Monday, January 14, 2013

Oral History: Ruminations on my 365 days in Iraq

Though a bit dated, I decided that this short piece was poetic enough to be posted as a prose poem.  My service in Iraq extended from mid-January, 2008, to mid-January, 2009.  More of this at the Porch:

Baghdad, Iraq

My Hootch in Embassy Estates -
Republican Palace Grounds
Ruminations on my 365 days of service in Iraq.

My service in Iraq, from January 2008 to January 2009, was a complex sentence that had, for me, several significant punctuation marks. A semicolon marked my transfer from the Office of Provincial Affairs to the Front Office; a series of exclamation marks accompanied the March and April bombings in the IZ and on the Palace grounds; tentative commas marked our move from the “hootches” to the NEC apartments starting in May and the intense heat of the June through August summer months; repetitious question marks from September through November caused us all to wonder whether the Iraqis would actually accept the terms of the Strategic Agreement and the Strategic Framework Agreement; the period, full stop, of December ended our occupation of the Republican Palace; and the exclamation mark of our January move to the new chancery coincided, altogether, with some measure of restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and the establishment a new U.S.-Iraq bilateral relationship. Through it all, the exceptional courage and the tireless sacrifices of my fellow foreign service officers, foreign service nationals, third country nationals, and contractors left me in a state of awe and with a deep sense of humility of the privilege that was mine, to be there in service with them.

Short  first flight from Amman to Baghdad
Similarly, service in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands great courage and sacrifice, as does service in less heralded but equally demanding hardship postings, such as Luanda, Monrovia, and Khartoum, to name a few (I betray here my AF background and professional lineage). The point, however, is that success in tough places requires personal courage and sacrifices, both of FSO’s and of their families. And the sacrifices are not equal – our families and loved ones pay far more, far more. Much of the human cost of our political success in Iraq, or in any of these places, such as it is, goes uncompensated.

Shifting gears quickly, a great American diplomat once confided to me that perhaps we pay too much attention to direct compensation, such as hardship pay, danger pay, special differentials, etc., and not enough attention to the appeal to a sense of duty and the possible achievement of patriotic success so rarely experienced in a long career. It may be that we have lost faith in such intangibles, such outmoded values, and  that we place more faith in the details of the Service Recognition Package. That loss of faith in our core values, quite frankly, identifies us less as diplomats and more as mercenaries, soldiers for hire, and we sell ourselves short, and cheaply, at that.

And what is to become of our Foreign Service? That’s a question that came up often in Baghdad conversations where it was evident and obvious that traditionally diplomatic functions, once the province and the domain of the Department of State, were and are slowly being taken over by a far better resourced, better trained, and better equipped Department of Defense. Many studies have been and are being conducted on the militarization of diplomacy (just google the words "militarization of diplomacy" and see what comes up) and the more euphemistic term, “civilian-military cooperation.” Baghdad is a huge laboratory for such studies, the former term being far more descriptive that the latter. Military units named Strategic Effects and Strategic Communications have leveraged the massive resource imbalance between Defense and State to spring themselves into former State-dominated areas of political and economic reporting and public diplomacy efforts. Regional and combatant commanders have become the equivalent of ambassadors and chiefs of mission, outside the traditional inter-agency setting, but with far more resources and more robust means of budget execution. The Country Team is just another joint interagency task force, among many.  Fortunately for us, I guess, Defense shows no taste for administrative or consular work, State’s traditional and historic stepchildren, so State’s monopoly is safe there, for the time being

Where did the Foreign Service lose its soul, its purpose, its identity? We allowed the lines separating foreign service professional service from military professional service to be blurred. But there are important differences between us, more that the false dichotomy espoused in the phrase “State is from Venus and Defense is from Mars.”  We are both from Earth, but there are differences in the way we think, the way we approach problem solving, differences in our respective strategic cultures.

Diplomacy, true diplomacy can prevent war and all the attendant physical and human losses.  But the tools of diplomacy, falsely, inappropriately or unprofessionally applied, have a high probability of failure. Diplomacy during the years 2000 to 2008 came to be seen as simply the prerequisite and prelude to war. Acccordingly, the noted military historian, Geoffrey Blainey writes, “many historians, in explaining the outbreak of war, argue that ‘the breakdown in diplomacy led to war.’ This explanation is rather like the argument that the end of winter led to spring: it is a description masquerading as an explanation.”  Where war, the noted historian Barbara Tuchman writes, is "the unfolding of miscalculations," diplomacy is the precise calculation itself, and the accurate reporting and ordering of solutions to correct and accurate calculations that eliminates the need for war and all its corresponding horrors. Stated tersely, State’s core competency is diplomacy to prevent war. Defense’s core competency is fighting to win the war itself.

Where do we go from here? We start by unequivocally defining ourselves and our core competencies. It is not about funding. It has never been.  It is about our professional capacity to bring about the peaceful  resolution of conflicts. It is about peace making. War has brought us a limited economic development, followed by financial disaster. Peace brings a much broader and more widespread prosperity. History is the judge. Blessed are the peace makers…

1 comment:

  1. Well thought-out comments, Ray. I'm hopeful that we learned from our experiences in Iraq. Of course, now we have Afghanistan. The lines between DOD and DOS are more blurred than ever. So (as you indicated) the question is indeed, what is diplomacy? And how should diplomats act and what should they do? Great, thought-provoking article.