Ambassadors of the traditional kind? Who needs them? Diplomats? What a waste! The State Department? Why bother? Its budget is to be slashed and its senior officials are leaving in droves ever since Donald Trump entered the Oval Office. Under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, hiring is frozen, which means those officials are generally not being replaced. (Buyouts of $25,000 are being offered to get yet more of them to jump ship.) Dozens of key positions have gone unfilled, while the secretary of state reportedly focuses not on global diplomacy or what, in another age, was called “foreign policy,” but on his reorganization (downsizing) of the department and evidently little else. Across the planet, starting with the A’s (Australia), American embassies lack ambassadors, including South Korea, a country that has been a focus of the Trump administration. Similarly, at the time of the president’s inflammatory Jerusalem announcement, the U.S. had no ambassadors yet in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, or Saudi Arabia, among other Middle Eastern states. It’s quite a tale and it’s being covered as the news story it certainly is.
All of this could be seen, however, not just as the foibles of one president surrounded by “his” generals, but as the culmination of a post-9/11 process in which American policymaking has increasingly been militarized. In this context, as the State Department shrinks, don’t think this country has no ambassadors across the planet. America’s Special Operations forces increasingly act as our “diplomats” globally, training and bolstering allies and attempting to undermine enemies more or less everywhere. We’ve never seen anything like it and yet, unlike the slashing of the diplomatic corps, it’s a story barely noted in the mainstream. Nick Turse has, however, been covering it for TomDispatch in a groundbreaking way since 2011. In these years, he’s focused on what should have been seen as one of the major developments of our era: the phenomenal growth and historically unprecedented deployment of this country’s special operators in an atmosphere of permanent war in Washington.
In the post-9/11 years, the once “elite” units of the U.S. military, perhaps a few thousand Green Berets and other personnel, have become a force of approximately 70,000. In other words, that secretive crew cocooned inside the U.S. military has grown as large as or larger than the militaries of countries such as Argentina, Canada, Chile, Croatia, South Africa, or Sweden. Now, imagine that those Special Operations forces, as Turse has again been reporting for years, are not only being dispatched to more countries annually than ever before, but to more countries than any nation has ever deployed its military personnel to. Period.
Shouldn’t that be a humongous story? We’re talking, as Turse points out today, about the deployment of special ops teams or personnel to 149 of the 190 (or so) nations on this planet in 2017. You can, of course, find articles about our special operators in the media, but over the years they’ve generally tended to read like so many publicity releases for such forces. The story of how our special operators came to be our “diplomats” of choice and the spearhead for American foreign policy and how expanding wars and spreading terror movements were the apparent result of such moves has yet to be told, except at places like TomDispatch.