) For many years, observers of the US State Department on both sides of the American political spectrum have agreed that State Department officials suffer from a malady referred to as “clientitis.” Clientitis is generally defined as a state of mind in which representatives of an organization confuse their roles.
Rather than advance the cause of their organization to outside organizations, they represent the interests of outside organizations to their own organizations. In some cases, diplomats are simply corrupted by their host governments. For generations US diplomats to Saudi Arabia have received lucrative post-government service jobs at Saudi-owned or controlled companies, public relations firms and other institutions.
Often, the problem is myopia rather than corruption.
Diplomats who speak to foreign government officials on a daily basis often simply ignore the context in which these foreigners operate. They become friends with their interlocutors and forget that the latter are also agents of their governments tasked with promoting foreign interests in their dealings with US diplomats.
In Israel the situation is similar. Here, too, Foreign Ministry officials have a tendency to give preference to the positions of the governments or institutions to which they are assigned over the interests and positions of the Israeli government that sent them to their posts.
For instance, in September 2008, shortly after the UN allowed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to use his speech at the UN General Assembly to accuse the Jews of controlling the world in a bid to poison and destroy it, then-Israeli ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev
gave an interview to Army Radio in which she said her primary duty is “correcting the UN’s image in the eyes of the people of Israel.”
Since the scourge of clientitis among diplomats is widely recognized, governments are often able to consider its impact on diplomats when they weigh the credibility or wisdom of recommendations presented by their professional diplomats.
LESS WELL recognized and therefore largely unconsidered is how clientitis has negatively impacted the positions of military commanders.
Clientitis first became prevalent in the US Armed Forces and the IDF in the 1990s. In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, the Clinton administration began transforming in earnest the US armed forces’ role from war fighting to nation building. In Israel, with the onset of the peace process with the PLO in 1993, the IDF was ordered to change its operating guidelines. From then on, peacemaking was to take priority over war fighting and defeating terrorists.
Since September 11, 2011, the US military has vastly expanded its nation building roles around the world.US military commanders are promoted more for prowess in acting as diplomats-in-uniform than for their capacity to train and employ soldiers to kill and defeat the enemy. Commanders deployed to train the al-Qaida-infested Yemeni or Afghan militaries; liaise with the Hizbullah-dominated Lebanese Armed Forces; or train the Iranian-penetrated Iraqi military have little personal incentive to warn against these missions.
So, too, in working with their local counterparts on a daily basis, like their State Department colleagues, these US military officers have a marked tendency to ignore the broader context in which their local colleagues operate. And so, like their civilian colleagues at the US embassies in these countries, military commanders have a tendency to become the representatives of their foreign counterparts to the Pentagon and to Congress.
In the case of the IDF, in 1993 the entire General Staff was encouraged to embrace clientitis. Then prime minister and defense minister Yitzhak Rabin’s decision in 1993 to appoint IDF commanders to lead negotiations with the PLO politicized the IDF to an unprecedented degree. Only generals who completely supported the peace process and forced their underlings to completely support it could expect promotion.
This political corruption of the IDF survived the destruction of the peace process in 2000. Due to successive governments’ decisions to continue negotiating with the Palestinian Authority despite its refusal to make peace with Israel and its sponsorship of terrorism, the IDF has continued to participate in negotiations with the PA and lead liaison efforts with the Palestinian security forces.
As a consequence, whether due to the political views of officers on the ground, to institutional corrosion, or to officers’ inability to view the statements of their Palestinian counterparts in the broader context of Palestinian and regional power politics, these IDF “peacemakers” act as the PA security services chief lobbyists to both the Israeli and US governments.
IN RECENT conversations with senior sources on Capitol Hill, it became apparent that American military trainers who work with the Lebanese Armed Forces were highly influential in convincing Congress to end its opposition to renewed US military assistance to the LAF.
Congress put a temporary hold on US military assistance to Lebanon in August 2010 after a Lebanese army sniper murdered IDF Lt.-Col. Dov Harari and critically wounded Capt. Ezra Lakia. Both officers were stationed on the Israeli side of the border.
In April, when Hizbullah gained control over the new Lebanese government, the Obama administration again temporarily froze military assistance to the LAF.
In September Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Hizbullah-controlled Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati that the US would renew its assistance. In October, the Pentagon hosted Lebanese Army Commander General Jean Kahwagi on an official visit.
According to Congressional sources, Congress has permitted continued military assistance to Lebanon, despite Hizbullah’s control over both the government and the armed forces, because of the outspoken support of the US military for the military assistance program.
So too, according to Congressional sources. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros- Lehtinen’s decision to end her committee’s block on US military assistance to the PA’s security forces owed to IDF pressure to renew the assistance. That assistance was cut off in September following the PA’s bid to achieve statehood at the UN.
Following the aid cut-off Palestinian commanders warned that if the US did not renew its financial support for the US trained Palestinian security services, its soldiers would seek funding from elsewhere – including from terror sponsoring governments like Iran and Syria, and from Hamas, and Hizbullah.
Obviously these warnings were nothing more than acts of extortion. And despite outcries from the Obama administration, Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen held firm.
However, according to senior Congressional sources, Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen was unable to brush off entreaties by IDF commanders asking that the US renew its funding of these forces. Two weeks ago – just as the PA renewed its unity talks with Hamas – she lifted her committee’s block on military assistance to the PA.
THE IDEA that governments gain leverage over other governments by assisting them is not a new one. And it is certainly true. However, in all cases, the leverage gained by assisting foreign governments owes entirely to the other governments’ understanding that such assistance can and will be ended if they fail to meet certain benchmarks of behavior that are dictated from the outset.
Once a government’s threat of aid cut-off to another government is removed or is no longer credible, then the leverage the provision of aid afforded that government is lost. So long as the Palestinians believe that Israel will never cut off its support for Fatah and the PA security services, they will continue to sponsor terror and collaborate with Hamas and other terror groups without fear.
So long as LAF officers and soldiers believe that Hizbullah’s threat to attack the LAF is more credible than the US’s stated willingness to end its support for the Lebanese military, the LAF will continue to openly support war against Israel and collaborate with Hizbullah.
Proof that a state’s ability to leverage its foreign aid owes entirely to the credibility of a threat to cut off that aid came earlier this month in the aftermath of UNESCO’s decision to grant full state membership to “Palestine.” Due to US law, the Obama administration had no choice but to cut off all US funding to UNESCO in response to the move. As a consequence, the PLO’s bid to gain full membership in other UN institutions has floundered.
Not wishing to suffer UNESCO’s fate, no other UN institutions are willing to repeat UNESCO’s action And so the Palestinians’ great victory at UNESCO has become a Pyrrhic one.
The Obama administration never sought this outcome. As his representatives have made abundantly clear, if US President Barack Obama had the power to maintain US budgetary support for UNESCO despite its conferral of membership on “Palestine,” he would have done so.
But because the law is not subject to interpretation, US leverage over the UN actually increased in the aftermath of the UNESCO vote. Recognizing that actions have consequences, other UN agencies have buried plans of granting membership to “Palestine.”
Governments must give due consideration to the positions of their professional diplomats and military commanders as well as to those of allied countries when they weigh various policy options. But while doing so, legislators and policymakers must also take into account the built-in biases influencing the judgment of these professionals. Clientitis is a serious impediment to good judgment. And it is found wherever professionals are charged with building relationships, rather than achieving concrete goals. Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.