Putting Politicians To Work

If change really is in the air of post-election Washington these days, one good starting point is the country’s Foreign Service. 

As evidence, I cite a New York Times op-ed article by Nicholas D. Kristof.  Entitled “Make Diplomacy, Not War,” it appeared August 10 during the run-up to the party conventions. Apparently, the heat of battle  melted both candidates’ interest in discussing runaway spending for military expansion, mainly in the area of weapons development.

No attention at all was paid to the other side of the coin —an under staffed, under financed and, consequently, undermined U.S. Foreign Service.

Result: As policy now stands, waging war still trumps diplomatic negotiations to end or prevent it.  Kristof presents some startling statistics to prove the point.

They paint a picture of what he calls “a lopsided foreign policy that antagonizes the rest of the world and is ineffective in tackling many modern problems.” How lopsided?

• Over 1,000 diplomatic positions are vacant because the Foreign Service is under-staffed. About 1,100 people could be hired for the price of a single C-17 military cargo plane.

• Additions to the U.S. Army total about 7,000 soldiers for 2008—more people than are in the Foreign Service.

• There are approximately 6,500 people in the Foreign Service—fewer than the total personnel on an aircraft carrier group; below the number of musicians in our military bands, too.

Meanwhile, the Air Force and the Navy want “tens of billions of dollars for the F-22 (advanced tactical stealth fighter), for an advanced destroyer, for new attack submarines,” according to Kristof.

But the biggest bang for our bucks could come from a new policy paper released by the Pentagon and Department of Energy for presidential consideration in 2009. It calls for development of a new nuclear warhead to possibly upgrade our “aging” warhead arsenal.

That should play well in Pakistan, Iran and North Korea. These second string members of the nuclear club would like nothing better than another reason to brand and re-brand us as a nation that uses our superior military power to impose our will wherever we feel it is necessary. Diplomatic negotiations of differences be damned.

If enough countries buy into this rhetoric, we could eventually become so isolated that the only “ally” we could turn to in a crunch would be our military power. Not much of a confidence-builder for those working toward world peace.

President John F. Kennedy spelled out the solution to this problem almost 50 years ago. Not in a newspaper column. Certainly not in a blog. But in 14 words of his inaugural address.  He said “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”

To which we should all say Amen and follow up with letters to our representatives in the House and Senate demanding that steps be taken to expand the Foreign Service to full strength and restore its rightful authority as a positive force in dealing with other nations.

We put these people in office. Now let’s put them to work. For us.