The foreign policy train is back on its diplomatic rails. Look at Syria and Iran today. The conundrum of Egypt and the rest of the Arab Awakening. The transition to post-2014 Afghanistan. Even a faint glimmer of renewed hope in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. All of this is a good thing. But we might find ourselves running out of track soon.
You can’t surge diplomacy without a deep bench at the State Department. You don’t create diplomats and career development professionals overnight. You should no longer shoehorn China hands, Latin America specialists and Africanists into the Middle East. You will need experienced Arabists, Farsi and Urdu speakers. But we will still also need Latin America specialists, China hands and Africanists. And more of them. Many should be expert in public diplomacy and social networking in addition to the politics, economics and culture of their regions. Beyond them, our diplomacy will require Foreign Service personnel conversant in counter-proliferation issues, climate science, and hydrocarbon and renewable energy technologies.
And what about those issues not yet readily visible yesterday or today? Those that lie just over the horizon. What in 1999 might have been called having the foresight to develop experts in Islamic radicalism, global warming or Pashto, for the following decade.
Our challenge is not to educate and train for yesterday’s and today’s requirements – we are already trying to play catch-up ball there. Our challenge is to educate and train for the requirements of American foreign policy over the next decade, so that the foreign policy train will breeze past the next whistle-stop on its diplomatic rails.