August 28, 2005

Condi's Reception at State

Jim Hoagland writes that Condi Rice is facing some skepticism among some of the troops at Foggy Bottom. Eric Shimp, former FSO and trade negotiator, disagrees. He wrote a note to Hoagland and sent a copy on to me too. Here it is, below.

I appreciated your column today regarding Secretary Rice's essential internal objectives at State. As a former FSO, however, I'd hesitate to embrace fully your characterization that "Rice still invites skepticism from mid-level Foreign Service Officers". I served as an FSO from age 23-31, and left the Department 3 years ago -- those mid-level folks remain my contemporaries. Based on my relationships with current officers, I'd suggest that your assessment offers an inaccurate generalization of the state of mind of the Foreign Service with regards to SecState Rice and the Administration as a whole. I've certainly had conversations with FSOs who are vehemently opposed to the Bush Administration on more or less ideological grounds. But I'd offer that this type of response is a minority view. Instead, I think what has happened at State is that a cautious initial welcome has turned into a relationship of mutual respect, between the new Secretariat and officers in the field. Certainly, raising up immensely well-respected career officers like Nick Burns to the 7th floor has helped, as did kicking Mr. Bolton to New York. More importantly, however, this is a Secretary engaged in the essence of diplomacy. Dr. Rice is out there, in the field, working a travel schedule not seen since (and probably eclipsing) James Baker. Moreover, Dr. Rice is making practical decisions that don't detract from her overall value system; in doing so, she is effectively involving more of State's inherent expertise overseas. Do arguments still happen between Washington and officers at post who feel they know a country and its likely responses to US overtures? Well, of course, but that debate is now a more useful tool in making actual policy, whereas previously, during the first term, such debates occured in a demoralizing echo chamber (see: Iraq, occupation planning). If anything, I've sensed a certain energizing effect under SecState Rice among FSOs posted both in Washington and abroad. Under Sec Powell, regardless of his fine personal leadership and care for "the troops", State officers quickly came to realize that they often had very little influence on policy decisions. Sec Rice, by virtue of her own leadership skills, aggressive travel, policy acumen, and support from the White House, has brought State effectively back to the table. FSO's I keep in touch with regularly throughout Asia and the Middle East feel they're once again playing a valuable role, that their experience and insight is valued in creating a more effective US diplomacy. But back to your point. I won't deny that there's skepticism - but it's not generalized, it's compartmentalized to certain key areas that remain, essentially, "hangovers" from the first Bush term. The concerns I hear most about center around 1) public diplomacy 2) Iran and 3) China. Of the first, skepticism focuses on the fear that public diplomacy will be devolved further into the "style" of an ineffective political campaign, rather than an approach based on sound policy choices and legitimate outreach. Of the second, most concerns center around the realization that this Administration, like most of its predecessors, lacks any form of leverage with Tehran, and that changing this requires a wholesale change in the bilateral relationship (e.g. we actually have to develop one - but how?). And of the third, the concern is that a focus on China, largely driven by Congressional pressure, will reduce US-Asian relations to a subset of the China question. This may not only be counterproductive in the region, but will cause undue harm to relations with key allies, such as Japan and Australia. In any case, I return to my complaint - you've generalized overmuch, and in so doing, made an argument that strays from an accurate picture of Foggy Bottom. But by all means, please keep writing on the topic. One thing you might consider focusing on in the future is the high-degree of crossover of career FSOs who were on detail to the NSC under Rice, and their ongoing jobs now back at State.

Posted by Gregory at August 28, 2005 11:43 PM | TrackBack (2)

Again a Powell ding (subtle, to be sure) from someone who might know. BD, you have never explored the role of State in the problems of Iraq.

I was just reading a Nation article talking about the role of anthropologists in US foreign policy/defense/wars, and essentially how this was considered tantamount to treason from the author's perspective, treason to academe. He seemed to think they were"getting a handle on it" by which I think that cooperation was declining. I also recall the stumbling attempts at PR.

Could it be that State has a problem with its chops? Had, if you prefer? And has your correspondent identified them all?

Posted by: Nichevo at August 29, 2005 12:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I found this quote most interesting:

"Of the first, skepticism focuses on the fear that public diplomacy will be devolved further into the "style" of an ineffective political campaign, rather than an approach based on sound policy choices and legitimate outreach."

It goes back to what I think is the biggest problem in this administration: the focus on domestic politics over the long terms good for America. The "political campaign" is (and has always been) focused at the American people and elections and campaigns. Message, not substance...

Posted by: just me at August 29, 2005 01:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, yes, but this assumes that the White House recognizes a difference between the two.

Note that I did not say only this White House. Public diplomacy has been in decline since the end of the Cold War; USIA and other agencies that supported it took a pounding from the Clinton administration and Congress during the 1990s. Partly this had to do with not having an omnipresent threat around which to build a public diplomacy, a problem we still have. But it hasn't helped that the last two Presidents had no background in foreign policy when they took office, and did have very deep backgrounds in the mechanics of political campaigns.

If the message of our public diplomacy -- really, this starts with Presidential statements and proceeds on down to formal PD programs -- appears to be crafted with the domestic audience foremost in mind, this needn't be a result of a deliberate choice. More likely it is because the domestic audience is the one administration officials know. This isn't true of all of them, of course. It pretty clearly is true of the new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Karen Hughes, a career consultant on political campaigns.

Posted by: JEB at August 29, 2005 04:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good point, JEB... forgot about Hughes' new job. Not sure I knew that she was doing that job, actually, now that I think about it.

Posted by: just me at August 29, 2005 05:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Is she doing it yet? Or still in Tejas? Long time from announcement to start if I recall correctly... seemed real important we get Bolton in there right away ("can't leave such an important position unfilled", fair enough), but apparently there's no hurry for Karen to get to work(?)

Posted by: TG at August 29, 2005 05:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The characterisation in the note pretty much matches my sense from my business interactions with US State diplos, in regards to their issues with the Bush Administration.

Posted by: collounsbury at August 29, 2005 12:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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