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U.S. Politics

Why not remake State now?

In an interesting exchange between two smart foreign policy bloggers, Spencer Ackerman  and Matt Armstrong discuss the potential for a whole scale re-shaping of the State Department.  Both agree that State is due for a bureaucratic re-modeling (sort of along the lines of how the “Goldwater-Nichols act” changed how the Department of Defense organized itself) but Spencer is skepitcal that this sort happen anytime soon.  Says Spencer:

Building institutional capability for rebalancing the civilian and military components to national security is a demand-side problem as much as it is a supply side one. Progressives have to build the constituency for that around the country, and members of Congress have to appropriate money for the State Department and support efforts at non-traditional and expeditionary diplomacy that people like Hillary Clinton and, yes, Condoleezza Rice want. Without that, all the structural overhauls of the State Department in the world won’t stop the militarization of foreign policy.

This is an important point, but I think the stars are actually favorably alligned for this sort of effort to occur in the near future.  For one, there is wide-spread agreement among foreign policy elites that the State Department needs a serious capacity boost. (Incidentally, to that end, the Secretary of Defense is one of the loudest cheerleaders.) But to get directly to Spencer’s point, in Hillary Clinton we have a Secretary of State with a huge and independent base of political support.  18 million people voted for her last year.   If the massive “Hillary” constituency can somehow be morphed into an activist constituency for diplomacy, a major overhaul of the State Department may yet be possible. 

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Susan Rice articulates a brave new way of approaching global stability

Susan Rice delivered a blockbuster speech titled A New Course in the World, a New Approach at the UN at New York University. Excerpts don’t do it justice, but these few graphs articulate an important and profoundly new way of viewing international relations. (NB a link to her full speech is not yet available. I’ll post the link as soon as it goes online.)  Here’s the link.

In summary, Rice says that the at the United Nations and in other bilateral and multi-lateral efforts, the Obama administration will undertake a concerted effort to strengthen the will and capacity of states around the world to deal with common security threats.  She says:

The reach, scale, and complexity of 21st-century security challenges put unprecedented demands on states and the entire infrastructure of international cooperation we helped build after 1945. If ever there were a time for effective multilateral cooperation in pursuit of U.S. interests and a shared future of greater peace and prosperity, it is now. We stand at a true crossroads. We must move urgently to reinvigorate the basis for common action. The bedrock of that cooperation must be a community of states committed to solving collective problems and capable of meeting the responsibilities of effective sovereignty.

A fundamental imperative of U.S. national security in the 21st century is thus clear: we need to maximize the number of states with both the capacity and the will to tackle this new generation of transnational challenges. We need a modern edifice of cooperation, built upon the foundation of responsible American leadership, with the bricks of state capacity and the beams of political will.

[SNIP]

Building the capacity of fragile states is a major part of our work every day at the United Nations, since the UN is leading the charge in many of the toughest corners of the world. At its best, the UN helps rebuild shattered societies, lay the foundations for democracy and economic growth, and establish conditions in which people can live in dignity and mutual respect. I have seen first-hand how the UN delivers—in Haiti, where peacekeepers flushed deadly gangs out of the notorious Cité Soleil slum and are now training a reformed Haitian police force. I have seen it in Liberia, where the UN Development Program supports impressive efforts to teach literacy, computer, and trade skills to jobless ex-combatants. I have seen it in Congo, where the UN made it possible to hold the first democratic elections in the country’s history.

It is not enough simply to build up the corps of capable, democratic states. We need states with both the capacity and the will to tackle common challenges. As we have been reminded in recent years, we cannot take that will for granted, even among our allies. The simple reality is: if we want others to help combat the threats that concern us most, then we must help others combat the challenges that threaten them most. For many nations, those threats are first and foremost the things that afflict human beings in their daily lives: corruption, repression, conflict, hunger, poverty, disease, and a lack of education and opportunity.

