Monday, May 14

Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Newt Gingrich have amnesia about State's record.

Overview: State needs to move over and make more room for Pentagon-led foreign assistance programs.

"The U.S. Department of State is committed to promoting U.S. economic and commercial interests overseas. Secretary Warren Christopher has put the economic security of the American people at the top of our foreign policy priorities."
-- U.S. Department of State, Business Services Office of the Coordinator for Business Affairs, August 1995
May, 2007
The Pentagon is seeking to make permanent and expand to other countries some security and foreign assistance programs underway in Iraq and Afghanistan that traditionally have been supervised by the State Department and the Agency for International Development.

Legislation sent to Capitol Hill -- under the title of Building Global Partnerships Act of 2007 -- would allow the secretary of defense, "with the concurrence of the secretary of state," to spend up to $750 million to help foreign governments build up not only their military forces, but also police and other "security forces" to "combat terrorism and enhance stability." [...]

In February testimony for the House Armed Services Committee, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for an interagency National Security Initiative Fund "to better invest in countering terrorism with other countries."

"We need a dramatic leap forward in our relationship with interagency and international partners," Pace said [...]. Terrorists sometimes "hide in countries with whom we are not at war," he said, adding that in many cases the best way to respond "is by augmenting the capacity of those countries to defeat terrorism and increase stability." [...]

The Pentagon's growing role in foreign assistance has drawn criticism. Last month, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) told a Council on Foreign Relations meeting that "we do not want uniformed military doing what others should be doing." He suggested that State Department funding should grow by 50 percent so ambassadors could lead such projects.

Last December, following an investigation directed by then-Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported that "as a result of inadequate funding for civilian programs . . . U.S. defense agencies are increasingly being granted authority and funding to fill perceived gaps" in public diplomacy and foreign economic assistance. The result "risks weakening the Secretary of State's primacy in setting the agenda for U.S. relations with foreign countries," the report said.
For almost a decade running up to September 11, 2001, the US Department of State did indeed set the agenda for US relations with foreign countries, even though that was supposed to be the job of the White House and Congress. The resulting debacle for US security became evident to the public only in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack.

As the dust from the attack settled it became clear that under State's watch, every region on earth except Europe, and every trouble spot with the exception of the Israel-Palestinian dispute and North Korea, had been ignored by US foreign policy except with regard to business deals.

One might argue that State was only carrying out the policy of the Clinton administration, which gave top priority to expanding US trade and servicing ex-Soviet states that were candidates for European Union membership. But once Clinton left office, State continued with the agenda of placing global business dealings before national security. And State waged an aggressive campaign against President Bush when he made US security the top priority for US foreign relations.

Newt Gingrich and the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee know all this, so I can only speculate on the cause of their collective amnesia. Perhaps it occurred from repeated blows on the head delivered by foreign and domestic business lobbies.

Readers who assume that State got their head screwed on straight under Condoleezza Rice's leadership should recall her recent statement that promoting democracy is the top priority of US foreign policy. No, the top priority is defending the United States; promoting democracy in the world is just one component of defense strategy.

It's not much help if State gets pried away from their "Global Business Rules" mindset only to wander in the thicket of promoting democracy as the top priority for the US government's security agenda.

State cannot admit to the real priority because doing so offends numerous business interests here and abroad, and takes some power away from State and gives it to the Pentagon. State is still operating according to the view that US defense and intelligence agencies should be under the authority of the foreign office's diplomacy.

Yet much of the world is a pastiche of weak governments under pressure from armed groups with ties to crime syndicates and terrorist organizations that operate across borders. Such a world can't be ministered to only through State's diplomacy and USAID grants. Ethiopia's lessons in Somalia underscore the way things really are:
"Get it done quickly and get out." That, says a senior U.S. diplomat here, was the goal of the little-noticed war that Ethiopia has been fighting, with American support, against Islamic extremists in Somalia. But this in-and-out strategy encounters the same real-world obstacles that America is facing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Conflict is less the problem than what comes after it. That's the dilemma that America and its allies are discovering in a world where war-fighting and nation-building have become perversely mixed.

It took the Ethiopians just a week to drive a Muslim radical movement known as the Islamic Courts from Mogadishu in December. The hard part wasn't chasing the enemy from the capital but putting the country back together. [...]

"The Ethiopians are looking for an opportunity to exit, but not until they are confident that the security environment will prevent a return to chaos," says a State Department official who helps oversee policy for the region.

And in Somalia, a backward country that has had 14 governments since 1991, that process of stabilization will be anything but easy. [...]

The Ethiopians have now concluded that they can't withdraw completely anytime soon; they must instead stay and train a friendly Somali army that can support the pro-Ethiopian "Transitional Federal Government." [...]

In 2002, Centcom established a regional outpost in the dusty port city of Djibouti, at the entrance to the Red Sea. It now has about 1,500 U.S. military personnel. Some of them are out digging wells, building schools, vaccinating goats and otherwise "waging peace," as a spokesman there explains. That's the nation-building side.

The Djibouti base also provides logistical support for U.S. Special Forces teams that are hunting down what's left of the al-Qaeda terrorist cells that bombed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Readers who want insights about State's course during the decade running up to 9/11 should read Joel Mowbray's Dangerous Diplomacy. They might also read, or re-read, Pundita's 2004 post The America Desk at State: The Office for Commercial and Business Affairs, which helps explain why State was so willfully blind to the gathering threats in the 1990s.

1) Pentagon Hopes to Expand Aid Program

2) Ethiopia's Iraq

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