Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Condi's Revolution

The Divine Ms. M forwarded me a January 23 article by Ralph Peters for the New York Post called "Condi's Revolution". (The NY Post requires registration, so this link takes you to a reprinted version.) It's a response to Secretary Rice's recent speech at Georgetown on transformational diplomacy. I recommend first reading Rice's speech, then Peters' piece, and then my own little diatribe.

The upshot of Lt Col Peters' piece is that Secretary Rice is knocking heads at State, and the befuddled dangerphobes there are running for cover. And while it's high time for such moves, they are sure to make Rice the "most hated" Secretary of State ever by her charges at Foggy Bottom. Luckily, I think he's wrong. While individual officers may have a range of opinions on Secretary Rice's effectiveness and priorities, I think most agree, and have long agreed, that increasing our presence in rising powers (like China and India) and "non-western" cultures (read - the Arab world) is vitally important.

Peters first notes approvingly that diplomats are now required to learn two foreign languages and develop regional expertise in two areas. This is true, and applauded by everyone in the Service I've spoken with. Note also that these requirements were developed while Colin Powell was still Secretary of State, and he is regarded as perhaps the most popular Secretary of State ever by folks here. So, they're neither hate-inducing nor particularly new.

His second point, that "Old" Europe has been disrespected via the shifting of diplomats from traditionally larger European posts to rising countries like India and China, is perhaps half-true, but comes off more as another refrain of Rumsfeld's chorus, circa 2003. Officers are being shifted, but I think it's more a reflection that China and India's economies are surging. Such countries stand to become ever more important in terms of economic output, resource competition, and realpolitik discussions. Of course officers will be posted to such places - one wonders why would this cause an uproar.

Here in Delhi, I can definitely say that State folks are excited to go to India, China, Iraq, Brazil, etc. My second day at post, the Political Counselor told me that years from now we'll look back and say we were in India when everything changed. Not exactly present at the creation, but pretty close, and you can feel it in the air. Who wouldn't want to be a part of the discussion around nuclear separation plans in India, the tension between human rights and economic development in China, or the rise of populism (again) in South America?

His third point rehashes the second, implying that the increased emphasis on other countries can only mean a diminution in Europe's importance. However, I don't think this is a zero-sum game. State has for the last few years been reversing a long-term trend of hiring below attrition. Through Powell's Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI), there has been a focus on hiring, on technology, and on recruiting speakers of critical needs languages. The end result is that we remain able to work with our traditional allies while increasing our ability to reach into new areas. After all, it's not in our interest to disrespect the third and fourth largest economies (Germany and UK) just to pander to the fifth (China). I think our goal is to be open to all, and to do so in as expert a fashion as possible.

Peters' fourth point takes the increased emphasis within State on serving in danger/hardship posts (again, started by Powell I believe) and twists it into an attack on the courage and desire of those in State to serve. Beyond being in poor taste and counterproductive, it's also false. Next time he calls State employees gutless and like "Chinese court eunuchs," he should remember that more Ambassadors have died in the line of duty since Vietnam than generals. I'm definitely not questioning the bravery of those in uniform, just wishing for a more unifying tone. We're all working toward the same ends over here, after all.

He then throws out a few more personal daggers, referring to Foreign Service Officers as eurotrash, calcified and arrogant, and lacking management experience. I'm not sure what experiences he has had to make him so bitter. What's patriotic about demeaning your comrades-in-arms, anyway? I'm lucky to serve in India with the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Year, the winner of the Dissent Award (Political Counselor) and the Foreign Service National of the Year (i.e. Indian coworker). Clearly, the people here are good workers and motivated, and they are not maneuvering to get into "coveted old Europe."

One good piece both Army folks and State employees should read is DOD is from Mars, State is from Venus (Microsoft Word doc). This piece handily discusses some of the traditional differences in management style between the two agencies. After reading this, it's easy to see how innocent "cultural" differences could be considered intentional slights, by either group.

Perhaps my favorite line is where he calls Georgetown University a "theory-poisoned backwater." I wonder what he thinks about President Bush's alma mater. Yale can hardly be less poisoned than Georgetown. As far as his suggestion that State recruit from the Pentagon, that too has long been the case. There are many former armed forces veterans in each entering class (and they're happy to be there). And they are hardly the only ones interested in "getting things done."

It is true that many people want to serve in Europe. Those positions are coveted. And I certainly wouldn't turn down Rome, I admit! But that's probably true in the armed forces as well. Europe is cushy, and lots of people like cushy, especially those with families. At the same time, I was impressed in my A-100 intro class at how many people were champing at the bit to go to Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq, as well as China and India. Many people sniffed at the idea of going to Norway or Finland. Not enough action, not enough of a chance to serve. Perhaps I just don't know the people Peters is focusing on, but at least the folks I've met in DC and India seem excited by the opportunities ahead.

