Ready, Aim, “foreign policy” away

here is an important new report on a subject of vital importance to America, one that has been much-discussed here.

Ready, Aim, Foreign Policy“, a joint publication from the Center for International Policy, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America (March 2008) — “How the Pentagon’s role in foreign policy is growing, and why Congress — and the American public — should be worried.”

As public debate focuses on the war in Iraq, a disturbing transformation of U.S. foreign policy decision-making is quietly underway. The Defense Department’s leadership of foreign military aid and training programs is increasing. The State Department, which once had sole authority to direct and monitor such programs, is ceding control.  Moreover, changes to the U.S. military’s geographic command structure could grant the military a greater role in shaping, and becoming the face of, U.S. foreign policy where it counts-on the ground.

These seemingly arcane changes will diminish congressional, public and even diplomatic control over a substantial lever and symbol of foreign policy.  They will undercut human rights values in our relations with the rest of the world, and increase the trend toward a projection of U.S. global power based primarily on military might.

An article by Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service provides some useful background information (“Foreign Policy Increasingly Flows Through Pentagon“, 6 March 2008):

Reports by Congress’ Government Accountability Office and even the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) have echoed concerns that the influence and operations of the State Department and other civilian agencies operating in countries overseas have been overwhelmed by the much greater resources and manpower of the Pentagon and its combatant commands.

“(The) bleeding of civilian responsibilities from civilian to military agencies risks weakening the secretary of State’s primacy in setting the agenda for U.S. relations with foreign countries and the secretary of Defence’s focus on warfighting,” according to an SFRC report issued in December 2006.

… Part of the problem derives from the huge imbalance in resources between the Pentagon, whose annual budget of some 600 billion dollars exceeds that of all the world’s other militaries combined and includes some 1.68 million uniformed personnel, compared to the State Department which, with some 30 billion dollars, has, according to one estimate, fewer foreign service officers than the number of musicians employed in all of the U.S.’ military bands. That imbalance has been made stunningly clear in Iraq where the Pentagon has repeatedly complained that the State Department and other civilian agencies have been unable to come up with the manpower and expertise to oversee reconstruction. As a result, billions of dollars in economic aid has been channeled through the Army Corps of Engineers rather than the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

In other battlefields in the “war on terror”, particularly in Africa and Asia, the military is increasingly engaged in humanitarian and development work, such as digging wells and building schools — activities that have traditionally been under civilian control.

“It is not acceptable to say ‘State is broken,’ and shift responsibilities to the Defence Department,” said WOLA’s director, Joy Olson. “If State is broken, fix it.” 

This is not a new trend, just the maturing of a long one.  My review of Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes contains a long quote about the “militarization” of intelligence.  Well-known COIN expert David Kilcullen has written about it.  In “New Paradigms for 21st Century Conflict” (eJournal USA, May 2007) his third recommendation is

Remedy the imbalance in government capability:

At present, the U.S. defense budget accounts for approximately half of total global defense spending, while the U.S. armed forces employ about 1.68 million uniformed members.  By comparison, the State Department employs about 6,000 foreign service officers, while the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has about 2,000.  In other words, the Department of Defense is about 210 times larger than USAID and State combined — there are substantially more people employed as musicians in Defense bands than in the entire foreign service

Going further back, in my article “Lessons Learned from the American Expedition to Iraq” (December 2005) I said:

Our failure to learn and improve must mean something.  Perhaps there is a structural flaw in the US government.

One candidate: the State Department, which apparently has never recovered from the damage inflicted by Congress during the “who blamed China” follies and the “witch hunts” for Communists in the 1950s.  Seeing today’s State Department, it’s difficult to recall that it was long considered the senior department of the Executive Branch. This is seen in the Secretary of State’s status as #4 in the succession to the Presidency.

On a more practical note, State is the natural counter-weight to the Department of Defense.  In a parochial society such as ours the State Department staff should be those best able to understand the outside world in any fullness, in a multidimensional fashion. It has experts with a depth of foreign experience unmatched by other Government agencies – unlike the academics in the CIA or the military professionals in the DoD.

