What is a Visionist?

"A visionist is an artist, a creator or an individual that sees beyond what is visible to the eyes and brains of human beings. Visionists are thinkers, they are the recognisable brains in soociety, but most times they are seen as absurd, "nerds" and misfits – they just don't fit into the societies. They are people with great dreams and minds."

The English Wikipedia

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Diplomat Among Warriors"

I have already written that a diplomat is an outsider. He or she brings a keen eye and ear to an understanding of another culture. He or she must be something of an anthropologist in order to get inside that culture without going totally native. The first diplomat whom I met that personified this, was Calvin Maelert, an old China hand who I and several of other young foreign service officers sent to Vietnam visited on our first day in Saigon in 1970. Maelert spoke fluent Vietnamese, lived in a huge old apartment in downtown Saigon and was known to have captained a Chinese junk from Hong Kong to San Francisco. He had fantastic contacts throughout the Vietnamese government and political circles. I aspired to be like him. His trophies were a series of absolutely fascinating political reports on the inside doings of Vietnamese political life.

However, I always admired another diplomat from my earliest days in the service. Knowing I would be going to Vietnam to work as a civilian advisor in a military led pacification advisory program, I discovered the book, Diplomat Among Warriors, by Robert D. Murphy. Murphy had one of the most distinguished diplomatic careers in our nation's history and was honored with five other diplomats in 2006 with his own postage stamp. Murphy, who worked in the US Embassy in Paris had a thorough knowledge of France, was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's personal envoy to French-speaking North Africa where he prepared the diplomatic underpinning for the bloodless Allied invasion of North Africa. Murphy worked under the direct instructions of FDR, meeting with him and addressing communications personally to him.

Murphy described another form of cultural adaptation that is characteristic of a strong foreign service career: working alongside the US military and understanding their culture. In so doing one also is an outsider, a civilian in a military world. Murphy had to satisfy both President Roosevelt in Washington and the Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in both England and later in North Africa. I have done this my entire professional life. In Vietnam, where for six months I was the only civilian, and the second in command, among a twelve man civil-military advisory team, pulling my time ever week to man the radio and check the Vietnamese perimeter guards at night. As a civilian in the State Department Bureau overseeing the Drug War in South America, I worked closely with military, law enforcement and economic development counterparts and had two military officers under my supervision.

Today, I work within a US military command as a civilian political analyst, working shoulder to shoulder with military officers and DoD civilians engaged in supporting US war fighters in conflict zones. My boss is a Brigadier General. Not being a military person, I can never be exactly like one, nor should I. The US military today values the skills and experience that civilians "bring to fight." This can sometimes be a painful interaction as military people are not used to or comfortable with thinking about political aspects of war. As they like to point out, their job is "warheads on foreheads." But it is my job to make sure they "get it," when the political realities trump the military realities. Politics, like social, economic and cultural elements also add complexity to the problem.

What I have transmitted above may be taken as just a war story. But my purpose is to point out that the future of American national security rests with the capability of American diplomats and other government civilians, defense contractors and our foreign partners to work together with the US and coalition military. At the highest level, this is called, "National Security Reform."

Besides two wars and a global economic crisis, perhaps the most important thing that the new Obama administration can do is to get it right about National Security Reform and to address this challenge quickly. The US national security architecture, designed ofter World War II and forged by the Cold War, is today considered by most who work in it "broken". Fixing it is a very large and complex subject, addressed in a number of reports that have been written by leading Washington think tanks hoping to get the attention of the new administration. These I hope to address separately, but the essence of it is, can we recruit, train, fund and manage a civilian national security workforce that knows how to be, like Robert Murphy, diplomats among warriors?

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