditional hereditary monarchy. Monarchy relies on spectacle as much or in fact more so than a liberal democracy. Masters of the form, whether continent spanning tyrants like Louis XIV or petty princelings of the Holy Roman Empire, rely on symbol, spectacle, and sacralizing as much as the naked violence to which they often resorted. Traditional state violence, whether it be an execution, a military campaign, or jousting, served a theatrical, educational, and propagandizing purpose on top of its pure manifestation of brute force. Cyrus was putting on a performance intended to symbolically and morally knife Artaxerxes almost as much as he was seeking to literally shove eight inches of wrought iron into his own brother’s chest. That Cyrus signally failed in his attempt is no argument against the fundamentally political nature of his warfare. Failure is as much a part of politics as success. If Cyrus failed in his aspiration to become a potent symbol of political success in life, through the freshly rendered pieces of Cyrus meat conspicuously displayed by his brother, Cyrus became a potent symbol of political failure in death.

An excellent post.

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