Sunday, February 10, 2008

From Other Sites on the Line

by Shane Borgess. Cross posted from Political Vindication

Blistering Assessment of Foreign Service and State Department in Iraq Released

For those who have been willing to dig a little deeper than the simplistic reports our media feeds us about what is happening in Iraq, another bunker busting report surfaced recently offering a devastating critique of the civilian performance of our government there. Bill Gertz breaks the story and offers a link to the Departure Assessment of Embassy Baghdad by Manuel Miranda from the Legislative Office of Statecraft. Mr. Miranda has spent the last year in Baghdad working for the State Department as the Senior Adviser for Legislative Framework, among other things, and offers to Ambassador Ryan Crocker his professional opinion on the competence and ability of our Foreign Service and the State Department in Iraq. His general assessment begins thus:

After a year at the Embassy, it is my general assessment that the State Department and the Foreign Service is not competent to do the job that they have undertaken in Iraq. It is not that the men and women of the Foreign Service and other State Department bureaus are not intelligent and hard-working, it is simply that they are not equipped to handle the job that the State Department has undertaken. Apart from the remarkable achievements of Coalition forces in the pacification of Iraq, the few civilian accomplishments that we are presently lauding, including the debathification law and the staffing of PRT's are a thin reed. It was regrettable to see the President recently grab on to it.

The purpose of the Surge, now one year old, was to pacify Iraq to allow the GOI (Government of Iraq) to stand up. The State Department has not done its part coincident with the Commanding General's effort. This is not the fault of intelligent and hard working individuals skilled at the functions of the "normal embassy." The problem is institutional. The State Department bureacracy is not equipped to hand the urgency of American's Iraq investment in blood and taxpayer funds. You lack the "fierce urgency of now."

Foreign Service officers, with ludicrously little management experience by any standard other than your own, are not equipped to manage programs, hundred of million in funds, and expert human capital assets need to assist the Government of Iraq to stand up. It is apparent that, other than diplomacy, your only expertise is your own bureaucracy, which inherently makes State Department personnel unable to think outside the box or beyond the paths they have previously taken.

This is an entirely predictable reaction if anyone has any studied the work of our diplomacy department at all over the last 20 years. There's nothing I can add to what Mr. Miranda writes other than the empty feeling I get as a reward for assuming the worst and finding it reinforced here by a man who has the credibility to make the case. Everyone needs to read the assessment from front to back, I'll only offer lowlights here.

I would venture to say that if the management of the Embassy and the State Department's Iraq operation were judged by rules that govern business judgment and asset waste in the private sector, the delays, indecision, and reorganizations over the past year, would be considered willfully negligent if not criminal. In light of the nation's sacrifice, what we have seen this past year in the Embassy is incomprehensible.

Most emblematic of the State Department's weakness in basic management was its decision to dismantle and cannibalize the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office rather than to strenthen it and to fix its problems, among them inadequate management by Foreign Service officers placed at the helm. The fact that this massive reorganization was undertaken at the critical time that it did, and even while the Commanding General was requesting greater civilian support of the GOI has to join the list of fatal errors that we have made, this time under the State Department's ledger.

The Foreign Service gets grilled:

The Foreign Service's gripping culture of excused inaction is also framed and exacerbated by the paralyzing question of the "buy in" of Iraqi officials in some of the areas in which they most need, and that we can offer, assistance. The obvious reality that nothing can happen without Iraqi support is over-used as an excuse by bureaucrats who simply do not have the ability of conceiving or executing scenarios of institution-building assistance that does not comport with their past experience and over-cautios diplomatic instincts.

Simply put, Foreign Service are nto equipped to manage process-oriented assistance programs and yet we have put into their hands hundreds of millions of dollars. Any American graduate school study group could do better.

The excuse-making tendency of the Foreign Service is most evident in the areas of meeting Legislative Benchmarks and Rule of Law Objectives, which I address in Specific Assessments below.

In this excuse-making culture, the State Department has been an albatross around the neck of the Coalition command, whose leaders and personnel have a leadership profile radically opposite to the State Department's. Among other things, the State Department has failed to assist Coalition initiatives by delaying or failing to supply the civilian expertise needed in a thoughtful and timely manner and also delaying decisions on funding and staffing vital to GOI (and our) success.

Mr. Miranda goes on to talk about important information being withheld from the White House, the State Department and the Commanding General in Iraq for an assortment of reasons. He goes into detail about the staffing problems and deep dysfunction related to information transfer between outgoing and incoming staff. They're reinventing the wheel with every functionary swap (which happen often because of one year stints). His conclusion:

The State Department would do the nation a service if it admits that it is not equipped to the job you have undertaken. Our congress has an obligation to give you the oversight our national sacrifice demands. We are now living our latest error.

As a graduate of Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, I was proud last year when I swore in at the State Department. By the middle of 2007 that changed. I was ashamed for my country. I repeat, however, that my observations are not that you all are anything but wonderful Americans, it is that you are doing a job for which you are not prepared as a bureaucracy or as leaders.

The American and Iraqi people deserve better.

Am I the only one who senses that another great calamity faces America? I may be too pessimistic about the ability of our government to take seriously the danger we face, but the government that failed to protect its people in 9/11 seems to look a lot like the government that claims to be protecting us now. Whether we're relying on a border guard on the Canadian border or a airline check-in clerk at the airport, our first defense must be better than our last. President Bush, are you listening?

(Political Vindication!)


  1. Terrific piece Shane.
    And let me take this opportunity to welcome you as a contributing author to Radarsite. I feel extremely fortunate to have some of the finest authors on the web now contributing to Radarsite.

  2. Any bets that Pelosi never read anything like this????

  3. For a somewhat different perspective on Mr. Miranda's recently leaked memorandum, please allow me to refer you here: