Hitting Bottom at Foggy Bottom

Hitting Bottom at Foggy Bottom by Matt Armstrong, 11 September 2009, in ForeignPolicy.com.

Discussion over the fate of Foggy Bottom usually focuses on the tenure of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the troubles of public diplomacy, and the rise of special envoys on everything from European pipelines to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But Americans would benefit more from a reassessment of the core functionality of the U.S. State Department.

Years of neglect and marginalization, as well as a dearth of long-term vision and strategic planning, have left the 19th-century institution hamstrung with fiefdoms and bureaucratic bottlenecks. The Pentagon now funds and controls a wide range of foreign-policy and diplomatic priorities — from development to public diplomacy and beyond. The world has changed, with everyone from politicians to talking heads to terrorists directly influencing global audiences. The most pressing issues are stateless: pandemics, recession, terrorism, poverty, proliferation, and conflict. But as report after report, investigation after investigation, has highlighted, the State Department is broken and paralyzed, unable to respond to the new 21st-century paradigm. …

[A]tomizing the State Department would ultimately prove dangerous and further the militarization of foreign policy. The Pentagon needs a counterbalance, a vertically integrated State Department that the president, Congress, and the U.S. public can count on. Change, rather than creative destruction, is what Foggy Bottom needs.

Envision a State Department capable of leading whole-of-government initiatives with a strategic focus instead of one hidebound department geared by structure and tradition to execute state-to-state diplomacy. This “Department of State and Non-State” would be as deft at tackling stateless terrorist networks and hurricanes as it would be at fostering and upholding alliances with foreign ministers. To transform Foggy Bottom in this way will require breaking the rigid hierarchy, stovepipes, and bottlenecks which make the Pentagon look lean and dynamic in comparison.