Friday, November 02, 2007

"Iraq is Not Vietnam"

David Passage compares Vietnam with Iraq and Afghanistan with Vietnam and concludes that Vietnam was far safer for diplomats; that deploying diplomatic personnel to the field requires much additional preparation. (Hat tip: Small Wars Journal) Here are some excerpts from an article in Foreign Service Journal:

The CORDS program could not have been successful in today's Iraq or Afghanistan

In Vietnam, with few exceptions (such as the 1968 Tet Offensive), the Viet Cong rarely targeted CORDS activities or personnel.

A second critical difference between the CORDS program in Vietnam and the PRTs in Iraq and Afghanistan is the extensive training and preparation that the personnel assigned to the earlier program received.

Foreign Service officers are not combat professionals, and no amount of training in combat skills, weaponry and self-protection will ever enable them to be more than hostages to luck in a combat environment. As such, they will also never be more than a burden on those military and security forces who have to protect them, and they are unlikely to be able to significantly assist in postwar reconstruction and the transition to democratic institutions in the countries where they serve.

In general it amounts to a reasoned explanation of "no can do" in response to the clamor to deploy diplomats into the field. The claim is that operating in very harsh security environments is not a good organizational fit for State. And it will never be. But if Passage is correct does it not imply that either a) the US abandons political warfighting or b) base political warfighting within the Armed Services? And won't that create another set of problems in the process?


Blogger NahnCee said...

What, exactly, is it that the State Department does that we cannot do without them, since we've obviously been doing without them since we went into Baghdad in 2003? And I can't see that State has been missed any more than the UN has been.

11/02/2007 06:27:00 PM  
Blogger Tamquam Leo Rugiens said...

Having grown up as a "Diplomatic Brat", I can tell you that foreign service officers are very cognizant of the risks they take. It was a risk that the job required so they endured it even as they did what they could to minimize it. That, at least, was my father's attitude.
As I recall the diplomats of all the colonial powers endured those same risks in their times and places, and sometimes paid with their lives and the lives of their families. One of the big differences between then and now is that then everybody knew that to attack a representative of one of the colonial powers was to bring down on one's village a ruthless and thorough retaliation that seldom made the price worthwhile. Nor were they such wimps. Diplomatic personnel usually did not go about their business armed, I know my father did not. They were backed by those who sent them there and by those who did bear arms. These men were not weak for lack of personal armament, but drew their strength from the firm assurance that their way of life was superior (PC BS to the contrary notwithstanding) and their cause just. Moral courage and moral authority are real sources of power, never mind what Chairman Mao said.

The US desperately needs many more trained diplomats. A diplomat is one who can step into a roomful of his or her country's enemies with a straight spine, a steady eye and make his nations policies, interests and attitudes unequivocally understood. It doesn't have much to do with making people like you, it has to do with making them respect you.

As an emissary for America Barak Obama is more likely to be used than respected.

11/02/2007 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger F said...

I have not read David Passage's article, but I was a Foreign Service Officer in southeast Asia in the late sixties, when many of my colleagues were being trained for CORDS and sent to Vietnam. I ended up in neighboring Laos, where there was less shooting and fewer Americans to shoot at.

I remember, though, the lengths to which colleagues went to avoid Vietnam service. I also remember the inception of the Hard To Fill program -- if you refuse a post, we'll end your career. Some took that route and were cashiered, others resigned, and a few went where assigned, but without family and very much against their wishes.

I, on the other hand, asked for the unattractive assignments. Not for me Paris or London -- I wanted Dar es Salaam, Bangui and Douala. (Well, in truth, I tried to duck Douala, but went after all. It was not all that bad.)

Dar was bad because the government of Julius Nyerere was openly critical of our foreign policy. Cotonou was worse, because the government of President Kerekou was avowedly Marxist-Leninist, allied himself with the NorKors, and was openly anti-American. A tough place to work, but not an unpleasant assignment. Kinshasa had a friendly government (Mobutu Sese Seko) but was dangerous because of street crime. I still enjoyed it.

I have little patience with the dips who refuse to go to tough capitals. Often, the camaraderie of the small embassy makes for a very enjoyable assignment and the culture one is exposed to is riveting. It's hard on the family -- very hard -- but Paris can be hard on a family too, believe it or not.

The advantage of the small, hard-to-fill posts is you can be a big fish in a small pond. As a mid-level officer in a large capital I would never have been note taker in a conversation with the head of state, been the embassy human rights observer at a treason trial, or acted as translator for a congressional delegation. (That's where I lost all respect for congress persons). The worst aspect of many third world posts in a row is that you gradually get a reputation in State as unfit for polite company -- someone who has forgotten how to eat with a knife and fork. But now, with all that behind me, I would not have traded any of it -- even Dar es Salaam and Cotonou -- for Brussels or Rome.

And Mr. Rugiens is right -- State needs people who will take a few risks but can still represent the US in tough circumstances. F

11/02/2007 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Agreed with Mr. Rugiens, but ...

State culture is unlikely to change. It is the result of a pampered, elitist, status-obsessed upper class and will not change.

The only solution: downgrade State to a minor dept. that handles protocol for dignitaries visiting DC, and move all the REST of it's functions to the Military.

