Death Of An Ambassador – The U.S. In A Ring Of Fire

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three colleagues’ deaths in Libya and Egyptians storming embassy walls underscore the Arab Spring was always the Arab Decade. Both events also should give further pause to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) sentimentalists blithely calling for military action against Assad.

Middle East, Libya, Egypt, Chris Stevens

Focus On Each Country And Its Politics

Contrary to many media outlets, we’re not convinced the infamous anti-Mohammed YouTube video proximately caused the deaths and riots. We believe local politics and intrigues played the key roles and the video used as an excuse or cover; blaming a video helps create an easily understandable overarching explanatory narrative. Comforting but unhelpful.

For example, in Cairo a handful of long-standing militant Islamists protesting outside of the embassy for months took advantage of momentary confusion to climb the embassy walls and plant their black flag. The next day, the Egyptian government eventually restored order. That delay raises worrying signals about the new Egyptian government’s intent.

In Benghazi it increasingly looks like an armed faction opposed to liberal democratic process pre-planned a coordinated guerrilla assault with mortars, RPGs and artillery fire. That now famous YouTube video clip mocking Mohammed at most served as cover and distraction. Attackers knew routines and consulate layout. Contrary to Neocon claims Libyans dragged deceased Americans through the streets, U.S. officials report 10 Libyans died defending the consulate and others hand carried the U.S victims to the hospital.

If you’re reminded of Sérgio Vieira de Mello’s assassination in Iraq, the purposes are not too dissimilar. U.S. resolve is certainly being tested. We support engagement in Libya yet believe the American people – for many reasons – have not been told the time and commitment and risk of non-engagement.

Questions about Libya carry over to Syria, too. As we noted above, Syria is a separate ethnic, economic and political mosaic. Even if force of arms ala Libya could be made politically viable, operationally it’s no Libya as you know Dear Reader – logistically and militarily. “Assad must go”. Even more than Libya, and then what?

As we said at the outset, the Arab Spring is really the Arab Decade. Each nation will take that long to work out its political institutions and new traditions – and likely will arrive at different answers.

Romney’s Lehman Moment?

Not much needs to be said here about Romney’s bizarre partisan public responses. You’ve seen the coverage. Craven? Irresponsible? Sure. But that’s been his M.O. during the primaries and to date on a variety of issues. When expediency is one’s polestar, one can’t expect honoring the tradition of bi-partisanship in the face of national tragedy.

That’s what John Galt would do.

U.S. Wages A Clueless War Over Libya

[After finally unlocking WH:] “Mission creep? No one *ever* utters those words. Tell Carney to use ‘saving more lives’ if he wants to keep the job.”

Even as other nations begin taking a larger role in the international air assault mission in Libya, the Pentagon is considering adding Air Force gunships and other attack aircraft that are better suited for tangling with Libyan ground forces in contested urban areas like Misrata, a senior Pentagon official said Friday.

Gortney [JCS staff director], however, said there has been no reduction in the number of American planes participating. In fact, he said the Pentagon was considering bringing in side-firing AC-130 gunships, helicopters and armed drone aircraft that could challenge Libyan ground forces that threaten civilians in cities like Misrata. The U.S. has avoided attacking in cities thus far out of fear that civilians could be killed or injured. AC-130 gunships, which operate at night at low altitude, can attack with unusual precision.>

Meanwhile, this is what we fight for:

As the transition to NATO command and control of the military operation proceeds, the administration has still not made a decision about recognizing the Benghazi-based Libyan opposition council as the legitimate government of the country. The U.S. closed its embassy in Tripoli in February but has not broken diplomatic relations with the Gadhafi regime.

Gene Cretz, the U.S. ambassador to Libya who has been reaching out to opposition figures, said the administration was still not entirely certain about the identities and intentions of the transitional council, although he said they had made positive statements about their goals and plans to respect human rights.

“I think they’re off to a good start,” he told reporters at the State Department. “That’s not to say that we know everything about them; we don’t. We have to be very careful about who might be included in the future and how they go about forming a government, if in fact they have that opportunity.”

