A STATE DEPARTMENT WORTH CREATING: GETTING INSTITUTIONAL CLARITY AT FOGGY BOTTOM
The Bush administration announced today an intention to perform a major overhaul of the State Department
( hat tip Combat Boots
). This move ( assuming it results in real reforms) will not be welcomed by many members of the Foreign Service who are already balking at the strategic objective/mission/task orientation demands
of the Bush White House. Nor will it be welcomed by many liberals or Democrats who will no doubt suspect a purge is in the offing, motivated by Republican partisanship against a bureaucracy widely ( and correctly) perceived as leaning liberal and dovish.
Both groups may be correct to worry but it is also true the State Department is in dire need of reforms as its antiquated regional desk structure, byzantine personnel assignment policies and insular culture are inadequate to meet the challenges of a radically different world from the Cold War era. I would also add that State and its Foreign Service officers need not just a new culture but more resources in order to do their jobs - sometimes dangerous jobs I might add- effectively. The historic pennypinching of Congress, to nickel and dime common sense requests from State, line by budget line, while at the same time appropriating megabillions of pork for the district back home has to end. It impacts our national interests and even our national security.
In what way should the State Department be changed ? A few suggestions:Outreach
: The Department needs to be deeply engaged in public diplomacy
and connecting with the American public about the importance of foreign affairs
. It's great to build embassies that cannot be easily blown up by terrorists, not so great if diplomats do not leave their desk located in what amounts to a nuclear war bunker built to look like a suburban community college campus. Might as well stay in Georgetown. If we aren't mingling with ordinary locals as well as host government officials we can hardly be aware of what is really
going on " in -country".Strategic Thinking
: George Kennan and Paul Nitze attempted in the 1950's to reverse State's intrinsic love affair with crisis management, muddling through and a day to day time horizon in favor of long-term strategic planning. While they instituted strategic policies they never managed to inculcate strategic thinking.
While you might disagree with the Bush administrations " transformationalist" priorities, getting State Department personnel habituated to think and act in terms of a set of strategic priorities is a good thing. The age of ad hoc, seat of the pants, diplomacy has to go and the State needs to reorg an internal structure that perpetuates empire-building and encourages end-runs around the president's stated policy or the Secretary of State's instructions.Depth
: FSO's should not rotate everywhere without rhyme or reason. Their regional area/major nation should be their career so true depth can be cultivated. Yes, I realize " clientism" would be a problem. My answer to that is it is a problem now except, on average, it's a less-informed clientism than if someone spent say, thirty years as a Sinologist.
Secondary areas of expertise for FSO's should be non-regional - economics, business and international finance, IT, counter-terrorism, intelligence, military affairs, public health, management, law and so on. Real expertise here as well should be the goal.Jointness:
State, the IC and the Pentagon need to learn operational " jointness"
in foreign affairs the way the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines had to adapt to planning, buying and executing missions in the field in unison ( actually the military is still learning...but they're better at it than they used to be).
This is going to take some time and new blood to achieve but America needs more of a team and fewer prima donnas in foreign policy.