Advancing a Free Society

The Role of Ambassador

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Washington Post story on further fraying U.S.-Pakistani relations in the aftermath of last week’s border firefight in which U.S. forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers contains a startling revelation:

Far more than his predecessors, Munter has questioned the timing of drone attacks - including in the immediate aftermath of previous crises over the fatal shooting of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in January and the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May - and asked the White House to clarify whether he has a veto over specific raids, according to current and former White House and State Department officials.

To state the issue starkly, the senior diplomat in country believes he should have control over intelligence and military operations with global reach and that affect the safety of Americans and our broad national security interests.  To do so would invert the proper role for diplomacy, which is to manage relationships as we meet our national security needs -- not to subordinate necessary military and intelligence activities to the control of diplomats.

It is tempting to dismiss the assertion as an isolated case of a diplomat not understanding the appropriate relationship between the military and diplomatic aspects of our operations.  Except that subordinating all activity occurring in a country to the approval of the Ambassador is precisely what Secretary Clinton has advocated in the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. 

The QDDR asserts that “our Ambassadors will have to direct and coordinate global civilian operations in the field and pursue diplomatic initiatives that involve many disparate parts of the U.S. government.” 

Moreover, the top personnel recommendation – the foremost of all changes it advocates to improve the investment in the people of the Department of State – in the QDDR is to “ensure that U.S. government personnel understand and internalize their accountability to the Chief of Mission.” 

To establish such a system would reinforce the worst aspects of our State Department’s current malaise.  Rare is the American diplomat with the education and training to make such sophisticated national security trade-offs.  Their perspective is to minimize friction in bilateral diplomatic relationships, which is exactly what Ambassador Cameron Munter’s attempt to veto counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan is aimed at doing.