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David Isenberg

David Isenberg

Posted: January 4, 2011 10:58 PM

Armed Humanitarians: Part 3

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It's time for the third and final excerpt from the forthcoming book Armed Humanitarians
by Nathan Hodge, formally published next month.

Click here for the first excerpt and here for the second.

Here Hodge reviews the recommendations of a panel ordered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the aftermath of the killing of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater guards at Nisoor Square. The panel was led by Patrick F. Kennedy, a career minister in the Foreign Service. About that time he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Under Secretary of State for Management on November 6, 2007, a post he still holds.

The panel recommended a series of administrative remedies: Better communication and coordination, more diplomatic security personnel, clarification of legal jurisdiction. But those solutions did nothing to address the risk-averse culture of the State Department. The practice of diplomatic security was, at its core, antithetical to the nation-building mission, which required civilians to take risks and work outside the walls of the embassy. Even in relatively secure areas, the Baghdad-based Regional Security Office imposed strict limitations on where diplomatic officers could travel and what kinds of vehicles and convoys they could travel in, meaning that it was often difficult to get out to the field and do meaningful work. A Foreign Service officer who worked in Iraqi Kurdistan as a provincial action officer explained the dilemma: "The embassy Regional Security Office imposed strict country-wide standards, but I was the only one doing those two provinces [Irbil and Suleimaniyah] in econ [economics] and political. ... You are spending enormous amounts of energy on your movement, which is subtracting enormous amounts from your budget and your time."


The military took risks to accomplish its missions. After the Nisour Square incident, by contrast, the State Department responded with lockdown, barring diplomats from travelling in Iraq by land - a move that brought into question the whole purpose of having a diplomatic mission there in the first place. And the State Department's practice of relying on contractors to provide protective service would not change. Guards from Blackwater (later rebranded as the more innocuous-sounding Xe Services) continued to protect U.S. diplomatic convoys in Iraq, even though the company's license to operate there had been revoked. And while the State Department decided it would not renew Xe's Iraq contract, the company's aviation wing continued to provide air cover for U.S. diplomatic convoys well into the fall of 2009, two years after the Iraqi government said Blackwater had to go. The State Department, apparently, could not get by without them.

Apparently Blackwater functioned as the American Express card for the State Department; its diplomats dared not leave the embassy without them. Hodge raises a critically important point. Blackwater has long, and rightfully, said it always fulfilled its prime obligation; no diplomat guarded by them was ever killed. But what may be a tactical success could be a strategic failure, or at least, a tie. Being safe is, without question, good but what happens when you can't do your job?

 
 
 

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