In turn, drastically increase the military. State has failed because it's people failed. It's people failed because they simply cannot face the challenges of life outside a five star hotel.

11/02/2007 09:16:00 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

This is an age old problem that isn’t going away anytime soon.

“In the system of policy introduced by Augustus, the governors, those at least of the imperial provinces, were invested with the full powers of the sovereign himself. Ministers of peace and war, the distribution of rewards and punishments depended on them alone, and they successively appeared on their tribunal in the robes of civil magistracy, and in complete amour at the head of Roman legions. The influence of the revenue, the authority of law, and the command of a military force, concurred to render their power supreme and absolute; …Constantine resolved to divide the military from the civil administration, and to establish, as a permanent and professional distinction, a practice which has been adopted only as an occasional expedient. … They (the Generals) were strictly prohibited from interfering in any matter which related to the administration of justice of justice or the revenue; but the command which they exercised over the troops of their department was independent of the authority of the magistrates. … he instituted in the Roman Empire the nice balance of the civil and the military powers. The emulation, and sometimes the discord, which reigned between the two professions of opposite interests and incompatible manners, was productive of beneficial and pernicious consequences. It was seldom to be expected that the general and the civil governor should either conspire for the disturbance, or should unite for the service, of their country. While the one declined to offer the assistance which the other disdained to solicit, the troops very frequently remained without orders or without supplies, the public safety was betrayed, and the defenseless subjects were left exposed to the fury of the barbarians. The divided administration, which had been formed by Constantine, relaxed the vigor of the state, while it secured the tranquility of the monarch”.-Edward Gibbon in the decline and fall of the Roman Empire near the middle of Chapter Seventeen.

I still can’t see why Tommy Franks, and subsequent generals, weren’t given a position equivalent to Viceroy; at least until the security situation was such that the political solutions could proceed.

11/02/2007 10:14:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

As an emissary for America Barak Obama is more likely to be used than respected.

You mean like Condoleeza dithering around, trying to sell Israel down the river by comparing Abbas to Martin Luther King, and a bunch of murderous Arab thugs to civil rights marchers in Selma?

I, too, think Petreaus would make a splendid Viceroy, but the problem is keeping the less-than-Viceroy types like Sanchez or Abizaid.

11/02/2007 10:41:00 PM  
Blogger James Kliegel said...

"In Vietnam, with few exceptions (such as the 1968 Tet Offensive), the Viet Cong rarely targeted CORDS activities or personnel."

State must have been as useless then as it is now, if the VC could not be bothered targeting them!


11/03/2007 03:44:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

tamquam leo rugiens mentions: "One of the big differences between then and now is that then everybody knew that to attack a representative of one of the colonial powers was to bring down on one's village a ruthless and thorough retaliation that seldom made the price worthwhile."

I think you've hit the nail on the head. We're not about to inflict a retaliation on any village for an assault on a diplomat.

11/03/2007 05:20:00 AM  
Blogger 3Case said...


Thank you for your service.

11/03/2007 08:12:00 AM  
Blogger Ari Tai said...

All these agencies and bureaucracies suffer from the same disease . Without at least "up or out" similar to the military they tend to decay (and even the military decays.. note Blackwater's tooth-to-tail (>10-1?) v. the Army (<1-10?)).

Most government entities have 10 good years (as they are set up in response to some crisis), 10 so-so- years, and then downhill from there. Especially since they all sit in the same soup of congressionally mandated incentives (arguably disincentives are most important - e.g. 30 years after its few-holds-bared founding, no one at a three-letter agency took a shot at UBL and risked prison in the nation's interest).

I suspect the answer is demobilization, both military and civilian, and building a solution from scratch when the next crisis (that only a government can solve) arises. We'd have a chance to give everyone their gold watch, remember their recent successes, and wish them well. And we'd certainly not build bureaucracies of the 1800s style in response to 2000's problems.

The permanent bureaucratic class is a large part of the problem. Especially once it has formed a political constituency that becomes, by definition, capable of addressing any challenge, given legislatively (and judicially) mandated layers on layers of process. We hear this in the repetitive demand for "a plan" as if a plan and process guarantees success (which are sad echoes of Soviet 5-year plans and Mao "Great Leap Forward" and all the disasters and human suffering that followed from same).

Better just to return the resources to the public and wait for a new need to develop, crisis to occur. We wouldn't be missed (save for our checkbook) in many governmental settings, worldwide. And our citizens and their enterprise are fine representatives in "the government's" absence.

11/03/2007 08:15:00 AM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Simple solution: Fire all members of the diplomatic corp who are not ex-military with combat experience. Make this a prerequisite for future hires.

This would not only fix the immediate problem (although in the short term it would exacerbate the labor shortage), but it would also fix the weird, seemingly anti-American bias that seems to come from the career diplomats at the State Department. I suspect it would also greatly reduce the tendancy of State Departments to "leak" confidential information.

Robert A. Heinlein in his book "Starship Troopers" envisioned a future where service to your country was required before you earned the right to vote. Maybe he had something there.

11/05/2007 04:17:00 AM  
Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

@ Ari Tai,

"Without at least "up or out" similar to the military they tend to decay"

Actually, the Foreign Service already has an up-or-out personnel policy.

But thanks for playing! Next contestant!

11/05/2007 09:33:00 PM  

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