Books Worth Reading
  • Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    by Robert C. Orr
  • Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    by Ashraf Ghani, Clare Lockhart
  • The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    by Rupert Smith
  • Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    by John Robb
  • Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    by Paul Collier
  • The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    by Francis Fukuyama
  • When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    Princeton University Press
  • Building States to Build Peace
    Building States to Build Peace
    Lynne Rienner Publishers
  • Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    United Nations University Press

From the Department of WTF?

Conyers has lost all credibility.  Not that he had a lot to begin with.



D3 Weekly Link Roundup

Baba Tim over at Free Range International properly eviscerates 60 Minutes and Lara Logan for a lame ass piece of reporting on Special Forces (who don’t come out looking too hot themselves) in Afghanistan.


DOD releases the Quadrennial Defense Review.  The Atlantic Council has an analysis.


Republicans take on the Military over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen (who was nice enough to once give me a coin) is an American Hero.


Foreign Affairs has a nice compendium on what to read on foreign aid along with a breakdown of the three main competing approaches to foreign assistance.


State & USAID’s FY11 Budget Request is released, increasing the size of both organizations and expanding the foreign assistance budget.  The folks at the Center for Global Development see it as a strong signal for development.   Some in Congress fear that with 10% employment and other urgent issues here at home, it will face a “difficult political environment.”


The Economist reviews the Bill Gates’ 2010 Annual Letter on development.


The State Department’s dueling Twitterati.


Henry Kissinger pens an op-ed in the Washington Post advising the Obama Administration to focus his Iraq policy on more than just troop withdrawals.  


John Robb on a “Byzantine”  grand strategy for American foreign policy. (Hint:  Avoid COIN like the plague). 


Some Haitians want the U.S. to take over.  Also, who’s paying for Haiti?


Mountain Runner who is a must read for all things related to public diplomacy highlights an article by former U.S. Information Agency Associate Director Walter Yates entitled: “The Voice of America: Origin and Recollections.”


And finally, the proposed Pakistani Ambassador to Saudi Arabia is rejected because his name when translated into Arabic means “biggest dick.” 



How to Get a Job Working in Development or Humanitarian Aid

If you lack the experience and qualifications necessary to get hired on by the federal government for a position in Iraq or Afghanistan (and you don’t want to be a contractor handling logistics or life support), you may want to consider working for an NGO doing development or aid work.  There are generally more of these jobs available, however, the applicant pool is a lot larger because you are not only competing with individuals who don’t want to work for the U.S. government, but also with all of those who can’t get a federal job because they lack U.S. citizenship or the ability to get a security clearance.


The best place to look is on Relief Web, where you can information on hundreds of openings, training opportunities, and reams of documents on best practices in conflict mitigation, humanitarian aid and development.  It’s free and you can query by location and job type.  (Check out the training courses and see if you can take any of them . . . a great way to build your skill set and increase your chances of being hired, not to mention the opportunity to do a little networking).  Another site to get some great information on breaking into the business is Aid, though they don’t list any job openings.


If you’re willing to pay a membership fee, you can also join DEVEX.  I don’t know if it’s worth joining as a paid “premium” member, but at the very least you can sign-up and create a free profile with your work experience, expertise and career objectives, which is searchable by recruiters and potential business contacts from development agencies, non-profits, and private sector companies in the development business.  DEVEX also claims a network of over 100,000 development & aid professionals and over 1,500 job openings, most of which aren’t accessible unless you have the paid membership.   I find DEVEX useful for the career advice it provides and the regular updates on what’s going on in the world of development and humanitarian aid via their free weekly Global Development Briefing newsletter.  


If you have little to no experience in development or aid work and don’t have any special skills that would help get your foot in the door, you may want to consider working as a volunteer or intern.  I’ve know quite a few people who started out working for free and after several months, once they had proven themselves, were hired on into paid positions.  One of my friends from college who had no experience in development or aid work ended up doing this and several years later became the Country Director for a large NGO operating in Iraq.   If you feel you need to be paid (and you’re a U.S. citizen), then join the Peace Corps.  You’ll get the experience you need and some new language skills, as well a paycheck. 


