Congressional bean counters are unhappy at the State Department’s budget for Iraq. (Look at the Washington Post’s story on State’s budget request here.) As troops draw down to 50,000, the State Department civilian advisers and police trainers are going to lose the security of having quick reaction forces on call and military helicopters and humvees available for getting around the country. The State Department’s solution? Triple the current number of security contractors.
We’re seven years into Iraq and nine years into the Long War, and State Department planners are still treating this new threat environment as a temporary condition. Security contractors are useful if you have to quickly enlarge and then draw down your security force. Contractors are an expensive, but scalable solution in the short term but outrageously expensive in the long term. The State Department has not developed a comprehensive plan to increase its own internal capability to protect its diplomats and advisers.
The threats aren’t going away. Nor is our need to have a civilian presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. And these places aren’t getting safer in the near term.
Obama, in a 2008 campaign speech in Colorado Springs called for the creation of a civilian work force abroad that is as robust and well-funded as the military. The State Department is asking Congress for the money, but doesn’t have a plan to permanently increase its own ability to do the work and protect its workers.
The reality is, even when at some point our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan draw to a close, there are other places (Yemen? Sudan? Somalia?) in which our diplomats and aid workers will find themselves ordered to work. The State Department can’t keep relying on temporary fixes.