Hitting Bottom at Foggy Bottom at ForeignPolicy.com

My article “Hitting Bottom at Foggy Bottom” is online at 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. …

Read the rest at ForeignPolicy.com. Originally titled “Fixing State” (my title was too staid and the “State of State” was taken), it highlights forgotten or ignored structural and capacity issues at State that contributed to Defense leadership in foreign policy and public diplomacy.

Related Posts:

Preparing to Lose the Information War? is a related post that gets into some detail where “Hitting Bottom” is high level.

Comparing the Areas of Responsibility of State and Defense gives a bit more detail on converting State to a regional actor.

USAID challenges reflect greater problems at the State Department looks at the importance of development. (See also The Intended ‘Psychological By-Products’ of Development on the psychological effects of the Marshall Plan; and from last year, USAID and Public Diplomacy.)

House Appropriations Concerned Pentagon’s Role in Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy examines the theory of House Appropriations and Walter Pincus that “State should be doing this”.

Defense Department Plan on Strategic Communication and Science and Technology is a report that noted a need for leadership and coordination in strategic communication programs earlier this year.

American public diplomacy wears combat boots from May 2008 highlighted the leadership in basic engagement the Defense Department was exercising in the absence of an effective alternative.

Developing a National Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Strategic also from May 2008 highlights Congressman Adam Smith’s (D-Wash) effort to get the country’s efforts in global engagement on track.

The Cost of Keeping the Principal off the X from October 2007 is particularly relevant post on State’s view of the world. This issue resurfaced with the recent “outing” of the behavior of both the contracted Kabul security and the lack of action by the Department. See also an event I put on October 2006 titled American Mercenaries of Public Diplomacy.

3 thoughts on “Hitting Bottom at Foggy Bottom at ForeignPolicy.com

  1. If you read Acheson’s “Present at the Creation” (written in 1969 for his grandchildren so they could understand the state of the world in 1969) he talks of the identical issues both prior to and during WWII. The more things change, the more they are the same.My jaundiced take on State is far too long for a short comment…but a few short ones.
    Among other points, State attracts a wholly different kind of person than Defense (and is contemptous of the military). Rail against the military bureaucracy if you will, and I have many times, it still is far more agile than State. Perhaps a clearer sense of mission would help State…after all, each service has a distinct mission–even if it is to fight the other services!
    Perhaps what State needs is the kind of attention that Defense is used to, i.e., ‘justify yourself every day’. If State had to endure the kind of Congressional scrutiny that Defense has for the last 50 years, they would learn how to be agile, learn how to prune deadweight and learn how to accomplish something other than writing of letters and high level conferences.
    Please do not respond to me with criticism of my cynical attitude…I wish State was a better agency, I wish that PD had support and direction from someone in the USG other than Defense, but until there is a President and SECSTATE close to him or her who is willing to take the difficult task of Agency reform and truly mean it…well, don’t hold your breath. Obama has little if any interest in foreign affairs except to bash Bush, and I contend that Hillary isn’t committed either.
    One man’s opinon.

  2. Thank you for this great thought provoking article. As a recent intern to the US Mission to International Organizations in Vienna (IAEA Section), your article pained me with truth. There are many wonderful and brilliant people at DOS but currently the Department is overrun by nepotism and power struggles, causing more pressing issues and fresh ideas to fall into the waste bucket. I pray for Secretary Clinton.

  3. One of the fundamental problems with the State Department is the Foreign Service culture. Elevating the Assistant Secretaries to the Undersecretary level would only add some more bureaucracy, not change behavior or thinking because Assistant Secretaries – at least the career appointees – are creatures of the bureaus that they represent.I believe that a clear majority of Foreign Service Officers hope that Iraq and Afghanistan are one-off events that prove to be a temporary distraction from the core Foreign Service task of dealing with Foreign Ministries in our Embassies overseas. The emergence of non-state actors, the decreasing relevance of the capitol in many countries, and the changing post 9/11 environment are developments that FSOs are fervently wishing away or refusing to recognize. This resistance to change reminds me of the battleship admirals or the horse cavalry soldiers.
    The strength and the continuity of this dysfunctional Foreign Service culture lies in State’s bureau system, most notably the geographic bureaus. The European bureau, the East Asian bureau, the African bureau, the Western Hemisphere bureau, and the South and Central Asian bureau control most of the overseas assignments, thus controlling the personnel system, including the promotion process (as success in promotions is strongly determined by assignments). In order to reform the State Department, one must start with reforming the Foreign Service culture.

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