Finally, don’t forget to constantly network, network, and then network some more.  If you’re in the DC or New York area, (or London or Paris or just about any other major city), there’s going to be fundraisers, conferences, and speaking events at NGO headquarters, think tanks, and universities where you can meet like-minded people who will be able to steer you in the right direction and help give you a shot at the job you want.  Just remember that even after you get hired you need to keep networking.   Doing so will make it easier for you to move on if your job isn’t working out, or move up the ladder once you build up the necessary experience and skill sets.


Good luck.


New FY'11 State Department Budget Request Released

The Obama Administration released its Fiscal Year 2011 budget request for State and USAID (all 791 pages of it) on Monday.  As with most matters related to Foggy Bottom or the RRB, The Cable’s Josh Rogin has the goods.


Here's a summary:



The request is for $52.8 billion, a 10% increase over FY10.  Of note is the creation of 599 new jobs for State and USAID to support foreign operations, about 75% of which will be overseas.  Rogin also has a rundown of various DOS bureaus that are supposed “winners” and “losers” in the budget. 

Also in the request is that State will take over the $1.2 billion Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capability Funding program from DOD, which is used to train Pakistan’s military.  Rogin quotes unnamed sources who suggest that if DOS can manage the funds properly, they may be able to take over in the next year the “1206” account, a half billion dollar program managed by DOD to train foreign militaries outside of Iraq and Afghanistan.  This foreign assistance funding has been the subject of a turf war recently between the Departments of State and Defense over who would control the money.  

Laura Rozen over at Politico has some additional notes on the budget here, and Democracy Arsenal’s David Shorr sees the increase in personnel strength as good news.  He wrote a rather good article for the Foreign Service Journal where he highlights the lack of capacity State and USAID have when it comes to addressing stabilization challenges and explains why it’s important we invest in the workforces of our civilian agencies if we want to advance American interests in war-torn and developing countries. 


Soldiers with X-Ray Vision

Back in 2003 when I was an Infantry platoon leader I would patrol with my men the streets of Baghdad, sometimes using night vision goggles to penetrate the darkness.  Most of the time street lamps or the moon provided enough light, so we usually only used them when looking down dark alleys or into empty homes and abandoned buildings.  I would later learn that many Iraqis thought these devices also provided us with x-ray vision which they thought we were using to check out the naked bodies of their women.  As a result, it was claimed, some of them began attacking U.S. troops to reclaim their lost honor.   I was also told by many Iraqis that they thought the heavy body armor we wore was air-conditioned.  Now it seems, troops in Afghanistan will see through walls in 2010.


The Difference between Contractors and Mercenaries

One of my pet peeves is when people bandy about the words “mercenaries” or “private armies” without any understanding of what the terms actually mean. 


A mercenary can be defined two ways: either as an individual who soldiers in a foreign military, or someone who works solely for profit.  In the former case it can be one who doesn’t care at all about a paycheck but happens to believe in the cause of another nation and goes abroad to fight for it (like those who joined the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War) while in the latter case one’s loyalty is solely tied to the money he or she earns, regardless of the job they do. 


A mercenary is not a U.S. citizen who provides personal protection services to U.S. government officials and plays purely a defensive role (i.e. responding with lethal force only when attacked or when he believes an attack is imminent).  A Sri Lankan who handles chow at a dining facility, or the KBR manager from Texas who oversees him, are not part of some private army.  Nor is the Iraqi or Afghani who provides perimeter security or translator services at U.S. military bases.  These people are all contractors.  They work for the U.S. government as private citizens.  They don’t initiate offensive actions against enemy forces.  They are not enlisted or commissioned members of any "private army," nor are their counterparts who do similar jobs back in the States.


U.S. contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan do not work for a foreign military. I would suspect the percentage that do their jobs solely for the pay and benefits is not much different from the number of people who join the military for the same reason.   


