“We Don’t Have a Colonial Office in the United States”

Go to any event on nation building in Washington these days, and you’ll hear endless bickering about whose fault it is Iraq hasn’t gone better. Maybe it’s DOD’s fault for commandeering the planning process. Maybe it’s the State Department’s fault for not letting Ahmed Chalabi be more involved. Maybe (this is the current favorite) we need a new Goldwater-Nichols Act to unify the bureaucracies behind the sorts of nation-building missions we find ourselves in in Iraq.

During a recent event at the US Institute of Peace, both Marine Corps Major Ben Connable and Matt Sherman, a former CPA official, blasted the State Department for not providing sufficient personnel for the mission in Iraq. As it happened, Bob Deutsch, the deputy senior adviser to Secretary Rice for Iraq policy was in the audience, and, well, let’s just say the sparks flew. A rough transcription of part of Deutsch’s comment is below:

We don’t have a colonial office in the United States. And the kind of—when I hear the criticisms of the civilian side of the government, that the State Department doesn’t have a whole bunch of police trainers that we can send out, that we don’t have a whole bunch of people who know how to run electricity companies, who know how to run oil companies. The Department of Energy doesn’t have people to send out to run oil companies. We don’t have a colonial office. And if we are going to do nation building, in Iraq or elsewhere, we’re going to need one. And I agree that that is a decision—that Secretary of State has made some decisions that we’re going to move the foreign service in directions with our transformational diplomacy in that direction. But it would have to be a larger U.S. government decision that we’re going to do that—which has all sorts of bureaucracy and fiscal implications that I’m not sure we’re prepared to buy off on.

I’m not sure whether to be reassured by the senior adviser’s tepid invocation of “bureaucracy and fiscal implications” that he’s “not sure we’re prepared to buy off on” as the primary obstacle to setting up a colonial office, or alarmed by the fact that he suggests that Secretary Rice has “made some decisions” that the foreign service is going to be “moved in that direction.”

At any rate, it’s sure a great time to pick up Chris Preble’s and my Policy Analysis on the topic of building a nation-building office into the State Department.