It's interesting to see the debate referenced here, many of the links of which are worth following. It points to several of the more serious Left-thinking bloggers (as well as several of the less-serious ones) who have turned against the State Department and the rest of the foreign policy community in the wake of the O'Hanlan/Pollack piece. (See also Tigerhawk's entry into the debate). I was aware that the O'H/P piece was producing a lot of heat on the left, but I hadn't realized it had gone quite so far.

There is an interesting point raised in the debate about the "foreign policy clerisy." (See here to drop right in the thick of it.) I'd like to inform the debate from outside it, by pointing to a recent Roundtable discussion with Mr. Reeker of the State Department:

[O]ne of the tricks [in deploying State-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs)] has been to get the right people, the right skills sets, in right away. You'll recall that early on there was some criticism -- I think more from misunderstanding than anything else -- that while the State Department itself wasn't able to stand up and send these people -- and it's true the State Department doesn't have, necessarily, the types of skill sets -- civil engineers or veterinary scientists -- that meet the needs of what that particular region and that provincial reconstruction team are doing towards the development and capacity building in that particular location.

And so while they go out and look for these people, we have been able to tap into the vast resources of the U.S. military -- particularly the Reserve Corps -- and so you can find the specialists and bring them out. And I think that's worked quite well. And slowly, as those people finish their rotation, then we find the others. They're filling that out and more and State Department people, but others -- contractors -- are coming at the same time and they're exploring, you know, looking at who are the best people. They may be third country nationals, in some cases, to bring these guys out, not just a veterinary scientist. You need -- the ambassador says you need a guy that really knows sheep husbandry.
My response was to say, essentially, "We can probably help you find those people," and so I've been involved in a discussion with the folks in Iraq about how State is doing its recruiting. I'm hoping we can start finding Americans to fill these needs, as the PRTs are an important part of bringing stability and prosperity to Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, the discussion has caused me to think a bit about this problem of having a "clerisy," which does in fact seem to be the problem State is having.

Let me phrase the problem this way: Mr. Reeker points to the advantages DOD has, as a nation building organization, in its Reserve Corps. The advantages are broader than that. DOD recruits from all five quintiles of American society; only the poorest quintile is underrepresented, and not substantially so. Almost all members have a high school diploma; almost all officers have a college degree. Everyone goes back to school regularly, either civilian or internal military schools. In addition, there is the Reserve Corps and the National Guard, so that you have people who have fully developed careers and expertise -- from construction to banking -- who are available to you for occasional deployment to do things like what State is trying to do with its PRTs.

State has none of that. State recruits its workers from a narrow range of colleges, and from a narrow class of Americans -- that small group that thinks of "foreign policy" as something you might actually do for a living. Having attended functions at some of those schools -- like Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) -- I can tell you that budding young State Department workers are not in any sense as "diverse" a lot as you will find in the US Military, even at the entry level.

Furthermore, because there is one track -- college with a focus in foreign policy; employment by State; and only after that come any branches, mostly to think tanks aligned with State, or occasionally to other government-oriented careers -- they don't get much more diverse as time goes on.

So you end up with a problem like the PRTs: You know that one of the things you want in every member of the PRT is "foreign policy experience," and so you do your recruiting among people who have that. But the other thing you really need is someone who's made a living working with sheep.

If you can think of that as a two-element Venn Diagram, you'll see the problem. There's a populated set of people with foreign policy experience; there's a populated set with experience with sheep husbandry. Is there anyone to populate the set with both? You might find someone who grew up on a sheep farm before going to Johns Hopkins, but once he got old enough to go to college, he'll have been on the "one track," and will have no further experience in sheep husbandry. And that's a long shot -- more likely, you won't find anyone in the set of people with foreign policy experience who grew up on a sheep farm. What if you need two of them, one for Iraq and one for Afghanistan?

To a degree this is true also for construction workers, etc. There are a few jobs that State does as part of its profile, so you might get people with both "foreign policy experience" and also some useful experience in finance. As far as the skills you need for the PRT mission, though, a lot of them -- as Mr. Reeker has found -- will be difficult to fill.

Not so for the US military. It's a bigger establishment, of course, but the Reserve Corps is a huge advantage. You need a horse doctor? No problem -- we've got one somewhere. You need people who have worked construction for ten years? We've got 'em. You need people who have experience as mayor in a small town? Got 'em.

My critique here is mild compared to others, and I make it from the perspective of wanting to help State find what it needs. Leaving that aside, though, there is quite a bit to be said for what some of the more serious Lefty writers are putting out here. There is a problem with having a "foreign policy clerisy." It's nothing personal; it's just that State needs more economic and intellectual diversity, and more diversity in skills and life experience, than it currently has.

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