29 August 2013

The delicate art of US diplomacy

Nicholas Kralev, in the Foreign Policy journal, discusses Congressional dismissiveness of diplomacy as a foreign policy tool, through a survey of Congressional staff from both the Republican and Democrat sides. The upshot: diplomats aren't held in high esteem by American policy-makers, their special skills are discounted, and their budgets are seen as fair game for big cuts:

[O]nly half the respondents in the study said they consider diplomacy a serious profession. "Would I say that you need some specialized training to do it? Probably not. Probably any smart person who has an interest in living abroad could do it," said one Senate Republican aide. A senior Senate aide from the Democratic side seemed to agree: "When you say you are a diplomat, I don't know what that body of knowledge is." Another senior Senate Republican aide even took issue with "use of the word profession," saying it should imply a specific body of knowledge and a clear and published set of skills that are tested. Law and the military are proper professions, in the aide's view, but the Foreign Service entrance exams don't rise to the same level.
In this way, misperceptions and lack of understanding seem to drive members' reluctance to support better funding for diplomacy and foreign aid, which together represent just over 1 percent of the federal budget. "It's hard to sell that you need money to have more nice dinners," a House Republican aide explained. Another Senate Democratic aide said that some members think "diplomacy is cheap" because it's just "people talking to each other and not something that they think requires large amounts of money." 
So why don't many members of Congress have a full and accurate idea of what the Foreign Service does? And why don't they see a more direct link between diplomacy and the security of the American people at home? Part of the blame falls on Congress, according to many of the study's respondents. "Members of Congress, just like staff, don't stop long enough to understand much about much, since these phones are always ringing," said one House Democratic aide. In addition, while the Benghazi attack raised the Foreign Service's visibility, all respondents expressed doubt that the service will ever truly have a domestic constituency, including on Capitol Hill, mainly because "they are not bringing any votes to the table," as one Senate Republican aide put it. 
- Nicholas Kralev, 'The Diplomatic Doldrums', Foreign Policy, 1 August 2013
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