Now that the rather unseemly and ugly underbelly of the United States' Department of State has been exposed for all to see by the Wikileaks diplomatic cable releases, I thought I'd take a bit of a deeper look at the Department itself.
To start, here is the Department's Mission Statement which sets the tone for its operations:
"Advance freedom for the benefit of the American people and the international community by helping to build and sustain a more democratic, secure, and prosperous world composed of well-governed states that respond to the needs of their people, reduce widespread poverty, and act responsibly within the international system."
We'll get back to that later.
Here are the "values" of the Department as taken from their 2009 Agency Financial Report:
Lovely and inspiring motherhood statements.
From the State Department's 2009 Agency Financial Report (AFR), we find that in 2009, the State Department had 12,258 full-time, permanent employees in the Foreign Service, 9,614 full-time permanent employees in the Civil Service and 6,010 full-time Foreign Service Nationals for a total of 27,882 full-time employees, up slightly from 2008 when there were 27,609 full-time employees but up 2,600 employees from the year 2000. For those who aren't aware, the Foreign Service employees are the officers who respond to the needs of Americans living or travelling around the world and the Civil Service employees are most often headquartered in Washington D.C. where they are involved in policy and management issues. Foreign Service Nationals are employees from the countries where the Department is located. One should be aware, however, that in the 2010 fiscal year budget, the Department requested an increase in Foreign Service staff by 25 percent by the year 2013.
Here are the activities that the Department of State is involved in as part of its mission:
In the year ended September 30th, 2009, the Department's Total Budgetary Resources were $50.138 billion, up 29 percent from the previous year. Their Total Net Cost of Operations was $21.613 billion, up 22 percent from the previous year. Here is the chart from the AFR showing the Department's assets, liabilities and other pertinent data:
Here's where the money went:
From the introduction section of the AFR, I have selected the following statement by the Secretary of the Department, Hillary Clinton:
"Today, the United States is facing a complex array of challenges, including our ongoing efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban; support long-term stability and prosperity in Iraq; create the conditions for peace in regions of the world torn apart by war; address the threat of climate change; fight pandemic disease and extreme poverty; and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons."
So that's what the Department is up to.
As well, from the AFR, are a few pointers showing us how the Department of State promotes and protects the interests of American citizens:
We can't argue with any of those, can we?
Last, but not least, this is the Department bragging about how it is using social networking to let taxpayers in on their activities and the travel plans of Secretary Clinton:
Looks like the Department is current on the 21st century networking toys and the world will sleep better for it.
Enough of that. Now we know what the Department of State is all about. It's all wonderful and transparent. It kind of gives me a warm cozy feeling that the Department of State is out there taking care of business, not spending too much money and ensuring the security of American citizens.
Now, in light of the Wikileaks documents, I kind of wonder where the following fit into their mandate:
1.) Quotes from Prince Andrew about the corruption in Kyrgyzstan, complaints about the British newspaper the Guardian and his comments on curing oneself of anorexia as noted in the Guardian itself.
2.) Quotes from the Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew of Singaporeabout North Korea where he states that Japan might as well "go nuclear" and describes North Koreans as "psychopathic types with a "flabby old chap" for a leader" and that the next leader of North Korea may "not have the gumption or bile of his father or grandfather" and "may not be prepared to see his people die like flies.".
3.) As I noted yesterday, the gathering of and dissemination ofinformation about Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi and his "voluptuous blond" Ukrainian nurse.
4.) Quotes from Commonwealth Secretariat Director of Political Affairs Amitav Banerji where he states that "the heir apparent to the British Crown, Prince Charles, does "not command the same respect" as the Queen...". I bet he doesn't get invited to Buckingham Palace once Charles becomes king!
While I definitely agree that a certain amount of government secrecy is necessary for state security, from what I've seen thus far, there seems to be a fair amount of "tabloid-like" gossip that passes for diplomacy. What I also object to is the admonition from the Obama Administration that release of the State Department cables by Wikileaks could threaten lives. Yes, that cannot be denied, but from what we've seen so far, the greatest casualty is the reputation of both the Department of State and the diplomats involved. As well, we have to be careful that our governments don't invoke the "state security" moniker every time they want to keep something from the prying eyes of taxpayers. This can prevent governments from being responsible to the people who put them into power in the first place.
As our mothers used to say, "Never say anything about someone behind their back that you wouldn't say to their face.". Apparently, that was a lesson not particularly well-learned by some of the world's diplomatic corps.
At the very least, don't put it in writing.
Click HERE to read more of Glen Allen's columns.
Here's the link for the Guardian, a United Kingdom-based newspaper that is one the few media outlets around the world that were given access to all 250,000 diplomatic cables. Their coverage of the Wikileaks documents is ongoing.