Bush budget would add State Dept. diplomats

Nearly 1,100 diplomats would be added as part of a plan to double the corps' size to 22,000 by 2018.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

George W. Bush may be tagged the "undiplomatic" president in some circles, but his final budget offers a different picture, with a proposal to add nearly 1,100 diplomats to the 11,000 already at the State Department.

The request reflects the influence of Condoleezza Rice, who has nudged the president down a more diplomatic path since she switched from national security adviser to secretary of State at the outset of Mr. Bush's second term.

The proposal would be one of the largest annual increases ever in the US diplomatic corps, and it's part of Secretary Rice's plan for "transformational diplomacy," which would reorient the bureaucracy toward a focus on new global challenges like weak states and emerging world powers. The added diplomats would be part of a long-term plan to double the corps to 22,000 by 2018.

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"There's been a great deal of talking about the US military being overstretched, but the State Department is also stretched to a point of breaking in terms of doing the jobs, many of them new, it's being asked to do today," says Karl Inderfurth, a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

Taken together with the proposed Pentagon budget, the State Department budget request reflects a new level of US global commitment. A proposed $515 billion Defense budget would put US military spending at its highest level since World War II, when adjusted for inflation. That does not include hundreds of billions of dollars in supplemental defense spending already approved for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We've witnessed a growing discrepancy between resources for the military and the civilian side of our international efforts," adds Mr. Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs. "But it's important to point out that the current secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, is speaking up about the need to close that gap."

The State Department budget also reflects Rice's desire – poorly received by some in the foreign-service ranks – to shift personnel away from popular postings in European capitals to more hardship assignments in places like emerging democracies. Of the 1,100 potential new diplomats, 450 would free up more-seasoned colleagues for preparation for assignments requiring new expertise.

Two years ago, Rice announced such a shift in diplomatic postings. Noting then that US missions in India and Germany had about the same size staff – while Germany had a population of 82 million compared with 1 billion in India – she said Germany would lose a half-dozen diplomatic assignments, while India would gain a dozen.

Then, last October Rice set off a firestorm by announcing that diplomats could be required to serve in Iraq if not enough volunteers came forward. The furor was quelled by mid-November when the State Department announced that all posts had been filled with volunteers.

But residual hard feelings surfaced this year when a survey of diplomats by the American Foreign Service Association found that two-thirds of respondents oppose mandatory assignments to Iraq.

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