Muammar Don’t Surf . . . Sir!

It’s hard to see America today and not feel somewhat disassociated. Not in the twitchy Upper West Side sort of way, but as we all experience when a loved one needs help, cries out for help, yet in the end must be cut off. For that loved one must want to change before help can have meaning.

We must face facts and surrender illusions. Iraq, Bush, the whole tapestry was not the aberration we believed. We mean in the sense of chronic American inability to approach international challenges in pursuit of a concrete strategic outcome. Since 1980 spastic force unleashed by feeling and emotion, doubly irrational, is the norm. 1991 is the exception.

Why? We all know, of course, the coffee table paradigms dusted off 2001-2008 – liberal international humanitarianism, Jacksonian impulses, Neocon cynicism, multi-lateral institutional inertia, etc. Those labels, however, are merely descriptive rather than explanatory. Consider:

Western leaders acknowledged, though, that beyond the immediate United Nations authorization to protect Libyan civilians there was no clear endgame, because it was uncertain that even military strikes will force Colonel Qaddafi from power. Many of the leaders in Paris have called for Colonel Qaddafi to quit, and it may be that military intervention leads to negotiations with the opposition for the colonel and his family to go — or, at the least, buys time for the rebels to regroup. (emphasis added)

Force blindly deployed without clear rationale or strategic political objective. This after the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. We don’t need Graham Allison to grasp that internal U.S. bureaucratic models are only partially helpful. Ultimately organizational process is even less satisfying than the paradigms, supra. Personalities make a difference, true; people are policy. Consider that we arrive at the same outcome despite diverse voices as Bill Clinton, Not-So-Bright, Bill Cohen/Wesley Clark, Cheney, W., Rummy et. al., the Boy King, HRC and retinue.

Details and public rationales (lies) varied. The underlying consistency? U.S. inability to control compulsive shortsighted kinetic twitching.

We’ve discussed here together at length the military’s congenital failure as well. The Army’s fetishization of Wehrmacht operational art and the concomitant inability to formulate doctrine sufficient to achieve strategic victory conditions is just the most recent permutation. Russell Weigley’s magisterial The American Way of War traces the phenomenon back to the Civil War and before. The Air Force is no different. The comparatively tiny Marines stand out uniquely – from the invention of amphibious warfare and island hopping in the 1920s to Iraq and Afghanistan today.

Global Military Reach At The Mercy Of Trending Tweets?

Welcome to the new normal. American fundamental capacity for developing and subsequent implementation of strategic thought is depleted. Too bold? More than that, we submit that those pursuits are actively punished, mocked and disregarded by ‘the market.’ Can anyone who knew Bob Osgood, Nitze, even (ack) Zbig, etc., the CFR and FA when they meant something, doubt it? Max Boot as Senior Fellow? Beinart? Look at Condi’s pathetic NSC. Obama’s not a big step up. ‘Experts’ are only what the chyrons tell us.

Is it their fault? Beginning with cable, satellite and now the Net time as a linear concept simply vanished. Digital is binary, 1s and 0, no in betweens. Strategic thought above all takes time.

Our blind, unthinking embrace of ever-tightening micro news cycles, likes, trending tweets, page views and links is a collective pithing. Policy is necessarily reactive to ephemera of heat, noise and intensity. What would happen if Charlie Sheen took an interest in foreign affairs?

We’re not churning cant blaming the Net. But it does identify our most pressing question: how to cultivate and deploy societal strategic perspectives in this environment? We don’t have a ready answer.

Put it another way – would Nixonger be possible today? Plumbers are a quaint notion when ‘unnamed senior White House officials’, Congress, all of them leak, tweet and call cable producers. A multi-year secret diplomacy climaxed with a covert trip to China via Pakistan, etc. is laughable. Kissinger would be caught by a camera phone and put on TMZ at the get go.