I think I'll choose to put on some rose-colored glasses and re-interpret Col Peters' comments. I agree with him that the push by State to expand our presence in developing countries and to continually re-invent ourselves to address new threats is great. While Secretary Rice's plans are pretty vague in her speech, again, who can argue against expanding our presence across the world? I would also ask for his support in getting some tiny percentage of the budget DoD gets. There are still only about 6,000 generalists in the Foreign Service, with about a third of them in DC. That means 4,000 people to conduct diplomacy, help american citizens in need, and be the front line in the immigration process, all spread across the globe. He does say that "a functional State Department is essential to America's role in the world," and on that too we agree.

If Col Peters writes about State again, I'd ask him to write about how we can actually unite our two different cultures in a respectful way, about his concrete suggestions on how State can use its limited budget to do more, and about how State can do more to encourage democratic reform while respecting other cultures' values (like Islam). This column seemed to reflect on a few bad experiences he had personally, so perhaps his next column could focus on more constructive next steps?


At 3:49 AM, Blogger Alizarin said...

I found Col Peters' screed particularly implausible when he said, "Diplomats talk, soldiers do." It looks more like "Diplomats negotiate, soldiers kill." Isn't that the trouble with using an army to nation-build? Everything looks like a nail to the hammerheads.

It's egregious too, the way he seems blind to the DOD's bloodthirsty fumbling of Iraq, how they were too "forward-leaning" (as Rumsfeld would say) to wait for good intelligence or the diplomatic support of a real coalition. These are the people who "get things done"?

But I digress. Col Peters is not a serious enough thinker to burden with such questions. For example, in his book, New Glory: Explanding America's Global Supremacy, he apparently pits America, Anglophone nations, and promising developing nations against worldwide Islam and France ("the cancer at the heart of Europe"). Well thank God, I'm glad someone finally has the courage to talk straight to the American people!

He also gets to retread his "court eunuchs" line. Like Rush Limbaugh, he has a gift for tossing off incendiary, totally meritless one-liners. He must be the darling of some right-wing, militaristic, libertarian constituency.

At 8:57 PM, Anonymous Colin said...

Good review, Charles, although after reading the original piece I am impressed that you would bother to write a thoughtful critique of such trash. It must have taken you a good 15 minutes alone to wipe the flecks of saliva froth off your screen. This article is nothing more than a Fox News transcript - not surprising since News Corp owns the NY Post as well. Its pretty much par for that course - hammering right wing bogeymen by comparing them to the French and the Soviets. Why include any real evidence or even support for one's ideas when you can just slander? Anyway, this author is clearly a red-blooded, two-fisted American Patriot who is too busy solving problems and kicking butt to worry about real debate. Your response is exactly the kind of effete, polo-playing, liberal hand-wringing that is dragging this country down. Pinko.

Incidentally, the Mars/Venus link you include is broken.

At 9:59 PM, Blogger Crawdad said...

Yes, and as any good soft liberal would, I've toned down my original spittle-flecked piece and substituted this more mature response. If you want to read the piece I first wrote in a haze of indignance, email me and I'll send it to you....

I'll work on the link, too, thanks.

At 10:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great read, Chas!
I've been offline for the last ten days (logic board, being replaced free by Apple on a three-year-old machine).

I feel spittle-fleck free at the mo'--just finishing a late-ish breakfast with Pop, who's down here. BTW the hit-map is interesting. Do you have readers in Lagos?

At 10:13 PM, Blogger Crawdad said...

cool beans! more coming, and I'll email you the really spittle inducing version, which I think you'll get a kick out of. but it really is a wee bit over the top (my Pol Pot reference for example....).

Oh wow, that's my first reader in Africa. Cool. I think lots of folks come through the option to read another Blogger blog. I hope a few stay, including the African reader.

also, link is fixed!

At 2:34 AM, Blogger Alizarin said...

Woo hoo! As someone who got to read the "out-of-hand" version of Crawdad's reasoning (whoa nellie), I have to say it is thoughtful and quite mature. The Pol Pot reference was almost intense enough to register on someone like Peters.

At 10:00 PM, Blogger Prince Roy said...

Hmmm...our beloved Department prioritizes China, at the same time it throws up arbitrary hurdles for its China Hands within...

At 8:43 PM, Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

Crawdad, I've posted a link to your article here:

With your permission, may I post the whole essay and/or comment to it there?

At 8:56 PM, Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

BTW, have you ever read LTC Peters' "The Devil's Garden"? It's set in/around a U.S. embassy at a former soviet country and the DCM is one of the bad guys, the hero is a military officer, and the political appointee ambassador helps the hero against the evil career FSO.

Even so, I do enjoy his writing, except for when he's being an ass.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Crawdad said...

Sure, posting it is fine; I look forward to your comments.

Thanks for the tip on the book, I haven't read that but will pick it up. I'm sure our DCM would actually get a kick out of it, too, maybe I'll suggest it to him.

Any thoughts on Kite Runner - is that a worthwhile read?

At 4:19 AM, Anonymous shrinkwrap said...

Dianne liked kite runner, fwiw. Liked your piece (tho you register zero comments at the end of the article itself). Looking forward to more India stuff, too.

At 5:01 AM, Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

Crawdad, okay, I'll get that posted with comments in the next day or so.

Do you read any W.E.B. Griffin? In his latest, The Hostage, the action opens with the DCM's wife being kidnapped.


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