Truly cracked advice to the State Department, receiving wide applause


To:             Ambassador Crocker
From           Manuel Miranda, Office of Legislative Statecraft
Date:           February 5, 2008
Re:             Departure Assessment of Embassy Baghdad

 Foreign Service and the State Department’s bureaucracy at the helm of America’s number one policy consideration. You are simply not up to the task, and many of you will readily and honestly admit it. I believe that a better job can be done. It is simply that we have brought to Iraq the worst of America – our bureaucrats – and failed to apply, as President Roosevelt once did, the high-caliber leadership class and intellectual talent, whose rallying has defined all of America’s finest hours.

America’s success in Iraq requires pacifying the country and assisting its government to inspire the confidence of Iraq’s people.

… This past year, the State Department and the Embassy has been led by two misguided premises: first, the obsessive aim that the Embassy be turned into a “normal embassy” and, second, that the State Department cannot be faulted for things that the GOI is not doing, i.e. “the Iraqis need to do this themselves.”

… The second mantra, that political success in Iraq depends entirely on Iraqis, amounts to little more than excuse-making by people who cannot imagine alternative paths and who are limited by their own limited experience in government and economic development.

The Foreign Service’s gripping culture of excused inaction is also framed and exacerbated by the paralyzing question of the “buy in” of Iraqi officials in some of the areas in which they most need, and that we can offer, assistance. The obvious reality that nothing can happen without Iraqi support is over-used as an excuse by bureaucrats who simply do not have the ability of conceiving or executing scenarios of institution-building assistance that does not comport with their past experience and over-cautious diplomatic instincts.

Simply put, this fellow explains that our Foreign Service officers are not equipped to pacyify and manage an American colony.  They do not even understand that colonization is our goal!

Failure in Iraq is certain if this attitude is widespread among our Foreign Service officers in Iraq.  If would not matter if every Foreign Service Officer combined the best characteristics of TE Lawrence, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Metternich.  How many Americans would like a several divisions of heavily-armed Islamic warriors over here pacifying us?  This guy might be a rocket scientist but, given his apparent lack of diplomatic skills, perhaps he should not criticize the Foreign Service.

Of course, this is not the only neo-colonial noises coming from Americans about Iraq.  Kilcullen’s recent presentation had a very colonial sound to it.  Even more explicit is the “After Action Report” about Iraq written by Barry R. McCaffrey USA (General, USA, Retired) (18 December 2007).  Some excerpts:

There is no functional central Iraqi Government. Incompetence, corruption, factional paranoia, and political gridlock have paralyzed the state. The constitution promotes bureaucratic stagnation and factional strife. The budgetary process cannot provide responsive financial support to the military and the police — nor local government for health, education, governance, reconstruction, and transportation.  Mr. Maliki has no political power base and commands no violent militias who have direct allegiance to him personally — making him a non-player in the Iraqi political struggle for dominance in the post-US withdrawal period which looms in front of the Iraqi people.

… US Forces have now unilaterally constituted some 60,000+ armed “Iraqi Concerned Local Citizen Groups” to the consternation of the Maliki Government.

… The US company and battalion commanders now operate as the de facto low-level government of the Iraqi state…schools, health, roads, police, education, governance. The Iraqis tend to defer to US company and battalion commanders based on their respect for their counterparts’ energy, integrity, and the assurance of some level of security. These US combat units have enormous discretion to use CRP Funds to jump start local urban and rural economic and social reconstruction. They are rapidly mentoring and empowering local Iraqi civilian and police leadership.

… There is no clear emerging nation-wide Shia leadership for their 60% of the Iraqi population. It is difficult to separate either Shia or Sunni political factions from Mafia criminal elements– with a primary focus on looting the government financial system and oil wealth of the nation.  In many cases neighborhoods are dominated by gangs of armed thugs who loosely legitimize their arbitrary violence by implying allegiance to a higher level militia. 

The Iraqi justice system…courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police investigators, jails for pre-trial confinement, prisons for sentences, integrity of public institutions — does not yet exist.

… The dysfunctional central government of Iraq, the warring Shia/Sunni/Kurdish factions, and the unworkable Iraqi constitution will only be put right by the Iraqis in their own time — and in their own way. It is entirely credible that a functioning Iraqi state will slowly emerge from the bottom up…with a small US military and diplomatic presence holding together in loose fashion the central government. The US must also hold at bay Iraq’s neighbors from the desperate mischief they might cause that could lead to all out Civil War with regional involvement.