Now add WikiLeaks to that environment with institutional blood vendettas everywhere. The Good Old Days are always rosy in hindsight. The Sovs used to complain that their biggest problem with Americans is they don’t’ know what they want. Similar symptoms under the thumb of three networks, the Grey Lady, AM radio and The Phone Company. Kissinger observed even then government service burned up years of thinking in mere months.

We used to say often over at STSOZ 1.0 the American tragedy might well be we learn how to think about power in fully realized, purposeful terms only when we lose it.

Obama As Poker Player: He Really Does Have A ‘Tell’

The United States, obviously, has a special role to play on the international stage, regardless of who is president,” Mr. Obama said. “We are a very large, very wealthy, very powerful country. We have had outsized influence over world affairs for a century now. And you are now seeing a situation in which a whole host of other countries are doing very well and coming into their own, and naturally they are going to be more assertive in terms of their interests and ideas. And that’s a healthy thing.

Obama on getting stiffed at the G20. He lacks Clinton’s gift for often inspired parsing. Rather than embed meaning within meaning, Obama’s efforts actually draw attention. Note the past tense passive construct ‘We have had outsized influence’ stands out. No different than the WH’s correction of Axelrod’s cave on the Bush tax cuts. The WH quickly instructed him and others to claim he was misunderstood. Obama, they claim, is true to principle. Just that principle (ahem) is opposition to *permanently* extending Bush’s plutocratic wealth transfer subsidy. Don’t forget the military’s leaking that Obama’s hard deadline of 2011 Afghan draw down is now floated as December 31, 2014 (for now).

And that’s just in the last week.

Now put yourself in Beijing’s place. Or any G-20 leader sitting at the plenary session. Imagine your briefing on Obama before you arrived in Korea. You, like many leaders from Japan, Germany, China, Korea, etc. built your wealth and social stability on merchantilist predation on U.S. consumers and debt. And here comes yet another American president complaining that his country is tired of being a consumption and debt junkie. ‘Beijing has to stop manipulating its currency boosting its smack’, etc.

Next Media’s Animation on U.S.-China Currency Debate

Stronger men than Obama have gone to the pusher man. Most successfully Baker’s coup de main in 1985’s Plaza Accords. But then Baker knows how to play poker. His velvet hammer commanded respect.

Obama’s not that guy. Your briefing as a G-20 leader explains America’s too strung out now to handle the merchantilist product for much longer. The Fed QE easing/asset purchase doesn’t really threaten American inflating their way out of addicition. It’s more of an accounting measure for banks to re-configure their existing portfolios. But no American really understands that, especially CNBC reporters. So, your briefers advise, a few PR releases denouncing the move are meaningless but knock the young American off stride.

It’s all so inconvenient. You’ve been so focused on perfecting your labs and recruiting your mules like WalMart getting tastes of your junk into the American ‘tragedy of the commons’. You’re not used to thinking about responsibility, creating stable win-win international systems. Yours is the zero-sum game of wealth accumulation. Now you’ve got to think about what you need from a post-American debt junkie world.

The American junkie was convenient for everyone. Still no need to act precipitously; America is so hollowed out now all they export really is tweets. Don’t risk siding with Obama now against the Yuan, your briefers caution. The future is in flux. He can’t stand up to Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Boehner, etc. Besides, he always screws his allies and flatters his foes. The guy just admitted U.S. diminishment in Asia, after all, where ‘face’ is all. And worse, it’s clear the Americans don’t have a plan for methadone/detox other than more speeches about ‘Green jobs’ or – wait for it – more tax cuts!!

Why not kick the can down a road? Milk the junkie. And see what happens. With Obama it’s obvious the deal always gets better by waiting him out. He’ll probably even end up calling his own initial position ‘outsized’, to boot.

Oh Kendall, For Fidel?

When we heard the DGI yet again suborned some State types while we bit into a steak fajita at Chipotle Mexican Grill, liberated from Gringo McDonald’s imperialism since 2006, we mused what functionary had fallen for one of Cuba’s greatest natural resources. Maybe she was even a natural blonde.

