Peacekeeping: Where the Hypocrites and Cowards Roam

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December 12, 2006: Everyone agrees that it's a swell idea if reconstruction projects in places like Iraq and Afghanistan have experts from different parts of the U.S. government on hand. However, career staffers from these other departments (State, Treasury, etc) are very reluctant to accept assignments to Iraq and some other areas. The agencies have been offering excellent bonuses for folks willing to go. People in AID (Agency for International Development) are being offered "temporary" full Foreign Service status (a big promotion), with pay and hazardous duty bonus, to go. But most AID people turn it down. Basically, few qualified people want to go because it's seen as too dangerous, not to mention disruptive to family life.

The irony in all this is that agencies like the State Department believe they, not the Department of Defense, should be in charge of reconstruction in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet it's the Department of Defense that has the trained people, who are willing and able to go, and get it done. So, in effect, the State Department wants the power, but not the responsibility. Bureaucratic warfare at its finest.

Another unspoken aspect of all this is that many career bureaucrats disagree with the war on terror. They fondly remember how the Cold War was waged, without much violence. Diplomats and bureaucrats prefer a more peaceful and mannered approach. Diplomats speaking to diplomats. During the Cold War, the Russians were always able to muster a corps of urbane, well mannered representatives for endless negotiations. Consider that, in 2001, before September 11, 2001, American diplomats were energetically seeking Taliban "they could talk to." The Taliban, in turn, were scrounging up English speakers in their ranks, to go deal with the Americans. Meanwhile, al Qaeda used Afghanistan as a base for large scale terror attacks on the United States.

No one wants to say it out loud, but many career American diplomats consider the September 11, 2001 attacks an isolated incident, and one that can be avoided with increased vigilance by the intelligence and police agencies. No need to go invading anyone. OK, maybe Afghanistan was justified, but not Iraq, or anyone else.

Armed intervention is basically looked down on by many in the U.S., and most European, governments. That includes peacekeeping (which is basically the invasion of a country that is incapable of putting up much defense.) People with guns are so unpredictable, and dangerous. A competent bureaucrat wants predictability, and safety. Thus the concept that the American operations in Iraq are a failure simply because they exist. And going into a mess like Darfur is to be avoided at all costs. Same with Somalia, and don't even bring up Iran or North Korea.

The basic idea here is to wait until the other guy does something really horrible to you, and even then, you should seek an opportunity to talk it all out. This was the attitude in the 1930s, when Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany and Communist Russia were talking about, and preparing for, world conquest. Happened again in 1950, when South Korea was invaded. Happened again in the late 1950s, when North Vietnam decided to take over SouthVietnam any way they could (they eventually did, by a conventional invasion, in 1975, but not before being delayed for over a decade, by U.S. intervention.)

Iraq and Afghanistan are now being portrayed as failures. But failures compared to what? The invasion of both countries has radically changed the politics of the surrounding region, and changed it in a way that favors the West. Pakistan is now fighting Islamic radicals, instead of just supporting them. Saudi Arabia has cracked down on al Qaeda, something it refused to do until American troops toppled Saddam and his Sunni Arab minority in Iraq. Sure, Arabs hate the West, but they hated it before September 11, 2001, and now they hate al Qaeda a lot more than they did before 2003. The world has changed, and that didn't happen just because well mannered people were willing to talk to each other.

 


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