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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

JUNE 2017

41

D

iplomacy is the art of letting the other guy have

your way. Ryan Crocker arrived in Baghdad as

the new U.S. ambassador in 2007 with General

David Petraeus. Petraeus saw his command

grow to more than 150,000 troops during the surge, while

Crocker headed a much smaller (though large by State

Department standards) mission with perhaps 2,000

diplomats, provincial reconstruction team members and

support staff. In addition to a huge advantage in terms of

personnel, Petraeus’ commanders had piles of their own

money to spread around without embassy or USAID over-

sight, giving them even more influence in the field.

Despite working

from a disadvantaged

position, Ambassa-

dor Crocker skillfully

established himself as

Petraeus’ supporting

peer, leading the gen-

eral to proclaim Crocker

his “wingman.” Rather

than take offense at the

imagery of being the

junior partner, Crocker

communicated to his deputies, who included at least five

former ambassadors, that the embassy would follow the

military’s lead given that it was bearing the brunt of beat-

ing back the al-Qaida-led insurgency.

Amb. Crocker thus developed

wasta

(clout, in Arabic)

with the military. He understood that Petraeus’ success

increased his own political leverage with Iraq’s lead-

ers—something every diplomat should understand and

try to replicate. This

wasta

devolved to his country team

and FSO PRT heads, enabling them to influence what the

military was doing in areas normally the purview of the

embassy, such as engaging with Iraqi provincial councils.

Among other things, Crocker drew on his

wasta

to

block a ploy proposed by members of Petraeus’ staff to

hijack control over how U.S. money was being spent by

replicating the embassy’s economic assistance and tran-

sition office. Initially operating on its own in Iraq, Defense

had begun improvising. One outcome was the DOD Task

Force for Business Stability Operations—not exactly a

military skill set, and known in Iraq as the Brinkley Group,

after its first leader.

In May 2007,

The Washington Post

highlighted the

State-versus-DOD controversy over this small organiza-

tion, noting that TFBSO had its own view of how to restart

Iraq’s economy (get the moribund state-owned enter-

prises going), which was diametrically opposed to what

Embassy Baghdad was doing, and worked independent of

embassy or USAID oversight.

This became an

example of a failure of

unity of effort across

all elements of national

power. If one believed

TFBSO press state-

ments of the day, Ameri-

cans would be buying

Iraqi-made toilets in

Walmart today. How-

ever, one would be hard

pressed to find any evi-

dence that TBFSO was ever present in Iraq, much less find

an Iraqi toilet in an American store. Amb. Crocker politely

informed Gen. Petraeus that the embassy had this setting

on the smart power dial covered, and TFBSO went away.

(It later migrated to Afghanistan, where it also succeeded

in provoking controversy.)

Crocker’s tenure in Iraq is a textbook case study of

developing a personal relationship that rebalances the

diplomatic-military relationship. The postscript to this is

the strained relationship that Crocker and Petraeus’ suc-

cessors had to endure, with the U.S. effort in Iraq going off

the rails for a year until it was reset when another strong

State-DOD team arrived in the form of Ambassador Jim

Jeffrey and General Lloyd Austin.

—Larry Butler

Ambassador Ryan Crocker’s Country Team in Iraq

Crocker’s tenure is a case

study in developing a

personal relationship that

rebalances the diplomatic-

military relationship.