When the United States joins others to confront these challenges, it is not charity. It is not even barter. In today’s world, more than ever, America’s interests and values converge. What is good for others is often good for us. When we manifest our commitment to tackling the threats that menace so many nations; when we invest in protecting the lives of others; and when we recognize that national security is no longer a zero-sum game, then we increase other countries’ will to cooperate on the issues most vital to us.

Rice billed this speech as building upon major addresses by Defense Secretary Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitan, Secretary of State Clinton, Counter-Terrorism Chief John Brennen, and National Security Advisor Jim Jones.  Each of those previous addresses were remarkable for the fact that each respective secretary and official laid out a clear vision of how their various departments can work more cooperatively with other government agencies to advance common security interests.  The Pentagon calls this a “whole of government” approach.  In New York today, Rice took the concept one step further and articulated what could be called a whole of governments approach to common security threats. 

To a large degree, this approach recognizes a global phenomenon that as a public intellectual Rice was among the first to articulate.  Non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, climate change endemic poverty, are problems that nearly every government in the world has a stake in redressing. What the world lacks, however, are coherent mechanisms that helps other governments help themselves, and in so doing help create a more secure world. 

In New York today, Rice took a big step in laying the intellectual foundation for filling that gap.   I eagerly await the implementation of her vision.

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Bill Clinton chooses diplomacy over nuclear self-destruction

On Bill Clinton’s successful diplomatic trip morally repugnant capitulation to North Korea, Spencer Ackerman’s satirical take is all you really need to consult:

In an unforeseen turn of events, Bill Clinton strapped himself with nuclear weapons and detonated during a meeting with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang. The former president’s inability to free imprisoned American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling ended in carnage, the only diplomatic language the North Koreans understand. Clinton, recognizing that diplomacy was useless, bit his lip sorrowfully and expressed regret that so many had to die in the name of American prestige, according to a suicide note obtained by this blog.

Back in the United States, conservatives expressed relief that Clinton chose an honorable end to his life. “Diplomacy with the North would be the worst of all possible options,” said Rep. Guy “Whitey” Corngood (R-Ark.), a longtime Clinton critic. “Bringing those two Americans back without incident would have represented an unacceptable humiliation for this country.” Attempts to reach John Bolton, a former undersecretary of state and U.N. ambassador in the Bush administration, were unsuccessful, but associates said Bolton credited Clinton for posthumously vindicating his worldview and that the former diplomat was considering a courtesy call to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to express condolences.

What makes this morbid telling (Bill Clinton did not actually blow himself up, and did successfully negotiate the release of the American journalists) even funnier is that John Bolton could be reached, and, predictably enough, still thought that Clinton’s visit did nothing but “reward[] bad behavior” and “legitimize the [North Korean] regime.” That, and, well, accomplish the only goal that he had in going over there.

I’m consistently struck by how ironically similar the likes of John Bolton are to Kim Jong Il and North Korea’s power-obsessed cadre of leaders. The only ones who think that an insignificant sop to the latter’s silly sense of pride amounts to a serious concession by the United States are the North Korean leaders themselves and, well, Boltonites. Only these two groups of dolts take what Bolton calls “gesture politics” as a matter more serious than actual politics and policy — which, once again, resulted in North Korea releasing two wrongly imprisoned journalists and the United States giving up nothing more than a day of face time with Bubba.

(image from flickr user Creative+ Timothy K Hamilton under a Creative Commons license)

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The problem of crony ambassadorships

Scott Horton sounds a clarion call against the regular phenomenon of presidents’ rewarding campaign supporters with choice ambassador positions. He writes, “The process cheapens our diplomatic relations and sends a bad message to the states to which these ambassadors are sent. And it’s getting cruder and greedier.”  I agree, but there is also a less stated reason for objecting to this process: the toll it takes on the foreign service bureaucracy.   