David Halberstam’s book The Best and the Brightest (pages 49-50) explained how the Vietnam War demonstrated our need for a strong Department of State:

By “structural flaw” I do not just mean the broken State Department.  I mean that this problem has been known and ignored for decades.  That is the disfunctionality, our inability to regenerate damaged organs of the State.  Presidents have worked around it, expanding the office of the National Security Adviser into a mini-State Department rather than expend political capital on a long and difficult repair.  After all, that would produce benefits only for future Administrations … and the American People.

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. Truly cracked advice to the State Department, receiving wide applause, 13 February 2008
  2. Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus, 11 August 2008
  3. The State Department needs help, stat!, 22 December 2008


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

8 thoughts on “Ready, Aim, “foreign policy” away”

  1. I’d advise reading “The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America’s Military” by Dana Priest for further information on this trend.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Agree — a relevant and excellent book! Here is Foust’s review at, well worth reading!

    From Amazon page:

    Since the end of the Cold War, writes Dana Priest in The Mission, “U.S. leaders have been turning more and more to the military to solve problems that are often, at their root, political and economic.” Priest contends that “long before September 11, the U.S. government had grown increasingly dependent on its military to carry out its foreign affairs. The shift was incremental, little noticed, de facto…. The military simply filled a vacuum left by an indecisive White House, an atrophied State Department, and a distracted Congress.”

  2. I am not an unbiased bookie, but I would say that the odds favor a collapse in the military due to its excessive widening of mission scope.

    Does anyone else recall that lovely short story: The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012, CHARLES J. DUNLAP, JR., Parameters (Winter 1992-93), pp. 2-20. In that story, Dunlap foresees what happens when governments get addicted to the overly-obedient laborers in uniform who signed on to be warfighters but became all things to all people.

  3. Note a very important fact: diplomacy is cheap. Repeat: diplomacy is cheap. Achieving (say) half your aims by negotiation, diplomacy, lobbying, etc, etc, for thrupance halfpenny is infinitely preferable to achieving nothing and spending $3 trillion. Also, good, professional diplomats are wonderful sources of intelligence. And, to repeat: cheap (especially compared to CIA, HS, NSA, etc, etc).
    Fabius Maximus replies: All true! But that diplomacy is cheap means that it has little influence under our system, in which Congressional influence depends on what a department spends as much (or more) than what results/benefits it produces.

  4. “But that diplomacy is cheap means that it has little influence under our system”

    Perhaps. More significant, I imagine, is the simple fact that there is nobody lobbying for the State Department. No politician seeks to secure the “FSO vote”. Diplomatic Security does not need Lockheed Martin’s newest gizmo. Few grassroots organizers bother trying to get the laymen angry about institutional reform when it is so much easy to get support by playing off of hotter, more emotional issues.

    Let us be honest with ourselves. A successful reformation of USAID and the State Department would be one of the greatest accomplishments of our era. Sadly, the reward does not match the deed. Absent any gain in prestige, power, or money, this task will be always left for the next generation.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree! Once an organization is broken in spirit so that it no longer has the the capability to repain itself, it’s dead — in our political system. Elected officals and their appointees have things to do, and internal reforms are seldom on the list.

    There are rare exceptions, such as Marshall’s term as Secretary of State (1947-49). But he was exhausted from his work running WWII, and his efforts were washed away in the “who lost China” and “find the commie” witch-hunts.

  5. In the international system of anarchy, diplomacy is most successful when backed up by the threat of power held in reserve. The U.S. is stretched to the limit by two wars and the lack of means to fund them (and maybe prosecute them) successfully. This is one of the reasons why Obama’s diplomatic gestures are not getting results.

    In recent years, the U.S was at maximum diplomatic leverage following the successful ouster of the Taliban from Kabul and before the invasion of Iraq. Heck, Libya gave up their nukes and the Iranians were crapping their pants. Now it’s a different story.

    War is a hugely problematic and unpredictable endeavor, and once the genie is out of the bottle and others see clearly the difficulties (e.g., that one is not, in fact, ten feet tall), diplomatic leverage can decline rapidly.
    Fabius Maximus replies: You must be kidding us.

