For many years, observers of the US State Department on both sides of the American political spectrum have agreed that State Department officials suffer from a malady referred to as "clientitis." Clientitis is generally defined as a state of mind in which representatives of an organization confuse their roles.
Rather than advance the cause of their organization to outside organizations, they represent the interests of outside organizations to their own organizations.
In some cases, diplomats are simply corrupted by their host governments. For generations US diplomats to Saudi Arabia have received lucrative post-government service jobs at Saudi-owned or controlled companies, public relations firms and other institutions.
Often, the problem is myopia rather than corruption.
Diplomats who speak to foreign government officials on a daily basis often simply ignore the context in which these foreigners operate. They become friends with their interlocutors and forget that the latter are also agents of their governments tasked with promoting foreign interests in their dealings with US diplomats.
In Israel the situation is similar. Here, too, Foreign Ministry officials have a tendency to give preference to the positions of the governments or institutions to which they are assigned over the interests and positions of the Israeli government that sent them to their posts.
For instance, in September 2008, shortly after the UN allowed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to use his speech at the UN General Assembly to accuse the Jews of controlling the world in a bid to poison and destroy it, then-Israeli ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev gave an interview to Army Radio in which she said her primary duty is "correcting the UN's image in the eyes of the people of Israel."
Since the scourge of clientitis among diplomats is widely recognized, governments are often able to consider its impact on diplomats when they weigh the credibility or wisdom of recommendations presented by their professional diplomats.
LESS WELL recognized and therefore largely unconsidered is how clientitis has negatively impacted the positions of military commanders.
Clientitis first became prevalent in the US Armed Forces and the IDF in the 1990s. In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, the Clinton administration began transforming in earnest the US armed forces' role from war fighting to nation building. In Israel, with the onset of the peace process with the PLO in 1993, the IDF was ordered to change its operating guidelines. From then on, peacemaking was to take priority over war fighting and defeating terrorists.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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