By the way, the next time you’re in DC, visit Lafayette Park which lies right outside the White House’s front entrance, and check out of the statues of Lafayette (France), Baron von Steuben (Prussia), Tadeusz Kościuszko (Poland), and Rochambeau (also France), who stand on each of the four corners of the park.  All four men helped in achieving American independence.  Lafayette and von Steuben were particularly crucial to the effort.  Rochambeau fought as head of a French sponsored military force known as the Expédition Particulière.   The other three came on their own, because they either believed in the cause (Lafayette & Kościuszko) or were looking for work (von Steuben, and many others who don't have statutes). 


In other words, they served as mercenaries, and America honors them for their service. 


Great Moments in Interagency Cooperation

Via the guys at Coming Anarchy, who scored it from Bruce Schneier at his Schneier on Security blog:

Watch it until the end.



Why Contractors are Important

In addition to the time I’ve spent in Iraq with the U.S. Army and State Department, I’ve also worked as a contractor with a private military company.  I served as a force protection officer (security in military-speak) and Iraqi Army Advisor.  The firm, MPRI, has several contracts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, to provide Foreign Internal Defense (FID) training and other services.  My experience with them and other contracting outfits has been overwhelmingly positive.  In many instances, I’ve found contractors to be more competent and productive than many military or civilian U.S. government employees.


Often maligned as mercenaries by demagogues unfamiliar with the correct meaning of the term, contractors are essential for the simple reason that the U.S. government does not have the internal capacity necessary to accomplish the many missions and tasks it takes on.  Like most U.S. military personnel and federal civilians employees, the vast majority of contractors have served honorably and performed admirably.  Anyone who has been in Iraq or Afghanistan knows this is true. 

Out of ignorance, I initially despised contractors while stationed in Baghdad in 2003.  Then they showed up at our base and the lives of my fellow soldiers and I improved considerably.  The local national translators they manage are essential to supporting the mission.  And after your fourth straight month of MREs and chemically saturated T-Rats, the fresh fruit, salads, and American cooking you find in a KBR dining facility is a godsend.  So are the shower and bathroom units they bring and service, the PXs they setup, and the Morale, Welfare, and Recreations facilities they run. 


When leading men and women in dangerous, stressful, complex, and fast-paced environments over significant periods of time, one of the most important tasks of a leader is taking proper care of your people.  Early on in Iraq I saw a case where some soldiers from another platoon in my old unit took their frustrations out on the Iraqis they met on the streets.  The event occurred in part because the soldiers involved no longer gave a damn, with one of the reasons for this being that their quality of life sucked.  Of course, there is no excuse for such behavior, but the reality is such events do occur.  Having contractors in place to take care of tasks like protecting convoys, setting up chow halls, and building decent living accommodations reduces stress on the force, allows them to focus on other more essential tasks, and is necessary if any multi-year post-conflict stabilization or state-building mission is to succeed.


There are many types of contractors in war zones, not just those who provide support to the military or U.S. government.  Whether they admit to it or not, many non-government organizations that do humanitarian aid and development work are also contractors, though they don’t like to think of themselves as such.  For many NGOs, the money they receive from governments dwarfs that from any other source. 


Government officials spend this money not out of the kindness of their hearts, but to achieve a particular political end, particularly when done in a war zone.  NGOs know this and go where the money is, the only difference being that shareholders aren’t reaping dividends.  Many of those in the aid community also make bank.  One of my housemates from college was the Country Director for a major NGO in Iraq, and the amount of cash he pulled was several times more than your average military officer.  Plus, he got a hell of a lot more time off.


The bottom line is contractors provide a valuable service. The contracting system isn’t perfect and requires greater oversight and management by government officials, but for the most part it provides a net benefit when it comes to supporting America’s missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Without contractors, the U.S. military and civilian agencies would have drastically reduced levels of effectiveness.


Karzai Speaks the Truth

There's a big 70-nation conference going on in London right now over what to do in Afghanistan, and in his opening address, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai gives the longest time frame I've ever seen anyone give concerning what it really takes if you want build from scratch a new government and put in place a security force to protect it . . .

Via Agence France-Presse . . .


