Diplomats Part of 'America's Other Army'?
March 5, 2013 1:11 p.m.
Nicholas Kralev, Journalist and Author America's Other Army; The US Foreign Service and 21st Century Diplomacy
Related Story: Diplomats Part of 'America's Other Army'?
CAVANAUGH: Here in San Diego, we are well aware of how much the kitchen depends on the member of the U.S. military. Marines have been called top serve repeated tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. And wean the attacks of 911 changed both the scope and the mission of U.S. military intervention. But there's another group of U.S. professionals stationed overseas who's work often goes unnoticed. Nicholas Kralev profiles the work of these professionals in his new book, America's Other Army. He is a Washington times correspondent, travelled across the world with four U.S. secretaries of state, and he's speaking tonight it's the town and country resort in Missions Valley. Welcome to the program.
KRALEV: Thank you for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Can you give us an idea of how large the U.S. foreign service is and what kinds of work they do?
KRALEV: The foreign service proper is about 13,000 members. The active duty military members, $1.5 million. So big difference. In addition want to 13,000, we have about 10,000 civil servants working for American diplomacy, and also we have local staff, nationals in the foreign country, and they are about 44,000. So we have about 69,000 people working for foreign diplomacy. But if we are going to add numbers, civil service and reservists in the armed forces, then that will exceed 2 million people.
CAVANAUGH: Wow. One of the things I said in the introduction, when it comes to U.S. military intervention. We know the conditions have changed since the attacks of 911. But you say when it comes to global diplomacy, the mission of the U.S. foreign service has also changed. How is that?
KRALEV: Since 911, the foreign service has been asked to do nothing short of changing the world. And it is because the argument that the US government is making now is because that anything in any country our business. Why? Well, we can look at what happened in maLIVE-STRONG. We have the hostage crisis in Algeria, but it was connected to maLIVE-STRONG, and we have the French come in and counter the terrorists from Al-Qaeda who had taken over the north of maLIVE-STRONG, which was the size of Texas. So why does everything in every country need to be our business? Why does the government have to spend our taxpayers' money on getting another country to get its act together? So the argument is that we need as many countries in the world as possible to practice good governance. So what does that mean? It means that we want them to have a government that's responsible and accountable to its people and provides basic services and economic opportunity F. It doesn't, that will lead to instability inside that country, and you'll have people in those countries, over half of them is under 25. If these young men don't have jobs to go to, they will look for other means to feed their families. So they might turn to criminal activities and even terrorism. So what was happening in maLIVE-STRONG was exactly that situation. Al-Qaeda was recruiting young men in maLIVE-STRONG to training them in those camps that they were trying to build. And some of those men may be put on a plane to the United States or sent with a bomb in their underwear or shoe, or cent here by other means, and what if they release anthrax on other biological weapons? That's the connectivity, and how it affects our security here at home.
CAVANAUGH: So the foreign service is now tasked with going three steps beyond perhaps what they were doing before the attacks to find out what's going on in the country and to perhaps try to countermand that
KRALEV: That's why they called it transformational diplomacy. And the foreign still just maintains relations with foreign countries. It's probably more than the new kind of diplomacy, but in the new country, you go there and you dent only need to maintain relations with them. They want to get them to do certain things so they don't become a failed state. The failed state could attract -- look at Somalia. States that until recently a failed state because no real law, no real government, so any terrorist group could go there and set up base.
CAVANAUGH: The attack on the U.S. government in Benghazi put a spotlight on the security of go our foreign service overseas.
KRALEV: Well, it was typical in that in many countries, American diplomats operate in war zones. Just the other way there was an attack in Karachi which killed dozens of people. So they often risk their lives just by going to work every day. What wasn't typical in Benghazi, it was not a consulate, it wasn't protected the way all other missions are protected. The fact that for security, they relied spiral upon the locals who clearly weren't trained enough, that's enough to say, well, this wasn't the way business is done at US embassies. Most of them are much better protected. About a month ago, we had an attack in Turkey, and the only person who died was a local guard, unfortunately. And he was the person who if he wasn't well trained and didn't know what to do, they would have gone further and possibly killed Americans.
CAVANAUGH: In Benghazi Easide from the ambassador who lost his life, three other men who lost their lives all either live leader in San Diego or used to live in San Diego. And they were all former Navy seal, I believe. No, two of them were. Does that happen a lot? Do military people in special service routinely transition to work with the foreign service?
