A Perspective: The Diplomatic Truth

By: - December 23, 2017

“The consequent increase in reliance on America’s intelligence and military in the conduct of now routine foreign affairs and coalition-building significantly diminished the State Department’s role beyond parroting the stated position and policies of the respective administration.”

The story of the US State Department as the country’s primary foreign policy arm and its Foreign Service Officer (FSO) cadre as our primary diplomatic negotiators is a myth. This article will provide context to the art, science, and evolution of diplomacy as it is and has been conducted in the modern era from the perspective of an intelligence officer embedded in America’s diplomatic corps for more than two decades across five continents.

Since the rise of the United States as a global superpower following World War II (WWII), its foreign policy has served to both promote the spread of democracy and Western values, as well as to act in its own national security interests. Whether the first instance represented a xenophobic act of cultural supremacy over less-developed and powerful nations or the protection of individual and human rights and the rule of law remains a matter of perspective.

This perspective is often driven by the clarity, or contrasting obfuscation, of US national interests in the pursuit of its global agenda. Thus, the role of America’s national security infrastructure and that of its diplomatic institutions have been intertwined with changing allocations of resources over time.

No US president since the end of WWII, nor many before that, failed to deploy military force in the pursuit of America’s own interests, either overtly using uniformed combatants or covertly using intelligence assets. Traditionally, the US would employ both diplomatic resources to build coalition support for direct military intervention as well as USAID to conduct nation-building operations upon conclusion of military action. Conversely, to maintain the deniability of US involvement, intelligence Covert Action funding would represent an allocation to both conduct and sustain the operational objective.

This isolation and restricted mandate of our diplomatic cadre inevitably altered the recruitment, assignment selection, promotion, and leadership profiles of the officers and mission of both our embassies and Washington.

Between 1945 and 2000, wars won and lost resulted in some finality that allowed the respective areas of government to function normally. While the CIA and DoD used intelligence and civil affairs funding in the conduct of their defined missions, our diplomatic services promoted US policy and values while USAID and other agencies funded and assisted in the nation-building process.

Post 9/11, however, America has found itself operating in a new world order where the persistent Global War on Terrorism continues unabated. The consequent increase in reliance on America’s intelligence and military in the conduct of now routine foreign affairs and coalition-building significantly diminished the State Department’s role beyond parroting the stated position and policies of the respective administration.

This evolution of America’s global cooperation after 9/11 married with other existing factors, affecting the role and impact of our Foreign Service Officer cadre. One, the movement of our embassy and consulate facilities outside of the city centers to less accessible locations for security reasons. Two, congressional allocation of funding to issue-specific programs, significantly reducing available funds for local engagement. Third, increased support for the role of intelligence partnerships as channels for communication and negotiation outside of the stated foreign policies of the bi- or multi-lateral parties. And fourth, increased activism on the part of the US government to leverage its global influence in the areas of universal human rights, rule of law, right to privacy, freedom of the press and protecting the environment by advancing or diminishing relationships with foreign partners based on these criteria.

More importantly, the American people would be best served by a review of our foreign policy objectives and our national security agency’s respective mandates, authorities, and resources.

Consequently, our diplomatic cadre became less available and increasingly unidimensional as protagonists advancing legal, cultural, or social change in their engagements with local interlocutors, while their intelligence and military counterparts remained focused on individual programs in areas of mutual cooperation.

This isolation and restricted mandate of our diplomatic cadre inevitably altered the recruitment, assignment selection, promotion, and leadership profiles of the officers and mission of both our embassies and Washington. It is important to note that this political vision and agenda was present at the command and policy levels of the intelligence and military communities as well, but the nature of their officer development and established mission focus limited its net affect at the operational level.

Counterterrorism (CT) as a whole-of-government effort is a valuable example of the evolution of diplomacy and international engagement by our foreign policy community members. In this instance, although CT was a consideration since the mid-1970s, the events of 9/11 radically changed each of the national security agencies’ mission, funding, and focus.

Due to congressional funding, the CIA and DoD’s budgets specific to CT increased dramatically after 9/11. To stay relevant in this dynamic environment, in 2002 the State Department replaced the sitting CT coordinator, who had no prior experience in diplomacy or CT, with Cofer Black, the father of the post-9/11 Global War on Terrorism.

Institutionally, however, the structures, policies, and practices of the State Department stymied expected change, as subordinate staff within the Bureau of CT continued to lack security clearances for the Signal’s Intelligence and Human Intelligence, which served as the foundation of bilateral and multilateral exchanges. Thus, as has become an endemic problem in the department, reliance upon politically appointed leadership from ambassadors and special envoys (and their loyal partisan staffs) isolated and undermined the talented career foreign service officers located in our missions abroad. The role they might play has been usurped by representatives from other agencies, both in the national security and commercial spheres.

It is, therefore, no surprise that a review of the government’s diplomatic corps, considering the cross-section of departments and agencies represented in our embassies and consulates today, would be undertaken. More importantly, the American people would be best served by a review of our foreign policy objectives and our national security agency’s respective mandates, authorities, and resources.

The execution of America’s foreign policy in the age of an ascending Chinese, Russian, and Iranian economic and military alliance, including force projection into Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East; transnational threats from proliferation, terrorism, and cyber actors; and competition for economic and natural resources requires a vision beyond America serving as a role model for Western values.

It must, first and foremost, protect America’s interests through collaboration on bilateral and multilateral areas of common interest, even where there are pronounced legal, social, or cultural disagreements.