In a speech at Georgetown
University on January 18th, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
threw down the gauntlet at the State Department bureaucracy by
expounding "transformational diplomacy" to shift the
priority and direction of the department in the post-modern, post-Cold
the State Department has almost as many employees in Germany,
with a population of 82 million, as those in India, with a population
of 1 billion, Secretary Rice announced that as much as a third
of Foreign Service positions could be relocated from cushy and
coveted European capitals and Washington to China, India and other,
presumably less desirable, hot spots of the 21st Century.
was not simply an announcement for a superficial makeover plan
for a department long considered archaic. After all, what determines
an organization's priorities is not so much its purported objectives
statement, but its promotion criteria. Secretary Rice, indicating
her seriousness, declared that only those with regional expertise,
fluency in at least two languages (especially "exotic"
ones like Chinese, Urdu and Arabic) and willingness to accept
dangerous postings would be promoted into senior ranks.
In a classic
diplomatic understatement, this transformation is said to be causing
"some distress" among the department careerists.
have long viewed the State Department as a hostile territory where
disloyalty to Republican administrations is routine. They are
responding favorably to this declaration of war on "old diplomacy"
and bureaucratic intransigence, still mired in the traditions
of an era when Europe was the mistress of the world and the lingua
franca of diplomacy was, well, still French. Indeed the department's
European Bureau has long considered itself first among equals,
and also second and third.
culture of the State Department is frequently contrasted unfavorably
with that of the Defense Department. Whereas the dominant ethos
of the latter, being of a military outlook, is said to be "action,"
especially in danger zones around the world, that of the State
is contemptuously said to be "talk," mostly in posh
European capitals. One observer who worked with both departments
relays a common, but telling stereotype: "Defense takes in
ordinary people and achieves the extraordinary; State takes in
extraordinary people and achieves the ordinary."
Department of Defense has been hardly free of bureaucracy and
conventional thinking, it has had a fair share of prescient thinkers
who have looked beyond the Cold War paradigm. It was, after all,
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who advocated prior to the
9/11 attacks -- despite much unpopularity at the time -- military
"transformation" and "net-centric" warfare,
an organizationally and doctrinally agile military that could
respond flexibly to new trouble spots of the post-Cold War world.
that the Cold War ended over ten years ago, the proposed transformational
diplomacy is not just timely -- it is tardy. Nevertheless, this
is a classic case of "better late than never." The State
Department ought to move many of its personnel from heavily fortified,
but isolated embassy compounds in capitals to smaller cities and
foster closer, more immediate interactions with indigenous populations.
Enabling this kind of "net-centric" diplomacy will require
a structural change in the department's overall personnel policy.
the Department of State is not solely responsible for its outmoded
personnel policy. It has long been recognized that, while some
of the best ambassadors and senior officers were political appointees,
so were some of the worst ones. There has been a strong resentment
in the Foreign Service against appointees based mainly on political
patronage, especially campaign contributions.
with the State Department over ambassadorial appointments, both
Republican and Democratic administrations in the White House offered
the rationale that their political candidates possess superior
"administrative skills" over State Department career
candidates. They argued that the politically appointed ambassadors
could simply rely on their staff for regional and linguistic expertise.
It is in response to this internal political reality that the
State Department began stressing administrative skills in its
own promotion programs in order to compete with political appointees
for choice ambassadorial posts. In one case, an ambassador claimed
such a background from his prior work in running the department's
Rice faces a difficult twin task: that of transforming the outlook
and modus operandi of an entrenched Foreign Service bureaucracy,
and reforming the way in which the White House supplies political
appointees to the former in vital overseas assignments. These
political appointments should be screened rigorously for foreign
policy effectiveness in addition to the inevitable criteria of
political loyalty to, and ideological kinship with, the White
of the White House-State Department relationship is necessary
to convince the "distressed" careerists to adopt the
transformational diplomacy as their own. Many conscientious Foreign
Service officers will, indeed, privately cheer the new direction,
because emphasis on regional knowledge and language skills squares
with their original motives in joining the Foreign Service. More
such people will survive the "up or out" mid-career
process with the new promotion criteria in place.
foot-dragging is a greatly underrated force. Unless Secretary
Rice can bring her considerable influence to bear on both the
White House and the State Department to achieve a two-way reform,
her ambitious and laudable objective of transforming American
diplomacy may languish.
J. Na, senior fellow in foreign policy at Discovery Institute
Washington D.C., runs "Guns and Butter Blog" (gunsandbutter.blogspot.com)
and "The Asianist" (asianist.blogspot.com).
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