Cutting Diplomacy Is Madness

by Joshua Foust on 4/16/2011 · 6 comments

For PBS, I look at why the Congress is cutting the State Department’s budget:

Next time you’re at Target, take a look at the bumper stickers on the SUVs in the parking lot. In all likelihood, you’ll find a good half-dozen or more that say “Support the Troops” in one way or another. You will not find “Support the Diplomats” anywhere. As Dana Priest documented in her 2004 book “The Mission,” the military combatant commands (regionally-focused commands like CENTCOM) each have dozens of staff members devoted to lobbying Congress for defense needs (this is in addition to Department-level attaches on the Hill, and the many DoD officials assigned to do public relations). The State Department simply cannot field as many people to lobby Congress or the public to advance its cause. The Transportation Security Administration has about 58,000 employees; the State Department has about 22,000. The DoD, in contrast, has nearly 450,000 employees stationed overseas, with 2.5 million more employees in the U.S.

So with no built-in constituency to argue for its interest, and an acutely lopsided share of the foreign policy budget (under 6 percent), it seems natural the State Department would face cuts first. It never really stood a chance.

I’ve heard some people disagree with my thought that part of the reason for these cuts is that State doesn’t have the same lobbying power as the DoD. I can accept that, but I do think the drastic imbalance in public and private lobbying contribute to why diplomats are often perceived as feckless limp-wristed liberal cocktail socialites, while the military is perceived as hearty, salt-of-the-earth wholesome American heroes. That perception might not matter much to cynical Beltway types (of which I am one), but to the rest it very much does.

Either way, the aggressive militarization of American foreign policy over the last 15 years has been awful. There should be no surprise that so many around the world perceive us as an aggressive militarist power. That is how we’ve organized our foreign policy.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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M Shannon April 16, 2011 at 1:00 pm

State doesn’t provide thousands of jobs in defence plants or on bases. It doesn’t provide a means for poorly educated kids to get a job and possibly a trade or an education. It’s supporters aren’t clustered in congressional districts. Hollywood doesn’t make movies about diplomats or aid providers. There are no “first person” video games where you win by talking. Diplomacy doesn’t provide the vicarious thrill of gun camera footage or fighter fly overs at the Super Bowl.

Many Americans, and most males in general, like the trappings of war and find conflict interesting and entertaining. Many find it lucrative. It’s surprising the DOS budget was as large as it was.

chitatel April 16, 2011 at 2:32 pm

The Military hires more people which might explain its greater popularity. If you’ve got an 18 year old and you aren’t quite sure what to do with him/her, the Military is a more realistic alternative than the State Department. The Military, for large sections of the US population, has been a jobs/training program and social safety valve. I know plenty of kids who joined the military, the only folks I know who joined the State Department were people I met at University.

The stereotypes that you alluded to and the mythology surrounding the Military and its budget are justifications, after-thoughts, very much akin to the reasoning that grandma earned her Medicare.

TJM April 16, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Many people, maybe even most, don’t even know what the State Department is. Ask them who handles the daily work of our diplomacy efforts and they’ll say, “The President” or “the government.”

That sounds astoundingly ignorant to anyone in the beltway. But in much of this country, people are focused on their day-to-day lives, making ends meet. They really aren’t concerned about government actions unless someone can rile them up with outrageous claims or play to their emotions by telling them about some young man who is risking his life for them.

Don Bacon April 16, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Perhaps if we had some examples of the “diplomacy in action” practiced by our diplomats in the field? (Besides Raymond Davis, I mean.) Oh, State has also made the news — expanding the Iraq embassy staff from 9,000 to 18,000. There must have been a rounding error. Eighteen thousand?

I do know that State is a great assistance to U.S. corporate outsourcing, investments and jobs, but what have been its diplomatic successes, particularly as they relate to defusing the war option, which seems to be the default position for U.S. international action.

There was no diplomatic action to defuse Libya, even though Article VII of the UN charter requires many diplomatic actions to be taken before initiating hostilities. So another military quagmire exists. Afghanistan? State is AWOL.

The State Department, via USAID, is disbursing funds through foreign American Chambers to train foreign workers for employment. This is a good use of taxpayer money?

The answer to a bigger military footprint is not a larger diplomatic one.

Johny Matrix April 16, 2011 at 8:06 pm

I’ve worked directly with an HTT and I still don’t what they do…maybe if they actually did something then I would have a better idea.

Deborah April 21, 2011 at 1:45 am

Hey Joshua,

Good to see you in print defending us. Wish I thought anything we said mattered but I think we are getting hammered by the lobbyists. Keep up the good fight though. Thanks.

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