The Merger of State and Defense: A Parable on US Militarism

January 22nd, 2007 - by admin

Dr. David L. Aarnett / Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review – 2007-01-22 00:02:38

Commentary: The author is a diplomat who served in the US Dept. of State for 31 years, retiring from the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor.

SIDONA, Arizona (January 18, 2007) — When the US State Department finally merged with the Department of Defense (DOD), the joyous sound of clinking glasses could be heard on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon, as well as vigorous rubbing of hands at the OMB (Office of Management and Budget), and outright cheers at several right-wing think tanks. It had been clear for many years, of course, that State had long out-lived its usefulness in an era of global communications and American technological superiority.

Everyone accepted as proven fact that a country derived its strength from its military assets; indeed, all other factors — such as international alliances and global reputation — were relatively unimportant, and even damaging if they limited a nation’s freedom to act quickly and decisively in the military arena.

The Secretary of Defense was magnanimous in bureaucratic victory. He declared that the merger would change the culture of DOD positively by broadening the perspectives of its employees and ushering diplomacy into its proper seat at the table of the big boys in the person of the new DOD Undersecretary for Diplomacy and International Affairs. He insisted with a straight face that the former State employees would only have to voice their concerns in order to correct any lingering difficulties in the merger process: Just tell us where we need to improve.

The old foreign-policy specialists continued in their specialties, although they soon discovered that the massive bureaucracy of DOD, and resultant need for additional clearances, slowed them down considerably — a small price to pay, to be sure, in order to sit at the table with the big boys.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs found itself essentially intact, although it was too unwieldy to fit into the Pentagon, and it had to remain in its old quarters at Foggy Bottom, gradually drifting farther and farther away from the seat of power. On the other hand, what did consular affairs have to do with geostrategic military posture anyway?

The other State bureaus and offices felt the pinch more directly. Arms control quickly fell by the wayside, except as an example of contradiction in terms, as did work on international organizations, since all of them seemed inexplicably focused on incessant intellectual exchange rather than genuine action to force situations.

The Political and Economic Officers, the cream of the State crop, were the slowest to adapt, since no one in DOD could quite figure out what they did. However, the POL/MIL officers got it immediately and plunged into contingency planning for the takeover of Guatemala.

In the meantime, the Secretary of Defense continued to tout the enormous importance of Diplomacy and International Affairs to DOD, and only a few began to notice that many months had passed without a new Undersecretary for Diplomacy and International Affairs actually sitting at the table with the big boys. Oddly enough, the announced importance of such an official did not correspond to any urgency in actually having him/her on hand.

Nevertheless, the Assistant Secretaries who had run the geographic bureaus at State, all of them former Political and Economic Officers, were given plum positions as Office Directors in charge of Diplomacy and International Affairs inside the DOD geographic bureaus — far removed bureaucratically, of course, from the phantom Undersecretary. No one at DOD could quite grasp why the ingrates were not overjoyed by their new roles in a real foreign-affairs organization that actually accomplished something overseas.

All was not lost, as they began to hear that one of the key geographic bureaus at DOD was about to create the exalted position of DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR DIPLOMACY AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS for one of them at last. However, after a vigorous and impartial vetting of their professional credentials, this exalted position was filled instead by a politically well-connected American chef in Paris, who, it is true, had never been trained as a Political or Economic Officer or worked in the government before, but he could make a truly great souffle.

Not to worry, though, since the Secretary let it be known that ALL employees of DOD would henceforth think of themselves as diplomacy and international affairs specialists. As might have been foreseen, however, as soon as everyone became a diplomacy and international affairs specialist, then no one was really a diplomacy and international affairs specialist. This, too, was not a problem, since no one at DOD really believed that diplomacy and international affairs actually required specialists.

In short order, military postal supervisors and warehouse managers were assigned to our Missions overseas as Political and Economic Officers. After all, what does it take to summarize a newspaper article anyway, or have your secretary transcribe a speech by the Minister of Trade? Such assignments became so popular that DOD even began to provide some advance training for them, although there were fewer former Political and Economic Officers available each month to teach the courses. No worries, though, since the empty teaching slots were soon filled by experienced military attaches who had attended cocktail parties abroad.

As time passed, a few newspaper columnists began to notice that the increasingly rapid decline of American influence and reputation abroad corresponded eerily to both the merger of State into DOD and the years immediately preceding this merger, when funding for State operations was being cut dramatically by the same Members of Congress who were pushing for the merger, evidently so they could retire believing that they had actually accomplished something.

As the articles noting this decline began to proliferate, and the polls tracking American prestige abroad continued to report record-breaking low results, the sound of clinking glasses on Capitol Hill died out entirely, and, even more mysteriously, no one could be found there who had actually encouraged the merger of State into DOD, which was said to have occurred spontaneously on a night of the full moon somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina.

Instead, concerned Members of Congress began to consider the formation of a new institution within the US government that might focus on “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” as per the Declaration of Independence, work cooperatively with the governments and key institutions of foreign countries, actually try to prevent armed conflicts, and perhaps even tell America’s story to the world. Such an institution might be called the “Department of State.”

However, as soon as word of this initiative reached the ears of the Secretary of Defense, he began to laugh disdainfully and sputter and laugh some more. The laughter grew in volume and intensity, and the winds arising from it quickly encompassed the odors of ignorance and pride and backroom deals arising from Capitol Hill, and from the petty jealousies and rivalries wafting above the foreign affairs agencies, and from the inflated egos and anxieties of the old-boy network that were still hanging around Foggy Bottom, and as those winds rose higher into the sky they began to circle and suck all of the malodorous hypocrisy every corner of that city and . . .

And then Foreign Service Officer John Doe awoke from his dream in his townhouse on Capitol Hill, breathed a sigh of relief, and wondered what had caused the terrible nightmare.

And former Financial Systems Integration Officer Jim Doe awoke from his dream in his crumbling abode on 4th Street, sighed, and wondered when the terrible nightmare would end [1].

[21 FSIO is the acronym for a Financial Systems Integration Officer. FSIO is also an organization within the General Services Administration charged with 3 major duties:
(1) develop, test, certify, and promote new strategies for financial management improvement across the federal government;
(2) implement special priority projects for the federal financial community—as determined the OMB Controller, CFO Council, and FSIO Executive Director—that coordinate the activities and policies of central agencies; and
(3) act as a catalyst and clearinghouse for disseminating information about good financial management practices through the annual financial management conference and other such activities.

David L. Arnett retired from the State Department on 11-30-05, after 31 years in the Senior Foreign Service, with the rank of Minister Counselor. As the son of a career Army officer, he lived in Austria and Japan in the 1950s. He received his B.A. from Wabash College in ’65, spent 4 years in the Army including service in Vietnam, received his Ph.D. from Tulane U. in ’73, and entered the Foreign Service in ’74. His 31-year FSO career included tours as: a Junior Officer in Munich and Hamburg; Cultural Attache in Copenhagen; Press Attache in Ankara; German Desk Officer; Public Affairs Officer in Oslo; Deputy Minister Counselor for Public Affairs in Bonn; Counselor for Public Affairs in Ankara; Minister Counselor for Public Affairs in Bonn/Berlin; Director of Press and Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the State Department; and Consul General in Istanbul from July ’02 to August ’05. He speaks Danish, German, Norwegian, and Turkish.