First up, in a world with human beings, we are going to get penetrated. Sure as the Sun rises. We can manage the risk. Minimize the risk. But it’s going to happen — especially lately given the reaction to the Warlord’s Authoritarianism. On this we are serious: seeds planted in appalled reaction to Bush-Cheney may yield bitter fruit for us regarding agents in place for the coming decades. WFO has its work cut out for it.

DGI Versus Uncle Sam, Super Genius And Acme Tech

Second, the DGI simply are first rate. For their own internal doctrine, training and culture. But also because they understand how to push in this case American buttons. They also understand that American techno-fetishism remains undimmed, especially the so-called box. As you know, having watched both “Chuck” on NBC and possibly a Bond flick, the ‘box’ is really nothing more than a series of galvanic skin response measurements along with other biologic stress recorders. What calls itself CIA today and others still swear by the whole thing. To our ultimate loss.

In the old days, ever wander into a facility and noticed piles of change around soda machines or on the floor? Alot easier to do and be able to say ‘no’ to stealing at the office and not worry about a sweaty guilty flashback to that Mountain Dew you scrounged coming back to bite you in the ass because you get a crappy read on what should have been a pass. Not entirely apocryphal. Now you’re at FSI studying Urdu while it gets ‘cleared up.’ Better today, but the whole process still largely governs by fear and is art, not science, at its best.

Unfortunately for the High Priests some individuals and even whole ethnic elements have different response patterns. Advocates deny it, but the facts are that some Latin personalities for a variety of reasons seem able to defeat the box. The DGI has kicked CIA’s ass time and time again by sending people whom CIA tested, passed, trusted and of course we got burned big time. We are not talking about small little ops. Over decades this has been going on. It’s a Warners Brothers cartoon, folks. Some slavic personalities are also able to manage their stress reactions and continue to give false positives. And then there are mediocrities like Ames. . . But the Cult of Box makes Apple enthusiasts look like Walmart zomboids.

Look, Dear, This Is Building True Socialism !! Under Fidel Everyone Has A Free Sun Tan !!

The Name Is Myers, Kendall Myers

Kendall went to State ostensibly to avoid the box. We knew him tangentially back in the 1980s. For personal reasons unrelated to this blog already aware of his purely academic limitations, we largely stayed clear. Apparently, he had some private epiphany in the 1978 time frame. Let me emphasize that to distinguish what the major papers are reporting as specific dates: *timeframe*.

Learning he betrayed the country for some contrived love for Fidel remains unconvincing at this remove although it was 1978 with ‘Hey, Hey, LBJ’ still echoing in the air and Khmer Rouge Chic affectation still rampant. Nonetheless, Fidel has, um, vast quantities of Cuban ‘natural resources’. For whatever reason, even if not the brightest bulb around, Kendall had to know the DGI of all the Soviet Bloc related services ranked near the top at false flag operations. Perhaps other shoes may drop. We will close with one thought about that. If we’re wrong, and it was all truly a simple awakening to the joys of building socialism, ell that boy just ain’t right, as they say. Perhaps, if Plato takes his case and the usual deal fall through, he may offer creative extenuating circumstances.

PLATO: Your Honor, Defendant respectfully asks that Exhibit 1959(c) be entered into evidence.

JUDGE: What is it, Counsel?

PLATO: This is the K-Tel Top 10 List For 1978. THIS on the radio. Day after day, week after week, haunting my client and his wife, Your Honor. As they started promising careers to defend this Nation against her enemies. May I?

JUDGE: Proceed.

PLATO: The Bee Gees, “Stayin Alive”. Then, Debbie Boone, “You Light Up My Life”, followed again by The Bee Gees, “How Deep Is Your Love” . . . (turn to US Prosecutor). Even a man of iron will would break and weep like a child. I could go on . . . and all in heavy rotation.

US Prosecutor: Oh God, I had no idea. How could we have known?

JUDGE: Counsel, is the Court being offered ‘The Bee Gees Defense”?

