More on the Civilian Response Corps

CSIS’s PCR blog has an update on the Civilian Response Corps (see my previous on CRC here). More notable is a comment posted to their post today:

Among other factors, the creation of a bona fide US civilian response corps requires addressing two institutional impediments within the State Department. One of these is the lack of promotional incentives provided to foreign service officers (FSOs) who venture into harm’s way to engage in stabilization and reconstruction activities. Career FSOs usually move through the ranks by fostering key foreign contacts at embassies–not by taking the risks involved in embedding in remote areas of war torn countries to administer US reconstruction programs. As such, exactly the sort of FSOs and other civilians the US needs to create a viable civilian response corps are not being offered the proper incentives for their actions.

The newly introduced legislation (S. 613) seems to address this institutional problem in Section 9 on “Service Related to Stabilization and Reconstruction.” Part (a) states that “Service in stabilization and reconstruction operations overseas, membership in the Response Readiness Corps…and education and training in the stabilization and reconstruction curriculum…should be considered among the favorable factors for the promotion of employees of Executive agencies.” Parts (b) and (c) provide further incentives for FSOs and USAID personnel to participate in a civilian response corps.

However, the new legislation does not address a more fundamental problem that directly impacts the first. Members of a civilian response corps cannot take the requisite risks to do their jobs if US security officers, with the support of ambassadors, severely restrict their movements. Security officers and ambassadors stand to lose their positions and professional standing when, on their watches, US personnel are injured or killed while doing their jobs. As such, security concerns tend to trump all else, and US political objectives suffer as a result. It is for this reason that US embassies and consulates around the world have become veritable fortresses that are disconnected from the popular mood of their respective countries. In Iraq, for example, US officials have gone out of their way to cordon off US personnel from all that is Iraqi.

Thus while S. 613 is moving in the right direction to provide for future US nation building efforts, it does not address a more fundamental policy problem in the State Department. The whole point of creating a civilian response corps is to recruit civilians who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to further US policy objectives. At some point, the potential for civilian casualties associated with engaging native populations must be factored into the cost of doing business.