You Go to War with the State Department You Have

There’s been a good bit of commentary over the last few weeks about the role of the State Department in post-“Mission Accomplished” Iraq.

First, WaPo reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran pulled the curtain back from America’s “provincial reconstruction teams” in Iraq, noting that in one instance

The USDA had trouble finding six people who wanted to work in Iraq among its more than 100,000 employees. Although a USDA official said the department encouraged its workers to apply, officials at State believe USDA did not move with alacrity because the two agencies had not agreed on a mechanism to reimburse the USDA for the services it would provide in Iraq. Eventually, USDA and State agreed that USDA would provide just two of the six. The other four would be private contractors hired by State.

The first USDA specialist, Randy Frescoln, a rural credit specialist from Iowa, landed in Iraq in December and was sent to the reconstruction team in Tikrit. Although he was supposed to stay in Iraq for a year, he said he plans to leave next month because he received a promotion while he was away. The second specialist has not yet arrived.

Even if USDA and State were to get an agriculture expert to Diyala now, [a State Department administrator] believes, it is too late. Security conditions have deteriorated so significantly in the province that reconstruction personnel are lucky to make one or two trips a week off the military base where they live and work.

Secretary of State Rice was left only to lament that the State Department simply doesn’t employ the types of people who the administration wants to rebuild Iraq: “These are people like agronomists, veterinarians, city planners and others. No diplomatic service in the world has these specialties.” That’s true enough. As a result, it’s been left to DOD to staff open State Department spots in Iraq. (No word on whether DOD employs veterinarians and city planners.)

We’ve seen the announcement that State intends to double the number of “Provincial Reconstruction Teams” in Iraq, from the total staffing today of 10 30-person teams to 20 teams. Also, Sen. Richard Lugar has resurrected the idea of the “Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization” in the State Department, which some of its strongest advocates liken to a “colonial office.”

And now we have former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger discussing the super-ultra-mega embassy in Baghdad in today’s Post:

“I defy anyone to tell me how you can use that many people. It is nuts … it’s insane and it’s counterproductive … and it won’t work. I’ve been around the State Department long enough to know you can’t run an outfit like that.”

Then, a “senior State Department official” chimes in with a broader complaint:

“Maintaining an oversized mega-embassy in Baghdad is draining personnel and resources away from every other U.S. embassy around the world, and all for what?”

To try to salvage the Bush doctrine, that’s for what. 

But really, there’s an even broader question here: Do we want a national security bureaucracy that’s capable of taking on the types of tasks that we’re trying to do in Iraq? If so, we probably need a complete overhaul of the entire bureaucracy itself. That doesn’t mean just the State Department, or just DOD — it means everything.

There’s going to be inevitable bleedover between on-the-ground reconstructors, political advisers, police, military, intelligence operatives, and on and on. These people, by and large, are not currently employed by agencies that can force them to deploy into the middle of a conflict. You’d have to develop an agency that has these people on staff and could force them to deploy in order to come even close to the capacity that you’d need to have a good shot at success in these types of endeavors.

Simply put, our current bureaucracy is not designed — at all — with these sorts of operations in mind. If we came to the consensus that we need to do a lot more Iraq-style missions in the future, it’s time to completely reformulate not just our strategy, but the structure of the agencies that are devoted to executing the strategy.

Realistically, putting this into practice would probably mean at least tripling, if not quadrupling, the State Department’s budget, and maybe doubling the DOD budget, putting the combined budget well over a trillion dollars a year — about 10 percent of GDP. And that’s without anything near a guarantee of success. Sounds like a colossal waste to me.

For more on these themes, see Chris Preble and my paper on “failed states,” or the shorter essay (.pdf) we extracted for the American Foreign Service Association’s Foreign Service Journal.

Even Private Schools Sometimes Teach Awful Lessons

The anti-capitalist mentality of government schools is disturbing, but the virus of envy and resentment sometimes infects private schools. A TCSdaily.com column discusses a private school in Seattle that is using Legos to indoctrinate children in favor of collectivism:

Some Seattle school children are being told to be skeptical of private property rights. This lesson is being taught by banning Legos. A ban was initiated at the Hilltop Children’s Center in Seattle. According to an article in the winter 2006-07 issue of “Rethinking Schools” magazine, the teachers at the private school wanted their students to learn that private property ownership is evil.

…[T]hey first explored with the children the issue of ownership. Not all of the students shared the teachers’ anathema to private property ownership. “If I buy it, I own it,” one child is quoted saying. The teachers then explored with the students concepts of fairness, equity, power, and other issues over a period of several months. At the end of that time, Legos returned to the classroom after the children agreed to several guiding principles framed by the teachers, including that “All structures are public structures” and “All structures will be standard sizes.”

Pork and Principle

The Hill reports that Blue Dog Democrats are very concerned about the proper balance of powers between the president and Congress. But for a big hike in farm subsidies, they’ll forget about that little constitutional matter. 

House Democratic leaders will add nearly $4 billion for farmers to a bill funding military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to attract conservative Democrats concerned that the measure would wrongly constrict President Bush’s power as commander in chief.

