The Abyss Between State and Defense

By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
November 3, 2007

Last Wednesday, October 31, 2007, at a U.S. State Department “Town Hall Meeting,” a U.S. Foreign Service officer stood and addressed the Secretary of State using these words: “It’s one thing if someone believes in what’s going on over there and volunteers, but it’s another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment. I’m sorry, but basically that’s a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?”

This one short statement underscores the cultural abyss between the U.S. military and the U.S. Foreign Service.

Military people and Foreign Service officers are all voluneers. All take the same oath. But they are widely divided by culture.

A military man or woman who refuses assignment to a war zone has four options: prove that he or she is conscientious objector, desert, face disciplinary measures or prove some hardship such as being the only family member with an income. Proof is tough for any road requiring the military to grant special priviledge and very few military people fail to carry out their assignments and their duties.

At the State Department, it seems to military people, there are no repurcussion for the Foreign Service officer who fails to obey an order or “squirms out.”

In more than 30 years of my personal service, I have seen the gulf between the Pentagon and “Foggy Bottom” (a nickname for the State Department) deepen and widen.

At the Pentagon, the view is that the State Department believes in endless discussion, endless dialogue, endless staffing and endless meetings. At the State Department there is a widely shared view that military people really know nothing of the world and, like a hammer that spots a nail, always favors the force of arms over diplomacy.

Neither of these views is correct.

But misperception and disagreements in form and substance exist between Defense and State and they are significant and dangerous to our Nation, the United States. The two sides of the Potomac River have very different cultures and this will take a long time to resolve, if it really needs resolution. It may be an essential element of mankind that one’s life experiences shape his or her outlook and culture.

But the immediate issue is this. President Bush declared a world-wide war on terror and an all-out U.S. government effort immediately following the terror disaster of September 11, 2001.

But the all-out U.S. government effort never materialized, according to many who work on the Arlington side of the river.  About one percent of the U.S. population has been engaged in the war and the Defense Department has carried, by far, the largest role.   

Arlington is the home of the Pentagon and the great National Cemetery.  On the Arlington side of the river, people look toward Washington DC and ask, where is their contribution? Where is the REST of the Federal Government.

Arlington denizens look toward Foggy Bottom with scorn and distain.

The remarks made at Wednesday State Department Town Hall Meeting have to be faced and dealt with or the abyss within the U.S. government will deepen and widen yet again and even more.
*************

Oath of service to the United States, taken by military members, members of the U.S. Foreign Service, and other government employees:

“I (person taking oath says own name) do solemnly swear that I will support and defend that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. That I take this obligation freely and without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. That I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me, God.”

Related:

Diplomatic Infighting Hurts Terror War Effort

Diplomats Who Refuse Assignments: “Hit The Road, You are Terminated with Prejudice and Without Pay”

Rice Tells State Department Staff: You Took an Oath

A Diplomacy of neighborhoods

“Gaffe Machine” Karen Hughes Leaving State Department

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