Wednesday, February 6, 2013

There are Priorities and then There are Priorities

I got in a twitter conversation with Robert Caruso yesterday about Kerry's prioritization of diplomatic security.  Kerry has been pushed by the events of Benghazi and Congressional pressure to say that diplomatic security:
[E]verything I do will be focused on the security and safety of our people."
My basic point is that this should not be the focus of the Secretary of State.  Yes, he (or she as it has been the past decade and a half) should care about the people he puts in harm's way, but put in harm's way they must be.  We need to do a better job of providing insurance and other personal benefits for non-military but at risk folks*, and security needs to be a consideration.
* One of the key revelations of "whole of government" efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan is that the military often had a hard time working with the civilians since the latter were far more exposed to the risks without adequate benefits programs.
But it cannot be THE consideration or the most important focus of the Secretary of State, whose primary focus must be on the national interest, on maximizing what is best for the US in the world.  That is the job description.  Just as Generals ought to develop battle plans that manage risk so that the soldiers' lives and limbs are not wasted, the State Department needs to develop engagement strategies that manage but do not eliminate risk.  Otherwise, the State Department can continue the trend of building fortresses and minimizing access.  This is great for those who want twitter to be how the US engages the publics of other countries, but it will risk losing key sources of information and of influence.

So, I do not mean to be flippant here but stress that the safety of diplomats is significant but ought not to be the focus of Secretary of State Kerry nor of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

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