Levity in an otherwise bleak situation. Now there is one item I will add from personal background so must do so very carefully. My opacity here is not based on games but a desire to inform while being respectful and careful. Myers very, very, very early on had an issue which caused certain people to propose denying him a security clearance. This would be in the 1977/78 time frame. This is not speculation. It was unrelated to ‘Cuba’. And he eventually did get his clearance.

The matter was not box related (his handlers more than he, we suspect, determined he would be wise to stay clear of the off kilter (because of JJA and Church/ Pike Committees) but still formidable Agency. Besides, the DGI finds mid-level assets useful. CIA then and what calls itself CIA now were and are heavily compartmentalized. State, by comparison, is a Doris Day pillow party.

Like a legal matter, fact patterns are essential, especially dates and time. And my memory is not what it was once was. But his issue was in the 1977/78 period. I can’t say for certain which even plausibly could be construed as even a potential chicken or egg. If there is any causal relationship at all.

But am sipping coffee Sunday morning, wondering. And shuddering at Plato’s revelations . . . someone call Turley and get the Spanish judge.

HRC Parts The Fog And Seeks The Bottom

This take by TNR’s Michael Crowley on HRC’s start at State seems perceptive although tending towards soft HRC bashing. Its opening is appropriately evocative:

The seventh floor of the U.S. State Department is a generally dreary place. Its employees roam hallways so long and confusing that they are color-coded for guidance. Fluorescent lights throw down a harsh hospital glare. But, to most State employees, the “real” seventh floor is a secure area, protected by armed guards and doors that require electronic keys, where the department’s top staffers, including the secretary herself, spend their days. There, Hillary Clinton works from a gently lit, wood-paneled office adorned with portraits of her predecessors.

Crowley still does the lazy personality driven approach – the classic Washingtonian tactical, transitory who’s up, who’s down analysis. For example, it’s plain laughable to assert in the opening that Cher Condi had more foreign policy expertise than Clinton. But the HRC persona compelling catty comparisons still exerts magnetic sway even now.

People of Asia, I Send You The Rainbow Of Foggy Bottom !

From a conceptual point of view the Stiftung supports wholeheartedly her avowed focus on Asia and priority for crafting a long term U.S. diplomatic strategy. Especially given the incompetence and neglect by the Warlord. Under both General Jello and the bubble-headed Cher Condi, U.S. drift, passivity and fixation on the ludicrous GWOT allowed Chinese influence to expand on an almost completely free ride.

Development is also a welcome priority — perhaps now U.S. development initiatives won’t be de facto outsourced to the strangely erratic and incoherent Sharon Stone’s tourette-like performance art on mosquito nets at Davos. We kid. But only a little. It’s really been that bad.

Managerially, the Stiftung can report that the rank and file at State we have spoken to are elated with HRC’s drill down and the presidential endorsement of area studies, language and actual expertise. She seems to understand the importance of the Secretariat as a tool by which a strong Secretary exerts day to day bureaucratic control. Cher Condi knew less how to manage a cabinet department than she did functioning as national security advisor (the most inept ever). FSOs passed over for ambassadorships will complain under any Administration. Crowley apparently gulped down fistfuls of Ecstasy to believe any non-Warlord embeds hold Cher Condi, Karen Hughes et al. as ‘benchmarks’ for competence.

A Secretary who presides over a renewed co-equal status among the National Command Authority (NCA) – especially and significantly the uniformed military and SecDef will have internal clout accordingly. Will Holbrooke go Scarface one day? Rampage down the Seventh Floor corridors howling “Come say hello to my little friend [this memo]!!!?” We doubt it. We also don’t see Jones’ embryonic NSC structure tolerating the dysfunction.

A sign that Crowley doesn’t grasp the State Department power dynamic beyond stenographic personality gossip? He would note there are really only two key personalities who will determine her overall success. Aside from the President, HRC’s Imperial City fortunes are linked to Gates and his successor. She lucks out if the successor shares Gates’ demeanor, wisdom and internal control at OSD and over the building. Without that, Holbrooke on qualudes or Mitchell on meth won’t matter. We’d still get a memorable Crowley personality driven essay.

