Austin Bay

Diplomats, pack your duffel bags.

And I mean duffel bags, not garment bags. While you're at it, get a pair of boots. I also recommend several pair of work gloves and work pants with lots of pockets for cameras, extra batteries, sunglasses and your global cell phone.

Twenty-first century diplomacy isn't an office job. It is a demanding and, at times, a dangerous trade, one that requires accepting deprivation, running physical risks and hanging out in bad neighborhoods. If this echoes a field soldier's job description, it's not a coincidence.

Like it or not, the United States is engaged in a long war over the terms of modernity -- will modernity be defined by tyrants, terrorists and religious extremists, or will democratic liberalism defeat them? In this war for wealth creation (economic development) and political maturation, diplomats and skilled civilian agency specialists are soldiers of a type, and to win it means "being out there" in the difficulties.

The preceding paragraphs are the soul of a short little speech I've given numerous times, the most provocative being an impromptu performance delivered in Iraq. An energetic discussion between soldiers and diplomats (read Pentagon and State at the micro-level) over the State Department's perceived failure to "show up for the war" sparked that war zone lecture.

I won't say I was a neutral observer to the argument. In my opinion, U.S. soldiers have been fighting a complex, multidimensional war with the bare minimum of field support from most other government agencies -- our intelligence agencies and the FBI being notable exceptions. "Limited interagency participation" is the intentionally bland description of America's near-total reliance on military personnel to substitute (on an extended basis) for diplomats, agriculture experts and financial advisers.

What my short speech attempted to do in the context of the on-the-ground debate was illustrate the attitude -- or departmental culture -- I think it takes to correct the problem. State Department and other civilian agency personnel have to get dirty and disciplined, more like missionaries than soldiers, but with a touch of martial spirit. If they don't, the Pentagon and a host of contractors will eventually take over their jobs, de facto if not de jure.

Last week, the State Department announced that within the month it will order 40 to 50 foreign service officers to fill vacant positions in Iraq. Why "order"? Because State relies on volunteers to fill its Iraqi billets.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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