The NATO-led force fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan is due to rise to 150,000 by the end of the year, but Karzai said earlier Thursday his country would need international help for at least another decade.

"With regard to training and equipping the Afghan security forces, five to 10 years will be enough," he told BBC radio.

"With regard to sustaining them until Afghanistan is financially able to provide for our forces, the time will be extended to 10 to 15 years."


Two truths about state-building:  You can't do it quickly, and you can't do it on the cheap.


It will be interesting to see how the US political establishment and citizenry react to those numbers.


The Hollowing Out of USAID

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) during the recent confirmation hearings for new USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah . . .


“During the last two decades, decision-makers have not made it easy for USAID to perform its vital function.  Reorganization initiatives resulted in the agency’s loss of evaluation, budget, and policy capacity.  There is a broad consensus among development experts that the loss of these functions at USAID is inhibiting the success of our development programs. Our development efforts will never be as effective as they should be if the agency that houses most of our development expertise is cut out of relevant policy, evaluation, and budgetary decisions.”


Senator Lugar went on to reference (S.1524), the new Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act, which has made it out of committee but has not yet been voted on by the Senate or House.  The bill seeks to give USAID more autonomy and authority while making it more accountable. 


According to Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee . . .


"S.1524 intends to strengthen the capacity of USAID to more effectively undertake development programs in support of the Secretary [of State's] priorities.  We believe that diplomacy and development can and should be mutually reinforcing.  To that end, this bill will provide appropriate tools so USAID can function at the highest level and achieve key foreign policy priorities under the guidance of the Secretary.  I would also like to point out that maintaining institutional distinction between our diplomatic agenda and our development programs is essential.  Quite simply, development and diplomacy often operate on different timelines, assumptions and objectives requiring specialized expertise and capabilities.  We must ensure that our development programs coordinate effectively with our diplomatic programs, but this does not mean we should merge the two functions into one entity.”


Based on certain hyperbolic news reports, there seems to be a bit of a "war" brewing between the Senate and State Department over how to manage development assistance (a recent showdown between Defense and State over assistance funding was just settled . . . in DOD's favor).  There's also word that the "Development Community" is worried "the policy center of gravity seems to be forming" over in Foggy Bottom, thereby weaking the development community's mandate and interests. 

It'll be interesting to see how things unfold when the upcoming Quadrennial Diplomacy & Development Review and the Presidential Study Directive on Global Development are released later this year.


Finally, for those interested in Defense matters, which make up the largest of the "Ds", Inside Defense has a preview (read: leaked) copy of the QDR, which is supposed to come out next week.



How to Get a Job in Iraq or Afghanistan as a Contractor

For each company mentioned, you can click on the link and go directly to their career page/job listings.


There are essentially three types of contractors working in war zones . . .


First, there are those providing security for individuals and convoys (known as personnel security details, hereafter PSDs), like Xe (formerly Blackwater; click here for the PSD-specific jobs), Triple Canopy, or Aegis.  If you have prior military experience, particularly in the infantry or military police branches, or if you’re a former police officer and have a background in personal protection, you stand a chance working for one of the PSD companies that escort diplomats and most other civilian expats in Iraq and Afghanistan (though the military uses private security too).  The easiest way to get hired is of course to know someone who knows someone and get your job that way.  Most of the PSDs I’ve talked to knew somebody in the business from their time in the military or while a police officer and were hired on through a personal connection.  Failing that, you just have to apply to individual company websites and hope for the best.


If you really want to do security you can bolster your credentials by taking some private training courses in executive protection and high risk security operations, or learning some advanced weapons skills.  Designated Marksmen (snipers) are in particular demand.  So are EMT-certified medics.  Xe has a training center were you can go to improve your skills and make contacts.   At a minimum though, you need a few years experience in a U.S. military combat arms branch or a U.S. police force to get hired.