    ” Libya gave up their nukes ”
    Libya never had nukes. I’ve seen no evidence that they even had a serious program to develop any. Nor do we know what they were given to stop whatever program they had. In the tradition of desert traders, they might have profited nicely for giving us this diplomatic coup.

    “Iranians were crapping their pants.”
    Can you give any specifics to support this outlandish statement?

  6. Arms Merchant: Are you referring to the 2003 diplomatic offer that Iran made to the US sub rosa, and was subsequently rejected out of hand by the US?

    In 2003, U.S. Spurned Iran’s Offer of Dialogue Washington Post Sunday, June 18, 2006 Iran’s nukes in exchange for peace Haaretz 05/10/2009 Iran’s Proposal for a ‘Grand Bargain’ Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, April 28, 2007

    I wouldn’t exactly call that ‘crapping their pants’. If the bargain had been accepted by the US Iran would have gotten several major benefits out of it.

  7. Re #6. But the Iranians came to the table. Diplomacy is also about giving some to get some. Obviously the Bush administration thought it would be giving too much. That the U.S. rejected the offer doesn’t disprove the point.

    Maybe I’m drawing too much inference from these: CNN, Dec 3, 2007 and Chicago Tribune, April 16, 2003, but I don’t think so.

    As for Libya, it wasn’t just nukes (shorthand for “their nuclear program”), they offered to give upall WMD programs. See “Muammar’s Big Move“, Slate, 22 Dec 2003. FM seems to think Libya was kidding about having a nuclear program and we were rooked. The IAEA disagreed. See Libyan Nuclear Weapons, Global Security, undated.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Will we even see an end to folks peddling tawdry propaganda, distorting our efforts to understand and navigate the world?

    (1) “and we were rooked.”

    Nothing I said even remotely implied that. I suspect we paid for what we got.

    (2) “it wasn’t just nukes”

    The Slate article you cite does not mention any WMD’s by Libya other than nukes. Nor have I seen any such evidence.

    (3) “The IAEA disagreed.”

    Are you misleading us, or just yourself? The Global Security report you site says no such thing, but weakly. The IAEA’s actual reports explicitly contradict your assertion. As in “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya“, Report by the Director General of the IAEA, 12 September 2008 — Excerpt from section C: “Overview of Libya’s nuclear programme” (bold emphasis added):

    10. Libya’s nuclear programme originated in 1973, when the Atomic Energy Establishment (AEE) of Libya was set up with a view to building Libya’s capabilities and infrastructure in nuclear sciences and technologies. According to Libya, the aim of the programme at that time was to promote the use of peaceful applications of nuclear energy

    12. In December 2003, Libya announced that it renounced its nuclear weapons programme.

    17. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Libya sought to acquire information related to a heavy water production facility, but its efforts resulted only in Libya’s acquisition of documentation containing generic information.

    22. In 1982, Libya acquired from a Belgian entity a basic design for a uranium ore concentration and conversion facility, which was planned to be located in the Sabha region, but was never built.

    24. In 1986, Libya acquired from a Japanese company, through an intermediary, a modular mobile Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) (GOV/2004/59, para. 16). The facility, which was designed to produce UF4, UO2 and uranium metal, was partially assembled, but was never operated.

    25. Libyan uranium enrichment activities began in the early 1980s with the help of a foreign expert who assisted Libyan technicians in the development of a uranium gas centrifuge technology. Libya has stated that, between the early 1980s and 1992, when the expert left Libya, Libya was not able to produce an operating centrifuge and that it did not use any nuclear material in related experiments or tests. … the Agency, based on its examination of documentation available to the Agency and remaining centrifuge parts, environmental sample results and interviews with people involved, has concluded that the Libyan statements with respect to this phase of its past enrichment programme are not inconsistent with the Agency’s findings.

    29. According to Libya, the first successful test of a single L-1 centrifuge was completed by
    October 2000. In late 2000, Libya started to progressively install 9-machine, 19-machine and 64-machine L-1 centrifuge cascades. By April 2002, when Libya decided to relocate the equipment for security reasons, the cascades were at different stages of completion, but none were complete. Libya has stated that no nuclear material was used during any of the tests.

