Saturday, October 27, 2007

Arrogance, Stupidity, Iraq, and the State Department

U.S. State Department employees haven't been volunteering to work in Iraq, so soldiers have been filling in. The State Department's plan is to order employees to go to Iraq, if they don't get volunteers. Diplomatic work wouldn't be getting done, if it weren't for American soldiers filling in for the State Department types.

An Associated Press story says that "the U.S. military has quietly but repeatedly complained that its forces and other Defense Department personnel have been pressed into service in jobs that should have been filled by State Department personnel.

It's not just in Baghdad: Defense Department employees and service members had to pick up the slack "on provincial reconstruction teams for months to make up for no-show State Department workers. The State Department isn't the only one to ignore Iraq. Commerce and Agriculture have been slow, coming to Iraq: Military officials have said that expertise from those departments could help Iraqi business people get back to their jobs, and farmers back to work, improving the Iraqi economy.

I sympathize with the State Department types. Iraq's climate doesn't compare well with the south of France, and near-daily attacks in Baghdad don't add to the country's allure. There must be dozens of more attractive assignments: Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, to name a few.

And, parts of Iraq is a sort of dangerous neighborhood. The diplomats' union says, "assigning unarmed civilians into a combat zone should be done on a voluntary basis."

Fair enough.

I don't know about Commerce and Agriculture, but as far as the State Department goes, I wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea to keep the diplomatic corps in friendlier places, where they can help the global economy by enjoying the local culture.

The State Department has been handling those armed contractors, like Blackwater's, who seem to have developed a regrettable habit of shooting Iraqis - and leaving witnesses. And, the State Department is expected to resist a congressional move to put all armed contractors in combat zones under military control.

Then, there's Alberto Fernandez's little oopsie. CNN reported Fernandez's statement for Al-Jazeera:
"History will decide what role the United States played.... And God willing, we tried to do our best in Iraq.

"But I think there is a big possibility (inaudible) for extreme criticism and because undoubtedly there was arrogance and stupidity from the United States in Iraq." (emphasis is mine)
That was a year ago, and Fernandez appologized. Despite that blooper, he did show diplomatic acumen by coming up with at least two different explanations for his statement.

Fernandez is no low-level flunky in the State Department. When he made that "arrognace and stupidity" statement, he was director of the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of Near East Affairs.

Which makes me wonder about the attitude of senior State Department leaders. It's one thing for a professor at Boulder or Berkeley or some other citadel of cerebral pursuits to believe that America is an imperialistic, militaristic, warmonger oppressor. It's another matter when a senior State Department leader can unconsciously let a remark about the "arrogance and stupidity" of the United States slip out.

At least in places where it makes a difference, like Iraq, maybe the U.S. Military should be running the diplomatic end of the operation. That way, there'd be more assurance that the job was being done with American interests in mind.

Is that too harsh? I hope so, but I'm not sure.


Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting that it wasn't arrogance and stupidity?

Often, admitting the obvious is effective diplomacy. Foreigners aren't noticeably dumber than we are. Acknowledging that helps gets you past the whining to where you can actually talk business.

Brian H. Gill said...

"It" covers quite a lot of ground.

However, I do not regard the removal of a dangerous tyrant and the rebuilding of a nation to be an act that is inherently arrogant or stupid.

It's true that acknowledgment of obvious facts (or delusions believed to be facts) can be a useful - even vital - step in diplomacy.

And, there may be more to the 'arrogance and stupidity' remark than was in the news.

The State Department leader's remarks may have been astute diplomacy, but they sounded like the tired old 'America stinks' line that I've heard since the sixties.

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