Then there are jobs performing quasi-military services like intelligence collection, analysis, interrogation, interpreter support, or security force training, and include firms such as CACI and MPRI.  If you have relevant language skills and can score a Secret-level security clearance, you can be hired on as an interpreter for the U.S. Army, which has contracted recruitment out to Worldwide Language Resources.  While WLR will be signing your paychecks, you’ll be stationed on a Forward Operating Base, living with a military unit, and be going outside the wire as needed.  WLR also has positions available for human intelligence collectors and analysts.   Global Linguist Solutions, which the Marines use, also has positions available for translators who want to work in Afghanistan.


If you’re former military or police and don’t want to do security but are comfortable working as an advisor or trainer in what's known as Security Sector Reform, then your best off with a company like MPRI or DynCorps, which train Iraqi and Afghani security forces (both the police and military).  If you have experience in international development, RTI has advisory positions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries emerging from conflict.  These are USAID or DOS contracts, and involve building public sector institutional capacity, generating economic growth, or improving basic municipal services (water, electricity, etc), by advising local officials.


Finally, there firms whose job it is to service the logistical and life support demands of the military, such as Kellogg Brown Root and Agility Logistics.  The vast majority of war zone contracting consists of this latter type, and most of the individuals who work for these firms are not even Americans but locals or third-country nationals from places like Africa or the Asian sub-continent, and who are hired because they’re a lot cheaper in pay and room & board than even your lowest ranking enlisted man.  If you’re a U.S. citizen and want to get hired, you’ll need to have experience in managing large staffs, logistics and/or life support, and facility operations (such as generator maintenance or water purification).   


For those of you who pay attention to the news, you know that your best bet for any of these jobs for the next few years will be in Afghanistan.  The Iraq mission is downsizing and I recommend applying for the Afghanistan positions first to increase your chance of being hired.  They'll also likely last longer.


When I left the Army in 2006 I applied to over 50 different positions with NGOs and the USG to do development or aid work but only received one response for a stateside position I didn't want.  The last thing I wanted to do was go back to Iraq with a private military company doing security work.  But after about a month and a half without a job, I bit the bullet and started applying to private military companies. 


I used the site Danger Zone Jobs and at the time paid about $40 to gain access to list of companies working in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to some advice on how to get increase my chances of getting hired.  About two weeks later MPRI offered me a position to be an Iraqi Army Advisor. 


According to the team that runs Danger Zone Jobs, as of January 8th there were 168 companies listed on the site, of which 108 had job openings posted on their corporate sites for places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and other high risk countries.   I’m not affiliated in any way with the site, but it worked for me, provided some useful advice, and saved a lot of time tracking down companies with gigs in Iraq, which is where I wanted to work.

UPDATE:  A good friend in the PMC business tells me that Mission Essential Personnel hires a large number of interpreters for the military in Afghanistan.  Check them out.


The Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private philanthropic organization in the world.  It has an endowment of over $35 billion and to maintain its non-profit status has to drop about $1.5 billion a year on programming. 

Gates just released his 2010 Annual Letter in which he discusses some of the more important activities the foundation takes part in and his thoughts on the role the foundation plays in development . . .

Melinda and I see our foundation’s key role as investing in innovations that would not otherwise be funded. This draws not only on our backgrounds in technology but also on the foundation’s size and ability to take a long-term view and take large risks on new approaches. Warren Buffett put it well in 2006 when he told us, “Don’t just go for safe projects. You can bat a thousand in this game if you want to by doing nothing important. Or you’ll bat something less than that if you take on the really tough problems.” We are backing innovations in education, food, and health as well as some related areas like savings for the poor.

He also has a blog called The Gates Notes.

What got me started on  Gates tonight  was watching this cool interview of him on my favorite television news program, The Daily Show (the only other one worth watching is 60 Minutes).  He mentioned that about 18 months ago he quit his day job at Microsoft in order to dedicate all his time to the foundation's work.


The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Bill Gates
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis


The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is not perfect or without its share of criticism. Those problems are outweighed by the sheer scale of its philanthropy and its unique focus on supporting niche projects which don't receive government support or for which there are no pre-existing markets to drive innovation (like energy). 

I suspect by the time he's done, Gates will go down in history as the greatest philanthropist the world has ever seen. 