American Foreign Policy, Now Enriched With Smart Power ™ ! Order Today !!

Nothing quite concentrates the mind as reduced circumstances. Or should. Artists (often after the fact) claim limitations unleash creativity. American foreign policy is therefore by all rights on the cusp of a truly focused renaissance. Were that it was so.

Henry the K’s intern du jour ghost writes for him in todays ‘International Herald Tribune’ that we have a chance yet again for a — are you ready? — New World Order. In a nutshell, it’s a Chinese fortune cookie — “Chaos everywhere. Situation excellent.”

[Read more…]

The U.N., American Power and Fareed Zakaria

One interesting debate with implications for post 2008 is already occurring. Many of you, Dear Reader, may have already been following it. This one centers on the proper role of American power, particularly under the U.N.

Not a new subject on its face — controversy predates floridation, ‘black helicopters’ and Kofi Annan. The current impetus is a new Fareed Zakaria tome coupled with something called the “Princeton Project”. A brief recap can be found here.

The Princeton Project (now out some two years) proposes an alternative mechanism to the U.N., a ‘coalition of the willing’-esque ‘Council of Democracies’ should Russia and China not surrender their Security Council vetoes. Should the U.N. (China or Russia) balk at ‘regime change’ or other use of force, this alternative mechanism could be used for official sanction. At the core of this new concept is the still simmering notion of American imperial exceptionalism. The Stiftung is hardly the 10,345 th to note the Neocon nature of it all.

Michael Lind in the link above quite appropriately disabuses TPM Cafe readers of some intellectual sleight of hand. He correctly notes that the American liberal tradition embodied by Roosevelt’s intended post-war vision (starting with the U.N. Charter in S.F.) assumed a legal international order with cooperation among the powers on the security council. A Stiftung family member attended the UN Lake Success meetings. All of this very much in the liberal tradition.

That plan, as Lind notes, fell to the wayside after 1945 for a couple of reasons. First, concern over Soviet expansionism/Communist gains in Europe. Second, Washington oddly did not realize how feeble Britain had become. Not only in 1947 Greece but across the empire. Hence the Marshall Plan, etc. And finally, overt conflict at Berlin, the fall of China and the Korean War. (Note that U.N. sanction for that was possible only because the Soviets boycotted the Security Council vote).

Even so, if the U.S. tried to move to as Lind labels it from traditional American liberalism to an ad hoc and improvised “Plan B”, it was not an easy go of it. Contrary to what many think today, the U.S. military demobilized astonishingly fast from Europe in 1945. The Marshall Plan and money to Europe (offered even to the Soviets) alone was not an easy sell. We couldn’t disagree more with David Reiff’s response to Lind that continuity marked U.S. post war policy more than the discontinuity. What Reiff et al. simply overlook is the context and importance of how and why Paul Nitze wrote NSC-68, perhaps the most famous and influential document fixing U.S. Cold War policy (and often mistakenly seen as a frenetic intellectual riposte to Foreign Affair’s ‘X’ (Kennan) argument for limited containment).

NSC-68’s very existence proves Lind’s point about a discontinuity. Nitze wrote NSC-68 with the language and structure literally in his words to “bludgeon the mass bureaucratic mind of Washington.” Nitze needed to created Crown Prince-like change. In other words, a truly radically new way of thinking, preparation and acting. This has nothing to do with continuity. Moreover, the Stiftung doesn’t need a foot note in a book to tell him this. We spoke with Nitze about it all, and the whole era, etc. (even a bit about walking in woods).

For a while, the Western Europeans on their own attempted defense against both a future resurgent Germany and the existing Soviet Army. One example is the 1948 Brussels Treaty. Unlike much one might read on the Internet, the truth about the Brussels Treaty is that Britain tried to play it’s traditional role as balancer and “guarantor” with Montgomery in command. Britain, however, did not have clout, money, power or will to pull it off. This only underscored the European resolve to bring American power back into the Old World. NATO from its birth was designed to “keep the Americans in, the Germans down, and the Russians out.”

