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Archive for August 16th, 2005

Tuesday, August 16th, 2005

MORE THOUGHTS ON REFORMING STATE – PART I.

Link Preface:

State Sanity I ” – Caerdroia (Jeff)

State Sanity II” – Caerdroia (Jeff)

What should (and won’t) happen at the State Department” – Glittering Eye

On Diplo Services and Reform” – Lounsbury

Yet Another Missed Opportunity“- Whirledview (PHK)

A State Department Worth Creating” – Zenpundit

I’ve been pondering the reforming of the State Department in light of these posts ( and comments made on the posts) and will try to clarify a couple of points:

a) Regarding why the deep expertise advocated by myself, Col and PHK is a good thing in a FSO.

b) The nature of State ” obstructionism” that Dave, Jeff and I have decried and how reform might mitigate it.

Deep expertise in a foreign nation or region – where somone has effective mastery of language, cultural and social nuances, history, religious traditions and politics plus a network of personal connections – is an invaluable platform for making informed policy choices. It also takes at least a decade to cultivate, including academic study plus considerable periods of time of immersion ” in-country” but this can be regarded as an investment in a FSO will will have an effective 25 -35 year career. The current rotation policy for FSO’s makes this kind of knowledge acquisition very difficult without bringing any tangible benefits to the United States ( except perhaps for the Chiefs of Mission who can send troublesome or subpar functionaries into somebody else’s bailwick).

Ironically, in the unenlightened days before WWII, the State Department had, relative to its total number of employees, many ” old hand” experts of this type. The combination of high prestige and miserly government salaries tended to attract a lot of wealthy Wall Street lawyers and international bankers ( or their sons) to the Foreign Service. These predominantly WASP Ivy leaguers usually started out politically connected ( The Dulles brothers for example had Secretary of State Lansing as an uncle) well-travelled, multi-lingual and arrived with a set of interests in a foreign land or two that they continued to develop.

Having these ” old hands” kind of FSO’s like George Kennan, Chip Bohlen and Joseph Grew around provided the Secretary of State and the President with a source of informed and coherent advice at critical moments in American history. Grew was partly responsible for the policy of co-opting Hirohito as an adjunct of the Occupation, sparing the United States the costs of a massive occupational garrison and frequent bloodshed. Old Hand expertise was not always a guarantee of sage advice- the ” China Hands” who were persecuted by McCarthy had understood China well but badly misjudged Communism as a revolutionary ideology. Mao was no agrarian reformer nor could he and Chiang have built a coalition regime.

On the other hand, Right-wingers getting rid of State’s China experts ended up blinding successive administrations to the Sino-Soviet split and aggravated problems during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Likewise, leftists and fellow travellers in the Roosevelt administration who successfully intrigued to abolish State’s Russian division in 1937 and destroyed State’s files on the Stalinist terror deprived FDR of realistic advice regarding the USSR, Stalin ( which of course was their intent) and State’s own internal security. The only clear-headed advice Franklin Roosevelt received on Stalin came from Winston Churchill and Henry Stimson, not his State Department with pro-Soviet functionaries like Winnant, Davies and Hiss in the driver’s seat.

End Part I.

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