And at least he's nothing like this guy . . .




U.S. Government Jobs in Post-Conflict Stabilization, State-Building, Humanitarian Aid, and Development

Here are a set of links to various USG departments and agencies you can join if you want a career (or at least part-time gigs) in war zones or developing nations carrying out diplomacy, defense, and development related activities.

U.S. Agency for International Development

USAID is the premier USG agency charged with disaster response and international development.  It’s tied with the U.S. military when it comes to post-conflict stabilization since so much of the “war after the war” is handled by troops on the ground.  Click here for descriptions of the various career tracks and employment opportunities being offered.  You can also click on these links for the currently available Civil Service (DC-based) positions, and both Junior Officer and Mid-Level career opportunities with the Foreign Service.  USAID is also offering a couple Foreign Service Limited (temporary) appointments to send General Development Officers to Afghanistan, which you can find here.


If you have grad degree, you may want to consider the relatively recent Development Leadership Initiative.  It’s a program that seeks to add 600 new Foreign Service officers to the agency by 2010.  In the 1990s USAID was in many ways hollowed out and ended up more or less becoming a contracting agency that outsourced its work to NGOs and for profits that make up Development, Inc.  DLI seeks to correct this, but the clock is ticking for those of you who want to get in while jobs are plentiful (relatively speaking).


Finally, there’s the Personnel Service Contracts.   These are employment contracts between individuals and USAID and are used throughout the globe.  You can choose a country where there is an AID mission and I’ve met some PSCs who are the entire AID mission, reporting to a regional office in another country.  Click here for the FedBizOpps site that lists all the opportunities. 


The Military

By which I mean the real military, such as the Army and Marine Corps.  The Navy and the Air Force do good work, no doubt, but when it comes to post-conflict stabilization and state-building missions, their assistance falls mostly under logistical and other support services.  This is not to say they aren’t on the ground at all, it’s just that for these two branches their primary missions involve air and sea dominance, and since humans don’t live in either of these places, most of the work is done by Soldiers and Marines.


If you really want to interact with the locals the best branch (as far as the Army is concerned) is Civil Affairs.  You can join the CA branch immediately as an enlisted soldier, but as an officer you have to spend a few years in one of the basic branches.  I recommend the Infantry, followed by Armor, since you’ll get to interface with the population a lot more than in a branch like Quartermaster or Adjutant General.  If you’re female, the Military Police or Engineers are the best choices since being in the first two aren't options, and because MPs and Engineers do have a large number of responsibilities outside the wire.   Click on the links to find the recruitment pages of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps.


Department of State

Despite what many people claim or think, DOS is not really in the business of post-conflict stabilization or state-building.

As with USAID, there are several different ways to join.  Your two main options are as a Foreign Service officer, or by joining the Civil Service, though there’ are other ways which you can read up more on at the DOS Career’s page.   You can also take a non-career appointment as a direct hire, which has positions in the U.S. and abroad.


If you join the Foreign Service you’re going to spend your first few years sitting at a window processing visa apps and performing other consular services, which is a gate through which all FSOs must past.  After that, depending on your “cone” (career field), you’ll be engaging in a variety of work overseas, including analysis (cables are the bread and butter of the Foreign Service) and “public diplomacy” activities to increase America favorability rating. 


If you join DOS’s Civil Service, there’s a wide range of things you can do that are similar to what FSOs do overseas, but you be doing so domestically, and you’ll be avoiding the visa work.  The main problem though is that you’ll be somewhat of a second-class citizen . . . DOS prioritizes the work and careers of FSOs over those in the Civil Service, and poor leadership and management skills help exacerbate the problem.  The benefit is you get to remain in the U.S. and can spend your entire career in one location, and if you’re DC-based, can likely network your way up. 


For immediate openings in Iraq and Afghanistan, (what’s known as 3161 positions, after the legislation authorizing the practice), you can go to USAJOBS and do a query by location.  You can also just click here for Iraq, and here for Afghanistan.  