He describes a colonial operation.  The Iraq people can be forgiven for believing that this is our goal considering that…

  • The Iraq State disintegrated after our invasion, following disbanding of much of the government and military on our orders.
  • The construction of large, extremely expensive, and very permanent-looking bases in Iraq.  Not the sort of investments made by a great power planning a short stay.
  • Construction of a administrative complex more like Vatican City than an “embassy.”
  • Our number one priority for the Iraq Parliament:  passing legislation making Iraq more friendly to foreign oil companies than (for example) Canada.

This is truly cracked given the consistent failure of colonial ambitions since WWII.  It is doomed not only due to the lack of support for this among the Iraq people, but also among the American people.


If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below. You may find answers to your questions in these.

Please share your comments by posting below. Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:

Posts on the FM site about the State Department:

  1. Ready, Aim, “foreign policy” away, 7 March 2008
  2. Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus, 11 August 2008
  3. The State Department needs help, stat!, 22 December 2008

12 thoughts on “Truly cracked advice to the State Department, receiving wide applause”

  1. I think you’re misreading that. He was complaining that FSOs were blaming inaction on the Iraqis, instead of being proactive. Let’s not mince words: for all intents and purposes, Iraq IS a colony for the time being. And we will have no reasonable way of decolonizing it without making the government into a sustainable one.

    I think that was the point Miranda was aiming for.

    Also — are you going to make the argument that the State Department is not a crippled, ineffective, bureaucratic mess? Because that is what Miranda is complaining about, too. The Bush administration demanded State become a colonial administrator, and Miranda complains they weren’t cut out for it. He’s right in that sense.

  2. “Simply put, this fellow explains that our Foreign Service officers are not equipped to pacify and manage an American colony. They do not even understand that colonization is our goal!”

    That’s it in a nutshell. Miranda also has a history of going to the press when he loses a policy argument. From this brief New Yorker piece:

    “Early in the George W. Bush Presidency, Miranda came to public notice as a fiercely partisan aide to the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He moved to the staff of Bill Frist, who was Senate Majority Leader at the time, and orchestrated a series of noisy attempts—including an all-night Senate session—to win confirmation for Bush’s judicial nominations. In November, 2003, after internal documents belonging to Democrats on the committee were leaked, the Senate opened an investigation that revealed that Miranda, through a quirk in the computer system, had been reading his adversaries’ e-mails and sharing them with right-leaning news outlets like the Washington Times. Senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, called Miranda’s actions “improper, unethical, and simply unacceptable.” Miranda resigned, and a criminal investigation of him was initiated.”

  3. Joshua Foust honors us by posting here. He writes at his blog The Conjecturer and as an expert on Central Asia at The Registan.

    But nonetheless I will tangentially disagree with him about his first point. The era of colonialism is dead, long-gone. Attempting to run it as a colony is a vain and foolish project, doomed to failure. Miranda and his fellow travelers in the neo-colonial mindset are part of the problem in my opinion. Their attitude inevitably incites fear of domination among the Iraq people — and suspicion of and opposition to all our works.

    The Foreign Service is neither designed nor staffed to administer colonies. Perhaps we could ask them to build bases on Mars, and then condemn them for failing? Also note that the State Department did the *only* planning for the reconstruction of Iraq, which work was deliberately trashed by the DoD. So I think that State has a good defense.

    Your larger point is, of course, correct. As you said at The Conjecturer, “…the State Department is hopelessly broken, and I want nothing to do with it. ”

    The State Department was one of the most prestigious units of the US government for generations. Congress and President Eisenhower allowed it to be broken during the “who lost China” madness, and commie hunts that followed. Hence the rise of the ad hoc White House National Security advisor and staff, to create a mini-State capable of executing important projects.

    The damage to State is such that only years of focused effort can rebuild it. No Administration, with its four year time horizon, has been willing to begin such a large project — benefiting future Presidents. Complaints like Miranda’s are pointless, like yelling at rainclouds.

  4. Fabius, you’re being too kind with the lauding.

    I agree with you in that tasking the FSOs with administering a colony is a dumb idea. My point about Iraq and even Afghanistan being de facto colonies, however, isn’t well addressed in your response. Whether it is a good idea to treat them as such or not (I vote on “not” just as you do), that is what they are. For most intents and purposes, we place demands upon their legislative and executive bodies, refuse to honor sentences their judicial systems hand down—like Sayed Pervez Kambaksh—and otherwise treat them like the British did after the Treaty of Gandamak. Like it or not, they’re basically restive American colonies.

