The U.S. Department of State is losing America’s global war on terror. It has wasted tens of billions of dollars in conflict countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt and elsewhere. America’s enemies are surging in every one of these venues. The Obama Administration should conduct an impartial strategic review, and if it does so it would conclude that the United States needs two State Departments. The first, staffed by Foreign Service Officers (FSOs), would be assigned responsibilities for all countries not engaged in conflicts or civil wars. The second would be responsible for the balance and it would be staffed by a new breed of diplomat called Conflict Service Officers (CSOs). The CSOs would not live and work in pampered and protected embassy forts but rather would have the language skills and combat training to function in the countryside. They would be deployed for extended in-country tours so that they could build the necessary relationships with national and local officials.
CSO embassies would not have gardens or moats or ornate conference rooms, but would be one-story concrete bunker complexes built to withstand hits by 120mm mortars. They would not have swimming pools and pizza shops. They would have none of the current Club Med amenities.
CSO embassies would be run by Conflict Ambassadors (CAs). These Ambassadors would not be the usual eunuchs. They would have to be outspoken and forceful, and therefore might be hard to find within the Senior Foreign Service. In order to inspire, they would have to be charismatic and polished speakers. They would also have to always tell the truth and nothing but the truth. The best propaganda is the truth, whether it be good or bad. Credibility is easily lost, with NATO/ISAF and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul being prime examples. NATO and State Department press releases are a mixture of positive spin and outright fabrication; and as a result, the releases are routinely ignored, giving the West the same dismal credibility as Afghans accord the Taliban.
CSO embassies would have no muddled command structure and would not be saddled with special regional ambassadors or other such nonsense. The Conflict Ambassador would have complete control over all U.S. civilian, military and intelligence activities in their country, and would report directly to the President. No policy announcements regarding the conflict country would be made in Washington, D.C. and there would be no U.S. Embassy press officers. All information would be released directly by and through the U.S. Ambassador, who would be the sole public face of the United States in that country. The idea is to empower the Ambassador so that officials and citizens in the host country understand that they are dealing with the person of influence.
The Conflict Ambassador would have to be male, because the current conflict countries are all male-dominated societies. That might not sound fair, but effectiveness has to trump political correctness, especially when lives are at stake.
The CSOs and CSO Ambassadors would be deployed for five-year tours. They would have to be physically fit. This does not mean the current weak State Department A1 standard, but actually fit. They would have to pass certain tests, such as run a kilometer in a specific time and carrying a wounded comrade 50 or 100 yards etc. Each would spend at least a year in an immersion language program for that country, with a significant portion of the CSOs studying dialects and minority languages. The CSOs would be issued sidearms and would be trained how to use them. This sidearms training should be similar to that followed in preparation for professional pistol match competitions. That would mean that the CSOs would be firing at least 100,000 rounds at various types of targets during the year leading up to their deployment. They would deploy in local clothes, wearing beards if that is the custom, and they would comply with local customs on alcohol and fasting during Ramadan, etc. The goal is for them to be able to merge into the host country’s society.
The CSO Embassies would shift away from the current State Department emphasis on management solely from the top down. These embassies would be exciting places because they would be team efforts. The key would be to prevail in the conflict, without egos and personalities getting in the way. As a result, the Embassies would have their own dissent channel so that policy views from the bottom up could be solicited and actually considered. Likewise, each Embassy would have a true functioning “sounding board” for non-policy issues.
The idea is to change the current State Department model and employ mechanisms whereby employees can have input and where managers are actually receptive to both criticism and new ideas. Innovation and adaptation would be the rule, with credit flowing up or down as necessary. Programs that are not working or whose performance is mediocre would be quickly shut down and something else tried. Non-performing CSOs would likewise be quickly sent home if they did not improve.
Appointments to CSO Embassies would not depend on political affiliation. It would not be Heritage Foundation nominees during Republican Administrations and Brookings Institution nominees during Democratic Administrations. No amount of campaign contributions or bundling could earn one a CSO appointment. The staffing would have to include engineers, project managers, auditors, scientists and agricultural experts etc. Most important, all appointments would be screened by psychologists, who would have the final say. The screening is necessary to implement the key Country Team standards set out by the late General Edward Lansdale to President John F. Kennedy regarding the Vietnam conflict:
1. Do not send any anyone to South Vietnam who does not like Asians; and
2. Do not send anyone to South Vietnam unless they are prepared to risk their lives in order to help the South Vietnamese.
These two simple but vital findings were ignored by the State Department fifty years ago and it continues to ignore them today. For CSO Embassies, no one should be assigned unless they can satisfy a screening committee of psychologists that they meet both criteria for the host country.
In summary, the United States, within a little more than a year, could revolutionize diplomacy and prove that nation-building and nation-assisting can work. These CSO Embassies would have little turnover and thus extensive corporate knowledge. This would permit somewhere in the neighborhood of a 50% reduction in staffing. There would be no need for thousands of private security guards, whose presence has created significant animosities within many host countries. A smaller Marine security force would be all that is needed. As the embassy’s footprint would be far smaller, its logistics needs would also be correspondingly smaller. In summary, CSO Embassies would operate at a fraction of the cost of the current nightmare that the State Department is overseeing.
With a professional corps of experts closely attuned to the people of the host country, there would be less foreign policy surprises and a real understanding of forces and movements in each host country. There would be higher risks but higher rewards. Pay scales for the CSOs would have to be at least double of that of a FSO, with more comprehensive benefits and perhaps a shorter route to retirement. Even with the increased training and benefits, the CSO effort would save the U.S. Government billions of dollars per year, while delivering better results.
This proposal is creative, daring, incredibly cost-effective and it has the potential to put the United States back on the offensive against its terrorist enemies; which means it has little chance of being implemented in Washington, D.C. Instead, State Department officials will promise new gimmicks and new progress and perhaps a new coordinating Assistant Secretary. Congress will then appropriate another $10-$15 billion to fund the same tired State Department embassies in these conflict countries for another year. Decades of stagnation within the State Department have produced an orthodox and tepid diplomatic corps. With Secretaries of State more obsessed with their image and their cult of personality, America’s ambassadors have been reduced to little more than figureheads. All of this has taken its toll on America’s foreign policy, which is sitting on the edge of a cliff and risks going into free fall.
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