    30. … The components delivered to Libya did not constitute complete L-2 centrifuges, however, since no rotating parts were received. Libya also acquired a precision machine workshop through the network in late 2001. … Based on the Agency’s examination of equipment, results of environmental sampling, interviews with Libyan scientists and members of the network, and information on payment and shipping documentation, the Agency has concluded that Libya’s statements in this regard are consistent with the Agency’s findings.

    31. From the mid-1980s, Libya pursued efforts to acquire fuel fabrication and reprocessing
    technology through another intermediary who had also provided assistance in connection with Libya’s chemical weapons programme. The most advanced negotiations were held in connection with the plan for a pilot reprocessing facility, which proceeded in the late 1980s to the stage of a detailed design. The fuel fabrication laboratory and the reprocessing plant were both based on German origin technology. According to Libya, neither equipment nor a complete set of design drawings had been delivered by the time the projects were stopped at the end of the 1980s. The Agency has concluded that Libya’s statements about the design documentation are not inconsistent with the findings of the Agency.

    32. In late 2001 or early 2002, Libya received from the network documentation in relation to nuclear weapon design and manufacturing, but has stated that it had never carried out any work on the study or development of an actual nuclear weapon. Following its evaluation of all information available to it, the Agency concluded that Libya does not have the necessary capabilities to design or manufacture nuclear weapons components. Nor did the Agency find any indications of work related to nuclear weapons development.

  8. FM note: I have inserted replies into this.

    “FM: Will we even see an end to folks peddling tawdry propaganda, distorting our efforts to understand and navigate the world?”

    Will we even see an end to Fabius Maximus muddying the waters by disproving the straw men that he sets up as “arguments?”

    (1) “and we were rooked.”
    Nothing I said even remotely implied that. I suspect we paid for what we got.”

    You wrote “desert traders,” which implies what used to be known as “sharp” trading, i.e., one party benefits much more than the other. Are you backing off that statement now for political correctness?

    *** To say that one side was a sharp trader does not mean that the other side was rooked. They may have picked a good time to trade, for instance.

    “(2) “it wasn’t just nukes”

    The Slate article you cite does not mention any WMD’s by Libya other than nukes. Nor have I seen any such evidence.”

    “Libya announced Friday that it would rid itself of all nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, capping years of efforts by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to nuzzle up to the West and erase the country’s pariah status.” Right there in the fourth sentence of the article, plus a link in the second sentence of the article, “It’s all part of Libya’s sweeping concessions on weapons of mass destruction that followed extensive secret talks with London and Washington.” THAT article states, “Mohamed El Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency…described Libya’s weapons agreement as a positive step towards the country ridding itself “of all programmes or activities that are relevant or could lead to the production of weapons of mass destruction.”

    *** None of implies that Libya had any programs other than nukes, nor have I seen any evidence that they did.

    (3) “The IAEA disagreed.”
    Are you misleading us, or just yourself? The Global Security report you site says no such thing, but weakly. The IAEA’s actual reports explicitly contradict your assertion.

    That the Libyans had programs in place that attempted to develop nuclear weapons? That’s what the entire article, as well as the IAEA report, are about!

    *** You are correct, I misinterpreted your statement. Libya had a nuke program, although small and moving slowly if at all.

    I understand that you must read quickly to process such a large volume of information on your site. However, in your zeal to show what a propagandist Arms Merchant is (is it my name that you find objectionable? Or do you think that I am defending the Bush administration?), you take my brevity of expression (“nukes” and “rooked”),and turn it into some major twisting of commonly accepted meaning, and totally obfuscate my point. A point, which BTW, William Perry, professor at Stanford and Undersecretary and later Secretary of Defense under Democratic administrations, and that is simply that diplomacy works best when backed by power. “…both carrots and sticks are essential ingredients of any successful diplomacy.” I could offer other examples, such as the U.S. steaming aircraft carriers through the Taiwan Straits in the mid-90s when the Chinese were intimidating Taiwan with missile tests) and so could you, but I just picked a couple more recent ones. Did that set you off because you think that I’m somehow endorsing the Bush administration’s military adventures?

    I appreciate your insistence to hold people accountable for their arguments, but in this case you seem to have lost your objectivity.

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