    I chalked this up to institutional failures among the international community in a recent post, and the more I think of it, the more I think that’s right. He may be a political opportunist, and he may be complaining that about the wrong thing, but Miranda is right in one big sense: Iraq represents institutional failure on a massive scale. So does, come to think of it, Afghanistan.

  5. The Brits, as I recall, had an entirely separate cabinet department, the Colonial Office.

    FM @ 2, if I remember right the McCarthyite trashing of the Foreign Service in the wake of the Chinese Revolution was well underway by the time Eisenhower was sworn in as President in 1953. Perhaps he didn’t do as much to contain it as he should have, but most of the people doing the trashing were his political allies.

    JF @ 4: I don’t get why you say that the blame for the restiveness of the “colonies” should be dropped in the international community’s lap. After all, to paraphrase Gen. Powell, “we broke it, we own it.”

  6. Saying “we broke it, we own it” is in my opinion without foundation. Both history and international law since WWII are clear on this point. So I do not understand this Iraq as “de facto” colonies gig. We might be trying to pacify Iraq, as Miranda and others suggest. But that is a project without support of the world “community”, substantial elements of the Iraq people, or the American people.

    I suspect that when all our records eventually come into the light, the “institutional failure on a massive scale” in Iraq of which Foust speaks will have its origins in a desire by some US elites to colonize Iraq. Breaking free of that idea, which seems to be increasingly comtaminating our thinking, is imo the necessary first step to getting our policies back on track.

    Chuck is correct that the attacks on the “old China hands” in the State Department pre-dated Eisenhower (1953). They started in 1948; McCarthy began his witch-hunts in 1950. They reached a climax on Ike’s watch however, and he was uniquely suited by personally and as a Republican to stop them — perhaps the greatest failure of his Presidency.

  7. Let’s be honest. The era of colonialism did not pass by itself. America decided that it passed, and ensured the demise of colonial powers. (And I don’t see any signs of a change of heart on the part of American people.)Similarly, the statement that after 1945 no foreign intervention managed to pacify counquered country without a significant local force is misleading. There was a lot of successful foreign interventions, eg Hungary 1956 and Czechoslovakia 1968. They always end with mostly locally recruited people ruling the country. The cause is quite simple. Modern state is much too developed to be staffed entirely by imported foreigners. The costs would be unbearable. If you cannot get the locals to work for you, you will not be able to govern, if you want to keep to a reasonable budget.

    But the real problem is quite specific for Islamic countries. They are willing to destroy their own countries to win. By “them” I don’t mean all the people, but there is a significant fraction very willing to trash the country in order to make any occupation profitless. That fraction can be defeated, but it would be a terrible and long struggle. Al-Qaida in Iraq is only one of the representatives of that tendency, and if they are defeated, the will be other, local organizations.

    Taking it all together, I would say that Iraq is an example of a divergence of goals and means, caused by the decision paralysis on the top. If America wants to create a liberal democratic state in Iraq, Iraq has to be a long-term colony. Any half-baked half-measures won’t pass the muster (eg present “democratic” half-puppet half-government). Of course, the military expenditure would be staggering, but it would work. Most of the people will cooperate with even imposed government if it proves that it can punish enemies and help friends. (The operative word is most – not “all”).

    This is obviously a pipe dream. American people will not agree to any such adventure. And so we are left with no reasonable goal in sight. Different bureaucratic fractions are fighting each other aobut means to reach that unspecified goal, although really none of them has a conception how to solve the problem.

    BTW, Pentagon had an idea what to do in Iraq. They wanted to install some exile (preferably Chalabi) as the dictator. It wasn’t the best idea, but it was never implemented – State ensured that.

    Here is a strange, but interesting (although amateurish) website dealing with, among others, long term conflict between State and Pentagon:

  8. I disagree with your characterization of the post-WWII era. The US was uninvolved with most anti-colonial wars. Where we were involved, we helped the colonialists (e.g., the French in Indo-China).

    Hungary 1956 and Czechoslovakia 1968 are not counter-examples since the locals did not fight back. Insurgencies — 4GW, formerly known by the bizarre name of Low Intensity War — require willingness to suffer massive “civilian” casualties (usually 10x+ that of the colonial forces). Many of the post-colonial wars were worse than anything seen in the Middle East (that is, its liberation from the western colonial powers, or current fighting in Iraq against the US).

    This goes to the primary point: are colonies possible today against widespread resistance? You assume “it would work”, but are there examples? Many of the colonial wars were fought at great length and vast expense (the Algerian war brought down the French government).

