Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Special Envoys, Regional Ambassadors, and Dennis Ross

Dennis Ross was Middle East envoy and the chief peace negotiator for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. FP's The Cable says he will be President Obama's special envoy to Iran. Below is an excerpt from his 2007 book Statecraft, addressing some of the challenges to effective foreign policy.

When it comes to exercising statecraft, the starting point, at least organizationally, is to prevent bureaucratic dysfunction or paralysis. To ensure that the executive branch functions well and maximizes the full potential of our assets, it is essential to be able to integrate all our bureaucratic tools and have someone responsible for spearheading them in a way that responds to our strategic aims.
To show my own cards, I’d like to see a "Regional Ambassador" position comparable to the DOD’s COCOMs. The fact that we’ve had recourse across multiple Administrations to special envoys indicates this is 1) an effective model and 2) a structural gap in our national security system.

A Regional Ambassador would remedy two imbalances between State and DOD, 1) DOD’s preponderance in regional planning and programming, and 2) the perception in foreign capitals that our COCOMs have greater stature than our Ambassadors (regional assistant secretaries are outranked by their Ambassadors).

State’s bilateral model of foreign affairs effectively cedes initiative on regional issues to DOD’s COCOMs by default. Since many of the post-Cold War challenges we now face are regional in nature, rather than bilateral, this problem set requires an institutionalized response. The President could carve out for particular regions what he and the Secretary of State considered to be regional issues requiring the Regional Ambassador’s oversight (e.g. transnational terrorism, regional development hubs).

More importantly a Regional Ambassador would create a bias for action within our government, reducing our reaction time to crises by creating an individual who is only responsible to the President for outcomes rather than bureaucratic turf.

This prescription doesn’t solve all interagency problems. The resource imbalance is a core problem that needs to be addressed in order for anything to work, but this pushes us towards effective solutions outside the Beltway.

From Dennis Ross’s Statecraft (p.135 - 139, 2007):
The continuous, intensive effort made [by Holbrooke] in Bosnia is carried out by a level below the president and secretary of state. As such, it showcases a different model of statecraft from the German unification and Gulf War cases insofar as it employs a small interagency team that runs the policy in a way that certainly requires presidential and secretarial involvement but does not demand nearly of the president’s and secretary’s time and attention . . .

The question is not whether the president and secretary of state should be involved; they have to, and they need to travel. The question is, can their involvement be made more strategic and not so perpetual that they have little time for anything else? I would argue that it can. Perhaps the Bosnia-Holbrooke case provides the model for those cases where the stakes are high or where we have a keen interest in conflict resolution. The essence of the model is the creation of an interagency team that is senior and has access to the top leadership when it needs it; is capable of managing bureaucratic divisions and yet can call on all necessary bureaucratic resources for support; is seen as having authority not only domestically but with those it deals with internationally; and is able to bring in the president and secretary not just for decisions but also for persuasion of others at decisive moments . . .

I led a team in managing our approach to Middle East peacemaking for nearly all of the Clinton administration. The team was not as high-level as Holbrooke’s, but it did involve the senior experts from the National Security Council staff, and when I needed support from the Defense Department, I had it- even taking lieutenant generals with me on trips to Syria when I felt it was required...I had authority across the administration and access to the secretary at all times and to the president when necessary. Bureaucratic impediments were manage in this fashion, and support across the administration, including from intelligence communities, was something I could always call on.

If nothing else, this shows that a Holbrooke-type model with lower-level officials is sustainable over time and not only for short, intense bursts of activity. It is a model at least mechanically for how to make statecraft effective. Clearly, statecraft is not just about defining objectives, assessing how to relate our means to those objectives, and then acting on them. Statecraft must necessarily also involve organizing our bureaucratic agencies so they work together and can be managed effectively to maximize the tools we have. Presidential leadership is needed to mandate such harmony and select cabinet officials with that in mind. When there is bureaucratic disagreement, presidents must be prepared to make decisions, or at least authorize a Holbrooke-type model that can contend with problems.

President George H.W. Bush did much of the former. President Bill Clinton certainly did the latter, authorizing Holbrooke-type envoys and teams to lead our efforts on the Middle East, Russia, and North Korea. Unfortunately, President George W. Bush appears to have done none of the above, with bureaucratic dysfunction often being the result. The administration spent its first term without a policy toward Iran largely because the Pentagon and vice president’s office advocated isolation and regime change while the State Department preferred engagement. Unwilling or unable to resolve this internal conflict, President Bush and his National Security Council deferred the issue and wasted valuable time as Iran continued to progress in its quest to acquire nuclear weapons.

1 comment:

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