About a third of the Ambassadorships historically go to political appointees.  Among these are the choicest posts.  If you are a career foreign service officer with a stellar record, your chances of being rewarded with a choice ambassadorship at the end of your career is severely limited.   Crony appointments undermine the career prospects of ambitious, talented foreign service officers, and in so doing, undermines the ability of the State Department to retain and attract new talent.  This does real damage to American foreign policy over the long run. 

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Diplomats accuse Congressional Coup Caucus of stoking Cold War fears

To mark the one month anniversary of the military coup that deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, select press, think tankers, members of the diplomatic (including at least a dozen ambassadors “from Canada to Chile”) gathered at the Argentine Embassy in Washington for a reception for the Minister of Communications for the “Constitutional Government of Honduras” Enrique Reina.  

Reina is actually a bit more than the minister of communication for the deposed Honduran government.  When the military launched its coup, it had an ally in the Honduran ambassador to the United States, Roberto Flores Bermudez.  This caused a schism within the embassy, with about half the Honduran foreign service loyal to Zelaya and half following the ambassador.  The United States revoked the former ambassador’s visa, and since then Reina has acted as the “constitutional government’s” representative in the United States. 

I had the opportunity to talk to Reina and a number of other South American diplomats and gauge their reaction to the machinations of certain members of congress, led by Connie Mack of Florida, that are supportive of the de-facto Honduran government.  Mack recently returned from Honduras. And, via The Hill upon his return he had this to say:

“The Organization of American States, State Department and Obama administration got it wrong,” Mack said. “We’re siding with the OAS and Chavez and Castro and that group over an ally.” Mack said Zelaya “is playing a game here and Hugo Chavez is pulling the strings.”

Reina and nearly all of the South American diplomats with whom I spoke made the similar point that sentiments like this harken back to the bad old days of the Cold War — a time when the United States viewed Latin American governments in clear dichotomy between left and right. Left bad. Right good.  End of story. 

But in this case, the entire world (save a handful of Republican members of the United States congress) have united around Zelaya.  Left wing Latin American governments like Venezuela find themselves on the same side of the debate as right wing governments of Columbia. This suggests that the coup transcends politics.  As one Latin American diplomat told me, “We have all seen what a coup is.  When you wake the president up at five in the morning with a gun to his head and kick him out the country that is a coup!”   

The one place where the coup has apparently not transcended regular politics is the United States Congress. 

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Victory for the Save Darfur movement, or the next challenge?

If you haven’t looked at Mark’s thoughtful consideration on the place of the Darfur advocacy movement in today’s world of Sudan policymaking, read it now.

I largely agree with Mark’s analysis, but I’d offer a different possible conclusion: instead of the end of the “Save Darfur” community’s role, this may be a make-or-break moment for Darfur advocacy, or even for foreign policy advocacy writ large.

Most savvy Darfur advocates already know this, but the time for sloganeering and awareness raising is long past (and endured well past what should have been its expiration date).  In some respects, the kind of misguided, generalist “stop genocide” tactics that one could find in early Save Darfur campaigns and that are so maligned by critics like Mahmoud Mamdani have affected the position we find ourselves in now, in which rhetoric that generates a lot of heat but no light can supplant directed action.  This is not entirely the fault of vapid aims by advocacy organizations, to be sure; policymakers actually need little excuse to make noise instead of policy, and stopping genocide provides the perfect soundbite.

Darfur advocacy organizations for the most part adapted their tactics, targeting their energies and substantial constituencies toward specific aims, such as deployment of UN peacekeepers and the provision of long-needed helicopters.  Some have had more, and some less, success (and in ways intended and unintended) than others, but the trickiest of them has always been the promotion of a robust peace accord.

This may be simply past the ability of advocacy organizations to effect, as Mark suggests, but it could also represent a stunning opportunity for transforming the nature of grassroots foreign policy campaigns.  If the “Darfur movement” is successful in navigating the complicated and unsexy terrain of policymaking, then it will be a major victory for Darfur, for citizen activism, and for democracy.

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