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Brits & US Share Problem

This op-ed in the Financial Times on how to reform the British Foreign Office could have been written about the US State Department. The US Foreign Service almost always suffers from budgetary problems, like their British colleagues. There are exceptions. Colin Powell was personally concerned about the Foreign Service, and Hillary Clinton may try to demonstration her political clout by helping increase State’s budget, but most Secretaries of State are more interested in policy issues than personnel issues.

One big problem of both organizations is that they have no domestic constituency. Citizens often see the job of diplomats as representing the foreign countries they work with, rather than pushing the agenda of their home country. Yet, that is seldom the case. They may often argue for going slow in going to war on slapping on sanctions in trade disputes, but that is because they understand that such actions are likely to be futile or counterproductive, although they may make Americans (or Brits) feel better for a while, until the chickens come home to roost.
In any case, those unfortunate perceptions often mean that budgets for diplomacy are among the first to get cut in bad times and among the last to be increased in good times. American lawmakers should take these British arguments to heart in considering their appropriations for the State Department.

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