There are few that would question that the US State Department is a dysfunctional organization. The structure, fiefdoms, and bureaucratic knots have many knowledgeable analysts whether it is possible to bring State into the 20th century, let alone the 21st century. I believe it is possible, indeed absolutely essential but doing so requires major Congressional intervention as State cannot or will not revamp itself, regardless of the leadership of the Secretary of State or of her Under Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries (many of these critical leadership positions, by the way, remain empty).
Yesterday I asked whether the State Department is so full of problems today that it must be rebuilt from scratch if there is to be effective civilian leadership of America’s foreign affairs? The question was came out of my latest conversation with a colleague who, like many others, wants to break apart the State Department because of the because the impression the present structure is incapable of change. Different constituencies want different things, but the general idea is to break it into smaller pieces, like pushing Humpty Dumpty and don’t him back together again: create an independent USAID, independent USIA-like entity, remove or dramatically revise INR and so on.
Spencer Ackerman (a fine judge of intellect, by the way) is rightly concerned whether there is a constituency or motivation to rebuild State in Congress or elsewhere.
There is no congressional constituency in Congress for destroying the State Department to create some fantastical super-totally-capable-New State Department. If there’s a constituency at all for destroying the State Department, it’s a constituency that wants to weaken diplomacy as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. See, for instance, Newt Gingrich’s long-forgotten 2003 rant about the State Department representing a fifth column within the Bush administration. … My suspicion is that overhauling the State Department will miss the point in the same way that the post-Vietnam era military purge of counterinsurgency capabilities missed the point or the period calls to abolish the CIA miss the point.
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