The Democrats hope that moderate Republicans are just as malleable:

Democrats may also add money for children’s health insurance in the hope of winning the votes of Republicans such as Illinois Reps. Mark Kirk (R) and Judy Biggert (R), whose home state faces a $240 million deficit in its State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

To be fair, there’s no proof in the story that Kirk and Biggert are considering such a deal, but Republican leaders are reported to fear it.

In the civics books, they tell us that members of Congress deliberate about war, separation of powers, balanced budgets, and so on, and then make collective decisions. If you read a newspaper, though, you soon learn about logrolling and other budget games. Still, it’s one thing to trade your vote for farm pork for the other guy’s vote for urban pork; the taxpayers lose twice, but at least it’s only money. Trading your vote on a matter of life and death, which is also a fundamental constitutional issue, for a few billion in home-state pork seems entirely unbecoming to a member of the legislature of the world’s most successful republic.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Challenges Protectionists

Hearing Washington officials speak sense on international trade has become a rare event these days. So a speech today by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was like a fresh spring breeze after a long dreary winter.

Speaking to the Economic Club of Washington, Secretary Paulson delivered an important address on the huge benefits Americans realize every day from our growing trade and investment ties with the rest of the world.

The secretary touted America’s booming exports, including a 32 percent jump in exports to China in 2006. More importantly, he focused on the benefits of imports, the real payoff from trade:

Trade fosters the environment of competition, innovation, research, and investment that leads to better goods and services at lower prices. Some people speak about trade as if its benefits come only from exports, ignoring the positive contributions of imports. Data show that internationally trade products tend to experience lower inflation rates—even real price declines—while non-traded goods tend to rise in price. Trade thus helps Americans provide for their families. When special interests seek protection in the name of low-wage workers, we should acknowledge that limitations on imports do not benefit the vast majority of Americas. They deny people the freedom to choose from a broader array of goods and services, and impose a cruel tax on people who rely on low prices to stretch their family budgets. The cost of protectionism falls most heavily on those who are least able to afford it—the poor and the elderly.

The speech is packed with other sound thinking and useful numbers on the hot trade topics of the day, including China, the trade deficit, manufacturing, foreign investment and adjustment-assistance programs.

Secretary Paulson’s speech is an antidote to the economic snake oil that is being hawked on what seems to be every street corner of Washington these days.

The “Anger Index” or, “Profane in the Brain”

Having spent the better part of a year developing Cato’s Education Market Index, I’m obviously interested in the use of statistical indices to assess policies and measure trends. Well, it seems that the blogosphere is on the verge of developing a new “Anger Index” to measure the discomfiture of the left and right in America.

Blogger Patrick Ishmael has just compiled statistics on the use of profanity by the main left-wing and right-wing political blogs (hat tip Instapundit). The left is currently in the “lead” (waaaay in the lead).

It will be interesting to see how the distribution of political anger, as manifested by use of profanity, will be affected by the 2008 presidential election outcome. If a Democrat takes the White House, will the Anger Index flop the other way? Will it turn out to be lower in states that are more free than in states that are less free? What does it tell us, if anything, about the left, the right, and American political discourse?

T.R. with Nukes

So Senator John McCain has officially entered the race.  Which may be good news if you like the idea of a president who puts sardonic quote marks around the phrase “First Amendment rights.”  But if you like your government limited and constitutional, and the aims it pursues sober and realistic, you may not feel like cheering.   

Matt Welch has a piece in the latest issue of Reason detailing the myriad reasons limited-government types should fear a McCain presidency, among them: McCain’s fascination with Teddy Roosevelt, his indiscriminate hawkishness, and his affinity for National Greatness Conservatism, libertarianism’s bete noire.  The Reason piece isn’t online yet, but Welch’s recent LA Times op-ed on the subject will give you the flavor:

Sifting through McCain’s four bestselling books and nearly three decades of work on Capitol Hill, a distinct approach toward governance begins to emerge. And it’s one that the electorate ought to be particularly worried about right now. McCain, it turns out, wants to restore your faith in the U.S. government by any means necessary, even if that requires thousands of more military deaths, national service for civilians and federal micromanaging of innumerable private transactions. He’ll kick down the doors of boardroom and bedroom, mixing Democrats’ nanny-state regulations with the GOP’s red-meat paternalism in a dangerous brew of government activism. And he’s trying to accomplish this, in part, for reasons of self-realization.

But there’s a detail that I haven’t seen in any of Welch’s writings on McCain that further supports his case.  It’s stuck with me since I read it in newsprint some seven years ago.  From a profile of McCain in the February 27, 2000 edition of the New York Times, there’s this:

“I think he sensed that life held something bigger for him, but he didn’t know what it was yet,” said Doug McCain, his eldest son. The younger Mr. McCain remembers once going with his parents to France and visiting Napoleon’s tomb – Napoleon had been a childhood hero of John McCain – and sensing that his father was searching for any lessons history might hold about how he himself might best serve his country. [Emphasis added].

Napoleon “a childhood hero”?  No kidding.  As a kid, I think I preferred Aquaman, but it takes all kinds.