Understanding mission requirements, or What is the State Doing?

The strategic requirements of the Baghdad mission can’t be underestimated, and yet Ambassador Ryan Crocker is placed in the position of needing to remind his boss to get on the ball. Glenn Kessler writes in today’s Washington Post about a blunt memo Amb. Crocker sent Secretary of State Condoleezz Rice two weeks ago.

Ryan C. Crocker, the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, bluntly told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a cable dated May 31 that the embassy in Baghdad…lacks enough well-qualified staff members and that its security rules are too restrictive for Foreign Service officers to do their jobs.

“Simply put, we cannot do the nation’s most important work if we do not have the Department’s best people,” Crocker said in the memo.

“In essence, the issue is whether we are a Department and a Service at war,” Crocker wrote. “If we are, we need to organize and prioritize in a way that reflects this, something we have not done thus far.”

It seems Rice’s “Transformational Diplomacy” hasn’t transformed State enough to get the job done. In fact, her time at the helm of State is, well, lacking. WhirledView had this Republican view on Rice’s leadership that came out during the passport hearings today:

Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio), however, did point out that while Colin Powell and Richard Armitage had done a good job of managing the State Department during W’s first term, that he had warned Secretary Condoleezza Rice and the new Deputy Secretary John Negroponte that “someone had better pay attention to management at State because morale is horrible and people are leaving in droves.”

From DC to the Emerald City, recommendations from a management review Crocker requested two months ago have yet to be fully implemented. From Crocker’s words and the recent history of State, resistance isn’t based on disagreement with the recommendations, but a clear lack of initiative, leadership, and management from the top of the Department, the 7th Floor. (more of the same in the public diplomacy office)

…Crocker said the State Department’s human resources office “has made heroic efforts to staff the embassy, but to a large extent HR has been working alone.” Referring to the floor where Rice and her top aides work, Crocker said there should be “a clear message from the Seventh floor . . . that staffing Iraq is an imperative.”

Crocker also called for ensuring that responsibility for recruiting and assigning personnel for the embassy rests with the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, which covers the Middle East and North Africa. All other bureau assignments “should be held until there are sufficient bidders with requisite qualifications for Iraq positions,” Crocker wrote.

Crocker, in the interview, said the human resources department does not have the capacity to make sure the best people are placed in Baghdad. “They can’t do this,” he said, whereas the Near East bureau, which oversees Baghdad, has the skills to “identify the right people with the right skill sets.” State Department officials acknowledge that hiring has been haphazard, but a team has been set up in the Near East bureau to work with the personnel department…

If military standards “are good enough for them, they should be good enough for us,” Crocker said. “We are all in the same fight.”

As Amb. Crocker points out, this is a truly combined arms fight. State is required, as is the rest of the government, to be fully behind the mission but it is clear the Secretary of State hasn’t stepped up. I’m getting tired of asking these questions, but I’ll do it again: Where is State? What are they doing? Ambassador Crocker and I would both like to know. (DoD stopped asking and simply started doing State’s work years ago.) 

It seems State is in Europe even when it’s in the Middle East. In the Wall Street Journal (sub req’d), Neil King, Jr., wrote how SecState Rice frames the world through her lens of European Cold War history, and an apparent incomplete one at that. Subjected to her fatalist view that lessens the importance of action, she sees little need to work on the basics to guide actors in the right direction. In her Cold War-based analogies of state systems maneuvering in a ring, using proxies to feel each other out, she’s out of touch with the real requirements of modern politics in the Middle East and anywhere the “Long War” is being fought.  

“The reason that I cite some of these other times, like Europe, is that it is so clear in everybody’s mind that the United States and its allies came out victorious at the end of the Cold War,” she said in Kuwait. “But if you…look at the events that ultimately lead to that, you would have thought that this was failing every single day between 1945-1946 and probably 1987 or 1988.”

Secretary of State Rice clearly forgets the whole chunks of Cold War history. The importance of information, education, aid, capacity building, and commitment by the American public and the entire Government, are seemingly lost on the SecState, all of which were required in massive doses to win, especially in the earlier years of the Cold War. Clearly Rice has forgotten the massive information campaigns, overt and covert, to support this victory.

She tends to portray events, particularly the clash between what she calls “moderation” and “extremism” in the Middle East, as driven by huge, almost inevitable forces that make diplomacy impractical, or even irrelevant. Critics say such a view has made Washington’s top diplomat less flexible in policy making — and less adept in old-style negotiation and hand-holding, whose results also can be hard to quantify in the short term.

This view is seen evident in her prioritization of support for Crocker, the latitude Undersecretary Karen Hughes is allowed, and the overall approach to addressing current and future engagements.

If and when qualified people do start coming over, as Phil Carter points out “precisely how inadequate” the US diplomatic presence in Iraq is with this question and answer in today’s State Department briefing:

Question: How may Arabic speakers with 3/3 levels of proficiency are currently serving at Embassy Baghdad?

Answer: We currently have ten Foreign Service Officers (including the Ambassador) at Embassy Baghdad at or above the 3 reading / 3 speaking level in Arabic. An additional five personnel at Embassy Baghdad have tested at or above the 3 level in speaking. A 3/3 indicates a general professional fluency level.

Phil responds:

15 Foreign Service Officers out of 1,000 Americans (not all FSOs) who can speak Arabic??? Four years after the invasion? In that time, we could’ve paid all-expenses TDY trips for half the diplomatic corps to spend a sabbatical in Qatar or Jordan or somewhere nearby to pick up the language, and then put them to work in Iraq. If there’s one bright shining example of our inability as a nation to learn and adapt for this war, this is it. Sir Lawrence and Gertrude are likely spinning in their graves.

The natural follow up question at the State Department brief is, of course, how many Arab linguists State wants to have.

Question: Does the State Department have a specific goal for the number of Arabic speakers it would like to have?

Answer: We have calculated that we need to retain at least 2.5 Arabic speaking employees for every 1 Arabic Language Designated Position (LDP). Using this calculation, the State Department needs to employ approximately 547 Foreign Service Officers with Arabic language skills in order to fill the existing 219 LDPs.

These numbers are based on the facts that not all Arabic speaking employees will always be serving in an Arabic LDP, many of the LDPs need to be filled every year, and others must be filled every other year.

Once we achieve our goal, Arabic speaking employees would expect to spend 40% of their time in Arabic LDPs.

One of the ways the State Department is addressing this deficit is through a new initiative which immediately considers any employee, no matter their current assignment, for Arabic language training beginning this September.

I’m speechless…in any language.

One thought on “Understanding mission requirements, or What is the State Doing?

Comments are closed.