    And to what end? Nations had colonies in order to gain economic benefits. If we took all of Iraq’s oil production for the next century it would not cover the trillion dollar plus cost of the war (plus interest). Let alone the vastly larger sum necessary to pacify and run Iraq, whose GDP is only (roughly) $25 billion/year. It is cracked that the major foreign policy objective of the US should be to bring democracy to one small far-away nation.

  9. “The real problem is quite specific for Islamic countries. They are willing to destroy their own countries to win.” {comment #7}

    I dunno, we laid waste to Vietnam pretty thoroughly during our occupation there, and the Vietnamese were willing to live with that to get rid of us rather than just surrender and “preserve” their country. The Russians in WW2 burned their own country to the ground as they retreated rather than let the Germans seize anything intact.

  10. Hungarians did fight back, although not for very long. But they had been conquered by the Red Army not long before, and knew what to expect.

    Vietnam is a very poor example of counterinsurgency, since it was ultimately combat between North and South Vietnam – and North Vietnam’s rulers were never seriously threatened. They had nothing against destroying South Vietnam – they did it very thoroughly themselves, immediately after counquest. But obviously, most dictators would have nothing against destroying their own countries to win, or even to keep to power -see North Korea, or for that matter Paraguay.

    The problem with Islamic countries is that overthrowing the dictator is not enough, there will remain private “wreckers” quite willing to employ nihilist violence. They can be defeated, Algeria did exactly that, but it is a long and unpleasant process.

    America didn’t have to be “involved” in the anti-colonial wars. In the Cold War era a hint from the hegemon was usually enough. After Suez War you couldn’t have any doubts as to American position.

    “Through the fall and winter of 1945-1946, the U.S. received a series of requests from Ho Chi Minh for intervention in Vietnam. While there was no official response to these requests, the U.S. declined to assist the French military effort, and prohibited American flag vessels from carrying troops or war materiel to Vietnam. “ From “Vietnam-Prelude” of the Eagleton Digital Archive of American Politics.

    America began to support the French (a bit) only after Ho Chi Minh began to be affiliated with the Soviets.

    Your other point is much more important. What is the aim of those enormous expenses? Frankly, I fail to see it. If you wanted to get cheap oil from Iraq, it could be done without all that trouble. Either Hussain or any other dictator he was replaced with would sell it without any problem.

  11. The Hungarians fought, lightly, for one week. Not much of a resistance compared to Yugoslavia in WWII or the post-WWII anti-colonial wars. Why they did not fight is irrelevant in this context.

    Until Tet Vietnam is an excellent example of a counter-insurgency. The Viet Cong fought long and well. Tet was insanity for them but a brilliant op for their N. Vietnamese bosses. Tet broke the American will to resist and eliminated any potential S. Vietnamese cadre of leaders.

    The rebellions in Africa, just to name one region, were just as insanely violent (long and unpleasant) as anything in the Middle East (hence the comment that this is not something unique to Islamic peoples). Nor is the US role in the Suez Crisis very powerful support for the fact that the US was uninvolved in most anti-colonial wars — except when we were supporting the colonialists. By the end of the Indo-China War we were underwriting almost the entire thing for the French. All they had to contribute was the blood.

    I agree about the economic irrationality of the Iraq War. Perhaps bases there were as important in the Bush Admin’s calculations as the oil. It will be interesting to read the inevitable memoirs and learn how this all went down.

  12. “This goes to the primary point: are colonies possible today against widespread resistance? You assume “it would work”, but are there examples? Many of the colonial wars were fought at great length and vast expense (the Algerian war brought down the French government).”

    As a general rule, I’d argue that the time of colony-building is long past. Prior to 1945, there was enough of a monopoly in weapons and organization to play that game. Postwar decolonization was product of the weakness of the remaining imperial powers, the diffusion of weapons and organization, the rise of nationalist sentiments, and the willingness of a patron to support movements in order to provide thorns in the side of its superpower rival. Without a patron, it’s an expensive proposition to impose order. When there is outside assistance to the insurgency, it’s damn near impossible.

    Add to that the changes in the armies themselves: faster, more destructive, more professional, *smaller*. One can have a large force of second-raters, and watch them fall to a smaller, more proficient combat force, or you can have a small, technically advanced force, and fail to have enough boots on the ground to maintain control over a hostile population.

    Maybe Barnett is right that there can be two forces–the (misnamed)Leviathan and the (actually larger)System Administrator–but so far nobody has been able to pull it off.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: