MORE THOUGHTS ON REFORMING THE STATE DEPARTMENT PART II.
” Right-Bolshies, Magical thinking, Diplo Reform ” – Lounsbury
“Part I.” – Zenpundit
To continue (after an unpardonable delay), in this section I intend to explain the nature of State ” obstructionism” that Dave, Jeff and I have decried and how reform might mitigate it.
I am going to set aside a semantic debate about the political coloration at State. Collounsbury argued for small ” c” conservative. Jeff and Dave and I said ” liberal” or ” dovish”. I think I could make a good case for examples of liberal pedigree during the 80’s at the ARA desk but that’s not particularly important right now. As Matt said, clashes over foreign policy do not fit neatly into a Left-Right spectrum anyway which is true enough so I’m going to stick to bureaucratic imperatives instead.
Let us simply state instead that the premise is that the State Department’s senior civil service in Washington and the lower level political appointees follow the natural tendency of a bureaucracy to try to dominate policy making for their area of responsibility. Added to this is the self-consciously ” elite” culture of the Foreign Service, the wide latitude given to desk heads and appointees for their area of responsibility, poor to nonexistent mechanisms of accountability and you have a recipe for free-lancing. Henry Kissinger and George Schultz were both exceptionally strong, hands-on and authoritative Secretaries of State. Shultz in particular was described by Robert Gates as ” the toughest Secretary I knew” yet each man complained at length in their memoirs about subordinates and the bureaucracy at State attempting to go against official policy.
The NSC is supposed to act as a counterweight by managing the Interagency process so that one bureaucracy ( usually State but sometimes Defense or the CIA) does not run wild and deny the president alternative views. Unfortunately, as every happy NSC is alike – organized, methodical, unbiased, inclusive and enforcing accountability- every dysfunctional NSC is dysfunctional in its own way. Only two NSC interagency systems have really worked properly – under Eisenhower and Bush the Elder- all the rest from Truman to George W. Bush have teetered between impotently presiding over bureaucratic warfare to becoming part of the problem. Since as Col- correctly noted, the NSC process is reset anew by each incoming administration, reforming the NSC interagency process itself is a post for another day.
As far as State is concerned there are a number of additional reforms that I might suggest to reduce its capacity to obstruct administration policy without shutting down the flow of expert information from State that policy makers absolutely need to hear:
My first suggestion would be to get rid of the antiquated, geographically-based, regional desk structure which is where most of the antics and information bottlenecks seem to occur. The structure can be re-orged in any number of different ways. By policy or administrative task, regrouping regions along geoeconomic lines of development, category of relationship ( state to state, state to transnational body like the EU or NATO, state to NGO) and so on. The point here is to mainly break up the bureaucratic empires that prevent cogent advice from flowing up from embassies to policy makers and clear instructions from flowing back down.
Secondly, the Undersecretary should stop being the utility player of State who does whatever the Secretary thinks is important and become the formal, institutional, monitor of State’s internal bureaucracy who enforces accountability and ensures the flow of information.
Third, State personnel need greater experience and insight outside their narrow domain of international diplomacy. The world is far more integrated thanks to globalization than it was thirty years ago and while it was once sensible to let State steer most diplomatic relationships on autopilot, foreign policy needs to be tightly integrated with the perspectives from other fields, particularly economics. It would be a good idea for State’s fast-track, rising stars to do some early career stints- call them visiting fellowships, internships, whatever – at Treasury, the Fed, the CIA or NSA, the Pentagon and so on.
Another place where State could use broadening is in the messy world of politics to get a better grip on where key Congressional players on foreign policy are coming from. Spending six months to a year helping appropriations and foreign relations committee staff would keep State personnel attuned to American politicos and, I think, help the committee staff, Congressman and Senators get a keener understanding of and sympathy for State’s needs and the limits of the possible in diplomacy ( reducing the propensity for magical thinking during a crisis). It would be a good two-way educational street.
State’s culture and habits of mind go back not to the Cold War but to the Great War when the United States began to accept a wider role in global affairs during the progressive era and the 1920’s. The time for renovation is long, long, overdue regardless of whether Iraq is going well or ill or if the president in 2008 is a Republican or a Democrat. State is far too important to national security to be marginalized or left to muddle through on its own, making policy in ad hoc fashion in response to the overriding pressure of the day. It’s time to contemplate change.