Why the U.S. should maintain the same distortive strategic and foreign policy commitments absent the Soviets is as relevant today as it was circa 1994 because of the Warlord’s regime. The fora or forum which should decide matters — should the U.N. be reformed and remain the final arbiter on use of force? Should the U.S. turn to the Princeton Project’s Necon ‘Council of Democracies?’ Ad hoc but long standing organizations like NATO? Lind is quite right to note how a cynical Neocon regime Part Deux under McCain could manipulate the Princeton mechanism. He also honestly raises situations like Kossovo.

The primary challenge for us today as it was in 1947 is how to understand the world around us and align U.S. power and commitments wisely. The Stiftung has long argued the need for a substantial realignment before it is forced upon us by circumstances. One thing we hope all have learned from the Warlord’s regime and its rotting, terminal carcass? Process indeed does matter. To avoid a ‘meet the new boss’ knock on the forehead, Neocon-esque bullshit should be called at its earliest inception. If the Demos once again falls for manipulative tricks like hard sells of alluring abstraction, constant elevation of specifics to general, and cases based on emotive semantics — well then, things won’t have changed much at all.

FSOs Into Iraq, Leaves In The Wind (updated)

Once more into the breech dear friends, once more! We’re of two minds on this. On the one hand, drafting people without any requisite skills into Cher Condi’s ruinous ‘transformational’ policy of democracy building in Iraq? On its face both absurd and dangerous; on the other hand, we’ve never been impressed with foreign service officers (FSOs) overall, much less about their complaints re a screening lottery process which includes their past postings and their desirability/luxury.

Candidly, with the exception of a handful of people, we’ve never really met any — or heard of any — exceptional foreign service officers. The entire culture of the foreign service is about conformity and ‘not rocking the boat’. It’s hard to describe or convey in a mere blog post but it’s real. The reasons are many, not the least of which is the whole performance review process. A rating of “Excellent” (or less) can and often does kill a career. (It needs to be “Outstanding”). Naturally, any nail that sticks out . . . Accordingly, in the Foreign Service, there are alot of “C” people, some “Bs” a few “B+s”. Very, very few “As”. Once an FSO is in, the relative quality also depends on what “cone” is being discussed. At an embassy, the most desirable and best staffed is the political cone, followed by the economic cone, etc. (FSOs traditionally were also ranked in seniority from 5s (most junior) to 1s (senior)).

“Back in the day”, the old Foreign Service Institute is where FSOs and other government entities would send people for area studies and language training. (Both often seen as career killers or dead ends for ambitious non-FSO apparatchiks. Who needs language skills or area studies to understand the world?). Now, there is this ridiculous, sprawling militarized and fortified campus called — as we noted in another post, with the obsession for bestowing the title of ‘National’ now on everything — the National Foreign Affairs Training Center. They at least were decent enough to name it after George Schultz. Unlike many other secretaries of state, Schultz understood the value of area studies and put a great deal of support behind it.

So, like we said, we are somewhat ambivalent. 1,500 FSOs have already served in Iraq and the regime and its Ambassador Ryan Crocker are looking to fill now 31 slots (48 originally but 17 have since volunteered). Serving in the fortified Green Zone is hardly the “death sentence” that FSOs and their association are claiming.

But it is also true that FSOs in general have no relevant skills for democracy building or civil society creation, let alone tribal arbitration. On the other? It’s hard for the Stiftung to feel sympathy for a Department that overall has been so mediocre for so long. State actually enabled this regime even while pouting in passive aggressive so-called ‘resistance’. If 31 FSOs are forced to give up the cocktail circuit in Paris or Vienna for one year in the Green Zone (ten months in country, 2 months vacation) with a major monetary bonus while their families are taken care of, and then given priority first pick of their next assignment, well there are worse things in the world.