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March 19, 2009
Vol. 28 No. 12

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    Foreign service officerís lecture gives students supplemental tools to apply policy training

    By Sarah Galer
    sgaler@uchicago.edu
    News Office

      
    Photos by Lloyd DeGrane

    Richard Schmierer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, lectures at the Harris School of Public Policy Studies, presenting the United Statesí policy in Iraq, as the country continues to rebuild. Speakers such as Schmierer add to studentsí training in the processes of policymaking.
      
      
      

    Richard Schmierer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, recently spoke about U.S. policy in Iraq to an audience of students, faculty and staff at the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies.

    Such events provide Harris School students with insights into the important decisions and consequences that policymakers face on a daily basis. These real-life examples supplement the policy training they receive in the classroom.

    Ellen Cohen, Dean of Students at the Harris School, explained, “Our students receive unparalleled theoretical training in policy analysis. Having speakers engaged in the policy process, which is usually messier and more dynamic, adds to their understanding of how to apply the tools.”

    Schmierer benefits from these interactive exchanges. He tries to get out of Washington, D.C., every month or two for a fresh perspective on what the perceptions and interests are outside of the Beltway.

    “It is useful to get outside those circles and engage with smart, interesting people.”

    At his talk, Schmierer shared insights on both achievements and continued concerns in Iraq. Overall, he was optimistic about the security situation in Iraq, saying that things have radically improved during the past 18 to 20 months.

    In fact, he declared Iraq “more or less stable from a security point of view.”

    Schmierer credited the improvements to “manpower, training and trust.” First, Iraqi militias’ efforts have been weakening as the Iraqi people have started to put more trust in the central government to stabilize the country. Second, the army and police have made significant progress in the elimination of sectarian elements within their forces.

    Thanks to these changes, he said, “Generally, Iraqis have resumed something like normal lives.”

    Schmierer pointed to the provincial elections on Jan. 31 as evidence of improvement. There was full participation across society in the voting process and increased accountability of candidates, as, for the first time, Iraqis could vote for individual candidates instead of party lists. The result was that the people voted against most of the incumbents.

    Schmierer heralded this, saying, “It sent a powerful message to Iraqi leaders.”

    While Schmierer noted some of the recent successes in Iraq, the country still has a lot of issues to work on, he pointed out. First and foremost, its weak economy could destabilize the country if it is not improved—a delicate challenge for a formerly central command economy reliant on oil revenues.

    Other concerns include remnant regional border disputes from the first Gulf War, declining oil revenues and output, and the status of more than four million displaced Iraqis.

    When a student asked Schmierer how long he expects the United States forces to be in Iraq, Schmierer said that security relations would slowly evolve from an active presence to a more consulting role to train, equip and advise.

    However, he said, “We diplomats are going to be in Iraq forever.”

    Because of challenges like Iraq, potential policymakers, such as the students at the Harris School, are a vital resource for the State Department’s mission.

    “Join the Foreign Service,” Schmierer said. “We are expanding. I know the President strongly supports our efforts, and Secretary Clinton is a tremendous advocate, both for the Civil Service and the Foreign Service.”