The Peace Corps

If you’re young, joining the Peace Corps as a volunteer is a great way to get some local level development experience that you can leverage into a career appointment with State or USAID, or to get a job with non-governmental organization.  You don’t even need a college degree . . . just be 18 and a U.S. citizen.  You can even be a retiree.  Joining the Peace Corps has some other benefits . . . you get free foreign language study and the opportunity to use it in your duty location, and there are also student loan repayment programs.


Being a Peace Corps volunteer isn’t necessarily easy, however.  You’ll often be the only American in your village or town, and will be living amongst the people, which mean you’ll likely have the same quality of life standards.  This isn’t a bad thing as it will help you bond with those you’re helping and better understand their needs (and appreciate how lucky one is to live in the U.S.).  It also means you’ll have the sort of cultural immersion experiences few Western expats ever get to have.  Click here for the how to apply and become a volunteer.


USDA Foreign Service

Until I started working for the Department of State, there was one facet of the U.S. government that I never even knew existed: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service


Their mission is to “improve foreign market access for U.S. products, build new markets, improve the competitive position of U.S. agriculture in the global marketplace, and provide food aid and technical assistance to foreign countries.”


Right now there are USDA FAS personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan helping to assess agricultural needs and advise on projects to support agricultural reconstruction, as well as build the capacity of local agricultural officials to develop and implement agricultural extension and development programs.  Since both countries have populations that rely to a large extent on subsistence farming and are capable of growing crops but don’t export them due to cost concerns, the work they’re doing is incredibly important.


Click here for specific Iraq FAS job information, and here for Afghanistan. 


The FBI, Homeland Security, or CIA

All these agencies have personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan and they are all intelligence focused.  You’re not going to be doing humanitarian or traditional development work though you may engage in state-building via Security Sector Reform (SSR), which includes training and providing advisory support to local institutional leaders.  For the most part though, you’ll be handling assets, conducting investigations, and analyzing information. 


Click on the following links for the career opportunities pages of the FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security.


That’s all I have.  I’ll be doing more jobs posts this week and next.  If anyone reading thinks I’m forgetting any opportunties, go ahead and let me know in the comments section.


How to Get a Job in Iraq or Afghanistan with the Federal Government 

I’m often asked about how to get a job in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Many people want a State Department or USAID  job or something with an NGO doing humanitarian aid or development. 


Unfortunately, if you’re young and just out of college or are not a federal employee in a relevant agency (such as State, USAID, DOJ, CIA, FBI, or USDA), the chances of getting to Iraq or Afghanistan under the auspices of the U.S. government are slim.  One reason for this is most positions in Iraq require men and women with experiences and specialized skills that are difficult to acquire.  Employers desire people who have worked in a war zone or developing country before, in addition to knowledge of how to work with local government officials or properly design and implement assistance projects.   Many positions also require interagency experience and knowledge of how the federal government operates in conflict zones.


If you have what it takes to work in Iraq or Afghanistan (or at least think you do) and you’re not a member of the federal government, then the number one resource for finding positions to do post-conflict stabilization, humanitarian aid, or development work (or intelligence, public affairs, management or IT) is  USAJOBS, “the official job site of the US Federal Government.”  Just type Afghanistan or Iraq into the search function and it’ll pull up everything that’s currently available along with duties, qualifications needed, and the benefits that come with employment.  Best of all, you can apply online.


To maximize your chances, make sure you have a resume that conforms to the federal resume standards.  Use this handbook to get a sense of what’s expected.  Also plan on answering a lot of questions in a way that clearly and concisely shows you’re qualified for the position.  These questions are known as “KSAs” and are used to determine if you have the requisite Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities to do the job.  In order to get my position at a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq with the Department of State I had to answer nearly thirty questions, about two-thirds of which were writing intensive.  Once I was short-listed I had to answer about ten more...which took two days to knock out at a coffee shop in Dubai.  I recommend copying and pasting the questions into a Word document and taking your time to do them properly, in part because there is no spell check function on the USAJOBS entry boxes.  Using Word also allows you to save your responses so you can copy and paste them to other applications.


