Review of "Pursuit of Honor" by Vince Flynn
BLACKFIVE at the State Department, Part Two: The Bad and The Ugly

BLACKFIVE at the State Department, Part One: The Good

For a while, the military has been hoping to see the civilian agencies reform themselves to help support expeditionary missions and the broader War on Terror (or whatever we're calling it now).  Lieutenant General Chiarelli and Secretary Gates have been prominent advocates of civilian reform, but a poll of US military officers indicates very broad support for such reforms as well.  No wonder!  The strains of these important missions have been felt by the military and its families above all, yet the real experts in things like agriculture and developmental aid are in civilian agencies:  USDA and USAID, for example.

Though LTG Chiarelli and Secretary Gates' work predates the current administration, President Obama ran on a promise to make such reforms, and Secretary Clinton has spoken frequently of her intention to reform the State Department along these lines -- often using the phrase "Smart Power" to suggest how she hopes that State can come to use its influence to reduce hostility to America and improve our relations with peoples and nations that might now be opposed to us.  "Smart Power" means having the ability to use the nation's "soft power" capabilities, like development and aid with the rule of law, in concert with its "hard power," like a MEU(SOC).

Jim and I went to the State Department last Thursday, as fellows of the University of Maryland's Knight Center.  We had the occasion to press the issue of reform with two gentleman.  The interviews made clear both the intent of the leaders of the State Department to live up to these ideals, and offered a good sketch of their intended methodology.  The second interview, however, underlined how difficult the reforms would be given the deep-set culture at State.  We'll talk about The Good first.

Minister Counselor Ian C. Kelly began by describing the model they've chosen to build the "Smart Power" program around.   He distinguished Afghanistan's Provincial Reconstruction Teams (which are based on the NATO model) from Iraq's, which are based around American agencies.  However, the real model will not be either, but the embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team (ePRT).  This is very good news, because the ePRT is far more oriented toward direct engagement with the population off major military bases and secure areas.  Instead of being heavy with managers, it's got a single Foreign Service Officer (FSO) as a manager, and then a team of contracted or short-term specialized experts operating at his instruction.

In this model, the FSO is in place as manager in order to ensure that the work being done by his team supports the nation's policy goals.  It's easy for development work -- whether done by USDA, or by Civil Affairs -- to become "development for development's sake."  People are compassionate, and when they encounter the kind of poverty that can exist in the rural third world, it's natural to want to put the development first.  However, it's important to ensure that we use our resources, especially in a warzone, in ways that support friends and allies and deny resources to the enemy.  The policy, the strategy, has to come first.  The FSO's job is to be the person who understands the policy, and makes sure development supports it.

The military has been very well pleased with the ePRTs, but State currently cannot support them even at their existing levels.  As Spencer Ackerman pointed out, State has only fifty deployable professionals right now who could 'go out' to Afghanistan.  If each one of these has a team of ten experts built around him, however, that's 500 people:  half of what the Obama administration has targeted to support General McChrystal.

This approach is the way that we got the 1:1 civilian:military ratio in Iraq.  ePRTs are built just this way, as were Human Terrain Teams (contractors until this spring, when they became short-term hires -- essentially contractors, but with the government rather than private corporations handling the administrative paperwork).  The law enforcement professionals who are helping to build and reform Iraq's judicial system, and the IQATF advisors, are all contractors or short-term employees.  It's easier for a hidebound bureaucracy to make rapid changes on those terms, for one thing. 

For another, there are advantages, such as being able to fire poor performers.  Another key advantage is the ability to swap out experts when you find that the politicians have changed their minds, and you're suddenly being tasked to handle a problem in Thailand instead of Afghanistan.  When you've invested in a career employee, you're stuck with him. 

An additional reform that State is looking at is imitating the military's expeditionary culture in terms of family support.  Currently the State Department has no capacity to handle unaccompanied deployments:  unlike in the military, there are not networks set up to support the families left behind.  Having deployed each of the last three years without such networks to support my family, I can certainly agree that this would encourage expeditionary capacity.

That, then, is The Good.  State has recognized the best model of the several in front of it, and the leadership is planning to build its program around that model.  The possibility of success is therefore reasonably high, because the leadership has its head in the right place.

In the next post, we'll look at the The Bad and The Ugly.