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December 23, 2009

With Civilian Agencies Like These . . .
Posted by Michael Cohen

I like the State Department; I really do. I used to work there in the 1990s and even though it has corridors that feel like you're in an intensive care unit, it's impossible to get to via public transportation, there are no good places to eat lunch or even get a good cup of coffee nearby and the people who worked there regularly wore short-sleeve dress shirts . . . I have a soft spot in my heart for old Foggy Bottom. But having said that, it's becoming increasingly clear that the State Department as an institution has become so beaten down that it's simply not serving the needs of the American people as effectively as it should. Case in point, this new report, courtesy of the New York Times, from the State Department Inspector General on the agency's failures in counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan:

“The department has not clarified an end state for counternarcotics efforts, engaged in long-term planning, or established performance measures,” 

Well that can't be good. But there's more:

Among other things, the report found that the military and civilian lacked clear delineation of roles; that civilian contracts for counternarcotics work were poorly written and supervised from thousands of miles and many time zones away; and that the United States embassies in Afghanistan and Pakistan did not coordinate well on the problem.

Poor contract supervision and oversight; lack of coordination between not only the military and civilian agencies, but even amongst civilian agencies. Jeez, where have I written that before. I don't mean this to be an indictment of the fine men and women who work at the State Department, but they simply lack the capacity and resources to take on a job as ambitious as the nation building exercise that we are trying to execute in Afghanistan.

For all of the President's glowing words at West Point we continue to see more and more evidence that the United States mission lacks the right partners, the right civilian resources and even the right approach for effectively fighting a counter-insurgency in Afghanistan. My only question is at what point will this reality become evident to policymakers; and by the time it does will we be able to change course?



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