State Department Stretched Thin, Too

For fear of revealing how tall the “to be read” stack on my desk is, this August 24 article from the Washington Post reveals how it isn’t just the military that’s stretched too thin as a result of the Bush administration’s policy of purposively destabilizing the Middle East; the State Department is feeling the crunch, too. Citing “increasing international turmoil,” Foreign Service Director General George M. Staples outlined a plan to push more FSOs into “hardship” postings, as opposed to cushy appointments in Europe and other traditional focal areas. The planned changes

are intended to shake up the State Department culture so that overseas service becomes more frequent and more focused on global hot spots.

The changes come as the number of overseas positions that prohibit accompanying children – and sometimes spouses – has increased from 200 in 2001 to more than 800 today. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who ordered the new approach, has already begun shifting personnel from Europe to the Middle East and Asia.

More than 200 foreign service officers are required each year in Iraq, and already 1,000 of the roughly 11,000 foreign service officers have voluntarily served there. The number of foreign service officers needed in Iraq will grow as Rice pushes forward with a plan to establish provincial reconstruction teams across the country.

Moving folks from Brussels and Berlin into Baghdad and Basra makes sense on its face, but that ignores the fact that the administration is also currently hell-bent on trying to twist European arms into coming along with us to confront Iran over its nuclear program. Arm-twisting requires diplomacy, and diplomacy requires diplomats. Take diplomats out of Europe, decrease your chances for diplomatic breakthroughs.

And about those provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs): State’s been having a hell of a hard time finding folks to fill them. There’s been a long-standing dispute between DoD and State as to who is going to protect these folks (DoD finally acquiesced to doing it). Moreover, State made a pretty measly request for its folks to apply to PRTs in the first place–it posted 35 available positions early this year, and by April, it had only received applications for 12 of those positions, only one of which was deemed qualified. Even when State finds folks to staff a few dozen PRT positions, it’s hard to believe that 50 diplomats are going to fix Iraq.

All of this points in one direction: if you want to have an empire, you’d do best to put yourself together a colonial service and do it right. If you don’t want to have a colonial service, maybe you’d best pare back your imperial ambitions.