Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Right Angle Club: 2013
Reflections about the 91st year of the Club's existence. Delivered for the annual President's dinner at The Philadelphia Club, January 17, 2014. George Ross Fisher, scribe.

Dept. Defense vs. Dept. State

My youngest son is scheduled to be sent to Kabul in December, and his family is pretty worried about it. I start off by saying this, just to show I understand both sides of the following problem.

{Colonel Frank Gunter}
Colonel Frank Gunter

Colonel Frank Gunter, formerly of the U.S. Marines was at the Right Angle Club, telling us about the complexities of Iraq, where he spent 25 months. It was very interesting and somewhat hair-raising. The Colonel joined the Marines as a private and worked his way up, accumulating a couple of Bronze Stars, so you know he is no sissy. Right now, he is teaching economics at Lehigh, so you know he is pretty smart, too. As would easily be imagined, he sees the consequences of shale gas in Pennsylvania through the funnel of having a major impact on a nation which is heavily dependent on oil exports. He has seen the effects of the "Dutch disease" up front and friendly. I would have said the Dutch Disease was a phenomenon of discovering oil (or diamonds, or whatever) and finding everybody drops tools to be part of the oil rush, with the result that a one-industry country is easily taken over by a dictator who gets control of the oil. Our Lehigh professor makes it a little more complicated, saying the oil discovery pushes the value of the local currency sky-high so that all other export industries are unable to survive the higher prices they have to charge. But it amounts to the same thing: a gold rush can be a bad thing for a small country, even though you might not think so at first. So, similar effects can be expected to play out in Central Pennsylvania, except for the existence of a large national currency and the buffering effect of many other diversified industries nearby.

In some ways, the most interesting discussion took place after the Colonel left. One of our members who had spent years in Foreign Service remarked that considerable friction between the Department of Defense and the Department of State was unintentionally caused by a difference in personnel policy. When the Marines order you to go into harm's way, you go. The State Department, on the other hand, permits an employee to decline a reassignment. Unfortunately, that led to a considerable manpower shortage in the State Department effort to win the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqis, which the Armed Forces had to fill without adequate training. And in any event, in the Marines, you don't often get promoted for civilian work when there is a shooting war going on. As the casualties started to come it, this became a serious source of friction and probably underperformance in the mission. Gradually, we learned. Nowadays, things are closer to "Those who refuse an assignment, must then resign from the Department."

Originally published: Saturday, September 14, 2013; most-recently modified: Thursday, May 16, 2019