In Washington today, two worldviews on U.S. foreign policy are colliding. One view emphasizes facts, values, and consequences. The other believes in process, politeness, and accommodation.
Consider, for instance, the following statement: Libya chairs the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The values- and fact-based advocates note immediately that Libya is a dictatorship with a history of terrorism, and they thus conclude that Libya cannot chair the commission with any moral standing or credibility. By contrast, the accommodation worldview contends that Libya won the vote in the United Nations and that contesting Libya's moral and legitimate claim to the chair would be impolite and a violation of proper process.
I am convinced that U.S. President George W. Bush and a vast majority of the American people share the view that stresses facts, values, and consequences. The media and intellectual elites, the State Department (as an institution), and the Foreign Service (as a culture) clearly favor the process, politeness, and accommodation position.
In May 2001, when the United States was ambushed and voted off the U.N. Human Rights Commission for the first time since the commission's inception in 1947, those people who focus on facts, values, and outcomes were justifiably outraged. But the State Department, admitting it was surprised, did nothing. Such passivity emboldened France to launch a campaign seeking to defeat U.S. foreign policy objectives articulated by Bush.
The State Department needs to experience culture shock, a top-to-bottom transformation that will make it a more effective communicator of U.S. values around the world, place it more directly under the control of the president of the United States, and enable it to promote freedom and combat tyranny. Anything less is a disservice to this nation.
Initiatives and calls to create a more effective State Department have a long history -- as does State Department resistance to such efforts. In 1979, Ambassador Laurence H. Silberman authored an article in Foreign Affairs titled "Toward Presidential Control of the State Department." He described the recurring frustration of U.S. presidents with their relative inability to control and direct the State Department. Ambassador Silberman characterized the practice of Foreign Service officers (FSOs) serving in senior State Department positions as fundamentally inconsistent with U.S. democratic theory. He also explained that career FSOs tend to consider the president's political appointees as rivals for senior department positions, thus creating a destructive resistance against following appointed leaders and therefore the direction of the president. These conditions are compounded by the difficulties the secretary of state traditionally has faced in firing FSOs.
The February 2001 report of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century (known as the Hart-Rudman Commission) represents one of the most recent and credible efforts to reform the State Department. I worked with former U.S. President Bill Clinton to create the commission and then served on it when I left Congress. The commission's report proved both authoritative and prescient: More than seven months prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the report warned of the threat of a major attack on U.S. soil that would cause heavy casualties. The bipartisan commission also recommended the creation of a National Homeland Security Agency with a cabinet-level director (a Department of Homeland Security now exists) and called for a transformation of the Defense Department (an effort that is well under way).
Not under way, however, is the commission's proposed reform of the State Department. "The Department of State, in particular, is a crippled institution, starved for resources by Congress because of its inadequacies, and thereby weakened further," concluded the report. "Only if the State Department's internal weaknesses are cured will it become an effective leader in the making and implementation of the nation's foreign policy. Only then can it credibly seek significant funding increases from Congress. The department suffers in particular from an ineffective organizational structure in which regional and functional policies do not serve integrated goals, and in which sound management, accountability, and leadership are lacking."
This language and all of the report's recommendations were written during the Clinton administration. Current State Department officials are well aware of the commission's report; in fact, the commission briefed current Secretary of State Colin Powell shortly after he assumed his post in 2001. Characteristically, however, the State Department dismissed the commission's findings. The nonpartisan Foreign Affairs Council released a report in March 2003 explaining that the State Department resisted the Hart-Rudman recommendations because the drastic reorganization recommended by the commission is "too disruptive and distracts too much energy for ongoing operations."
In other words, the State Department is far too busy being ineffective to bother fixing its internal structures in order to become more effective.