Welcome, Mr. Ambassador
Special envoy speaks at MIIS, lessons may fit the county.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
James Dobbins has been sent by U.S. presidents to some of the most dangerous places in the world. Under Bill Clinton, Dobbins was special envoy for Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. Under George Bush, and in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Dobbins was named the the administration’s representative to the Afghan opposition, tasked with putting together and installing a successor to the Taliban regime.
Imagine his surprise, then, at being told his trip to Monterey County to speak at the Monterey Institute of International Studies put him in the middle of one of the most dangerous places in California.
“Is it really that bad there?” he asked. “I guess I won’t be walking around.”
(He was kidding. When your name starts with “Mr. Ambassador,” you get to kid like that. Also? He was staying in Carmel. Sue McCloud can kill people with one finger. She’ll protect him.)
When talking about Monterey as a dangerous place, I’m referring, of course, to one of the most ironic weeks in recent history.
On the same day Salinas officials proudly announced the city had won a coveted “California Welcome Center” (beating the snot out of the Peninsula thanks to the easy access to the proposed location via the Laurel Street off-ramp from 101), the national educational nonprofit Violence Policy Center issued a study revealing that Monterey County led the state in its number of youth murders.
We beat Alameda County and Oakland, we beat L.A. County and its eponymous city. With a homicide rate of 31.2 per 100,000 residents ages 10 to 24, we came out on top of that very dismal list.
And then, insult met injury a week later thanks to Forbes.com. In an article described by one journalist colleague as “Forbes: Pulling Statistical Methodologies Out of Our Ass since 1917,” the online magazine put Salinas on a list – one led by Stockton, with Modesto, Vallejo and Sacramento thrown in for good measure – of the most miserable cities in America. (It did give me an idea for the city’s re-branding campaign: Salinas – At Least We’re Not Stockton.)
Dobbins, now head of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND Corp. was in town to launch MIIS’ second annual “Global Problems and Solutions Colloquium.” While the timing of the lecture on Feb. 8 put it past the paper’s print deadline for covering the actual event, Dobbins offered up an outline of his talk in a telephone conversation.
I thought he might have some good ideas; former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan says Dobbins is a leading practitioner of building stable peace in the wake of conflict and disorder. I wondered if what he learned trying to piece together war-torn countries (sometimes at the behest of a government whose motives were suspect at best) offered any lessons for us locals.
The Clinton administration, he says, came away with large lessons from Haiti and Kosovo. The Bush administration refused to adopt those lessons, deciding instead “to do it as cheaply as possible” in Afghanistan.
Those lessons, or, as Dobbins called them, best practices: Security is a prerequisite for economic development, and you have to involve the neighbors in the reconstruction, by virtue of ideological connections.
Granted, we’re not war torn. But I have friends I consider rational and thinking people who believe calling out the National Guard to deal with the gang issue isn’t a bad idea. (I think it’s a horrifying idea, but I believe if you willingly trade freedom for security, you get what you deserve.) Still, Dobbins’ idea of security and consensus building is particularly meaningful, given that neither can be done without spending money, which is something cities like Salinas, Seaside, Marina, King City, Gonzales and Soledad have very little of these days. The county Board of Supervisors, meanwhile, spent more time last month debating whether Chairwoman Jane Parker’s nomination of Janet Brennan to the Planning Commission was a slap in the face to the residents of Parker’s district (Brennan, whose nomination was ultimately defeated, lives in Supervisor Dave Potter’s district) than figuring out how the county can bridge a possible $16.3 million budget gap. Salinas, the county seat, is staring down a projected shortfall of $7 million and may charge residents for the costs of repairing city-owned sidewalks.
Security, consensus building, no cash, and no cash on the horizon.
Maybe we need to hold one mother of a bake sale and fix everything at once. Or maybe Bill Murray will win the 3M Charity Shootout (again), throw his winnings to the locals (again) and again solve some of our problems for us.
MARY DUAN is editor of the Weekly. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.