KRALEV: Many do. But I suppose most don't. These two were contractors. They weren't in the foreign service. They were security contractors and having been in the Navy. Sean Smith was a specialist in the foreign service there. He was an IT guy. He was part of the foreign service. The others at some point had come through San Diego. The foreign service is typically the second or third career for many people. And there are hundreds of former military members who are retired from the military and then they join the foreign service. Even people who do it at 57, by the way. You can join the foreign service all the way up to 59. And so they retire, and I had one person in the book, a woman who said I was in the military for 30 years, and I retired, in her 50s, and she said I really want to take the oath of office again. And she did.
CAVANAUGH: Is there a way to balance the security concerns that were so highlighted in the attacks that we've been talking about? And the ability for diplomats to get out into the country, find out what's going on, and perhaps change situations that are leading a country down a wrong path? It seems like it's a very risky balance to allow diplomats that kind of access and yet still keep them secure.
KRALEV: Well, that's probably the most difficult balance to find. You don't do diplomacy by sitting behind walls and senses. In those countries where that's very, very clear like Pakistan, some of the African countries, Sudan, of course Iraq and Afghanistan, it's difficult because everywhere you go -- it's a monstrosity. You have to -- if you want to go out of the compound, even for the smallest thing, the smallest reason, you have to give advanced notice. You have to have a convoy, really, escort you to the place where you want to go. And members of the embassy in Baghdad were not even allowed to go have dinner outside the compound. I think there were one or two that are officially cleared by the embassy. But you can't just go alone. You have to have a security escort to do that. But more importantly, in many country, it doesn't have to be a war Zen. Countries like the Philippines and others. American diplomats are not allowed to leave the capital. So they may go out of their office, but they're not allowed to leave the capital. And obviously in just about every country, more people live outside the cap 258 than in the capital. So if you want to do people to people diplomacy, it makes it very difficult. And sometimes there are ways to get a waiver of that ban on going outside the capital. And they do. After Benghazi, I just don't see it becoming easier for people to get out more.
CAVANAUGH: One of the really amazing things in your book is how little formal training they have, when you understand what task they're supposed to perform.
KRALEV: Well, the State Department wants a diverse foreign service. One that looks more like America. So they're working toward that goal and recruiting minorities. And ethically the foreign service is still 80% white, 5% black, and 7% Asian. But that diversity, almost any profession you can think of, there are probably people in the foreign service who used to be that. But most people coming in today have never had any experience, background, or even knowledge of foreign affairs. They want these skills in the foreign service to tap into them whenever necessary. So logically we'll think, okay, that's fine, you train them. Well, not really. When they come in, they go through a 5-week orientation, that's what they call it they don't call it training, because it's not. It's an orientation into the bureaucracy. And then they can go off into the language, but that's about it. It's sort of technical training and language. They do get there. But the substance ever how do you represent the United States overseas? How do you work as a diplomat? Just being parachuted in a foreign country and being told, okay, learn how to swim. If you do, great, you're on your own. If you don't, you sink. And that's what's happening. That's why many people said it's like being thrown into the keep end, and you learn how to swim. If you don't, too bad.
CAVANAUGH: That attitude seems to stem from the top down. From what I understand, the naming of ambassadors has historically been sort of a political prize. If you wanted to thank a major supporter of the president or a loyal party official, and they wanted to be ambassador to country X, well, they had a pretty good shot of getting that. Is that still happening?
KRALEV: Well, 30% of American ambassadors are political appointees. But 1/3 is still huge compared to what other countries are doing. In other countries, 1-2% are political appointees. And it's been like this for decades. This is not a democratic or Republican party thing or president. These things, seemingly unconnected, meaning the lack of training or professional development in the foreign service, and these political appointments, they seem not related, but they are related. As I travelled the country for this book, and done 55 events for the book so far, I find that most people think that anyone can do diplomacy. People don't look at it as a serious profession that you need to be trained in! And these are the factors that contribute to that perception. Oh, you'll come in, and just learn it on the job. And maybe you'll have a mentor, or rely on luck. And then having people as political appointees who come in and never have anything on their resume to say this person will be a good ambassador. The foreign service doesn't have a political appointees exist. Any bureaucracy needs outside blood. You need a fresh perspective. The other problem is that they are appointed really with no regard to what they bring in, to the skills and qualifications they have. The only qualification or criteria is how much money that person raised for the president when he was running from the office.
CAVANAUGH: There's so much more to learn about this subject. You will know talking about your book, America's other army, the U.S. foreign service and 21st century diplomacy at the town and country resort in Missions Valley tonight.