Beware of positions that that have an opening date (when it’s first posted) and closing date (the deadline for applicants) that is only two weeks.  By law most federal jobs have to be advertised, but the reality is the person who will fill that position has been identified and the human resources official posting it is just going through required hiring process.  You can still apply for the job, but you’re likely not going to get it.  Your best bet is for positions with multiple openings and with closing dates that are months from now. 


For more information, the USAJOBS site has some resume and KSA tips here.  I’ve also found this site to be useful.   You may also want to consider hiring a professional resume writer.  When I left the Army I used a professional service and paid about a $100 to have one done up in the federal style.  I sent in my original resume, my officer evalution reports, spent about 30-45 minutes on the phone with the writer, and went through 4-5 drafts with her.  The result was an end product far superior to anything I could have written myself.

Scoring a position in Iraq or Afghanistan with the federal government isn’t an easy thing to do unless you’re already in an agency that has responsibilities in these countries.  Such individuals have already gone though a long and comprehensive vetting process and there are certain key positions that can only be filled by permanent members of the civil or foreign service. From an HR perspective they’re also easier to manage, since you don’t need to recruit and vet new staff.  If you really want to spend a career in war zones or developing nations helping with the civilian side of post-conflict stabilization, then you should seriously consider joining USAID or State as a career member of the Civil or Foreign Service.   Once you do there’s almost a 100% chance you’ll be sent to a war zone or developing nation within your first couple years of employment if you request it.



Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy

The Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (Holbrooke) just released its regional stabilization strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

According to Secretary of State Clinton:

The challenges in both countries are immense. The Afghan government is under assault from the Taliban and struggling to provide security, jobs, and basic justice to a society devastated by 30 years of war. Across the border, the Pakistani people are victim to regular suicide bombings despite their military’s increasingly determined efforts against extremist elements. And while al-Qaeda’s safe-haven in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area is increasingly disrupted, its senior leaders are still planning attacks against our homeland and our Allies.


We shaped our political, economic, and diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan with these realities in mind. Far from an exercise in "nation-building," the programs detailed here aim to achieve realistic progress in critical areas. They are aligned with our security objectives and have been developed in close consultation with the Afghan and Pakistani governments, as well as our international partners. When combined with U.S. combat operations and efforts to build Afghan and Pakistani security capacity, these programs constitute an innovative, whole-of-government strategy to protect our vital interests in this volatile region of the world.

Here's a summary of the reports key initiatives for Afghanistan:

  • Increasing significantly the number of civilian technical advisers in key central government ministries and in the provinces and district centers to help make Afghan government institutions more visible, effective, and accountable. Additional ministries and Afghan institutions will be certified to receive direct U.S. assistance, enhancing ministerial capacity, improving the effectiveness of our assistance, and decreasing reliance on contractors.

  • Implementing a new civilian-military agriculture redevelopment strategy that will sap the insurgency not only of foot soldiers, but also of income from the narcotics trade.


  • Expanding sub-national capacity building efforts, focused mainly in key population centers in the East and South, through new civ-mil initiatives, such as the District Development Working Groups and District Support Teams, and supporting programs that give Afghans a greater stake in their own government, such as the National Solidarity Program. A key emphasis will be assisting Afghan efforts to reduce corruption.


  • Creating space for traditional dispute resolution mechanisms to re-emerge in areas cleared of the Taliban, while also strengthening the formal justice system.


  • Reducing the drug trade by interdicting drug traffickers and disrupting their networks, instead of targeting poor Afghan farmers through eradication.


  • Supporting Afghan government efforts to re-integrate Taliban who renounce al-Qaeda, cease violence, and accept the constitutional system.


  • Redoubling international efforts to target illicit financial flows to the Taliban.


  • Countering al-Qaeda and Taliban propaganda, while also empowering Afghans to challenge the insurgents’ narrative by improving access to mobile phones, radio, and television.


  • Improving coordination of international assistance. We are consulting with Allies and partners to strengthen the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and to enhance civilian coordination among ISAF partners.

You can download the entire thing here.