Hosted by the American Foreign Service Association, participants discussed how diplomacy and development have changed since Sept. 11, 2001, and what State and U.S. Agency for International Development can do to improve diplomacy in the future.
Branding became a major focus for USAID after the Sept. 11 attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan, said Andrew Natsios, former administrator of USAID.
"The flag around the world was seen as a military symbol," he said. The agency delved into an aggressive effort to improve its image and make its goals clear to potential aid recipients.
Natsios cited efforts to increase awareness among Palestinians, only 5 percent of whom knew aid was available, compared with 55 percent after the campaign.
The global response changed drastically as the United States engaged in multiple wars, said Robert Pearson, former ambassador to Turkey. While global goodwill propelled the Foreign Service through the conflict in Afghanistan, it did not carry over to the invasion of Iraq.
"Attempts to make a difference were pushed aside, and reasonable discussion did not make a difference," he said.
According to Barbara Bodine, former ambassador to Yemen, the initial global support changed over the years. "There has been a sweeping militarization of policy and a move of development work over to the military," she said.
"Our two agencies were pushed to the side," she added, referring to State and USAID. "We were in a death spiral of not being given the missions, and therefore we were not given the resources we need."
The lack of resources has affected training and development programs, said Pearson. One-third of Foreign Service officers have been with the agency for less than five years, so training is essential and diplomacy campaigns suffer without it, he added.
"The only real answer is training, or you take a hit in the field," Pearson said. "It's completely unfair. We owe them something that they're not getting."
There are other consequences of a young workforce as well. Bodine estimates 60 percent of Foreign Service officers aren't familiar with the pre-Sept. 11 style of diplomacy and government.
"We have almost forgotten what our role and value can be," she said. "We don't have the institutional memory of the role diplomats used to play."
The panelists disagreed on whether it would be beneficial for State and USAID to be grouped with Defense under one large national security umbrella budget and debated what level of collaboration should exist among the three agencies.
The budget combination could bring in more funds to State and USAID, argued Pearson. But Natsios cautioned against increased blending of the agencies.
"We need to be careful about mixing missions that are complementary. We need to understand how each other's systems work, but to say that the three missions are the same is not the case," Natsios said. "By merging them, we are weakening the institutions."
The panelists agreed, however, that Sept. 11 changed the way they viewed their missions.
"That day went from professional to personal in the snap of a finger," Pearson said.