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
Rather than advance the cause of their organization to outside
organizations, they represent the interests of outside organizations to their
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.
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.
11, 2011, the US military has vastly expanded its nation building roles around
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
In the case of the IDF, in 1993 the entire General Staff was
encouraged to embrace clientitis. 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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
so the Palestinians’ great victory at UNESCO has become a Pyrrhic
The Obama administration never sought this outcome.
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
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