The Foggy Bottom mindset

The old adage that “personnel is policy” is nowhere more true than at the State Department, where the professional diplomats have repeatedly and consistently undermined President Bush. One of the worst offenders has been Richard Haass, who until Friday was the director of policy planning, one of the most important positions at State. The replacement, selected by Colin Powell, will speak volumes about whether the Secretary of State is interested in reforming Foggy Bottom. He’s off to a good start.

As reported here previously, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was poised to name as Haass’ replacement the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Robert Pearson. Mr. Pearson is hated by our allies in Turkey for a series of missteps, the most significant being his strategy of “leaking” disparaging comments about Turkey during the negotiations shortly before the war — leaks that most likely caused the very close vote to go the wrong way. The real problem with Mr. Pearson, though, is that he is a typical career foreign service officer who shares the same worldview as the outgoing Mr. Haass.

When the call was made on whether to take Mr. Pearson, Mr. Powell decided to pass. He may or may not have received advice from the White House, but in the end, the secretary of state deserves credit for doing the right thing. Showing that he understands the real issue—the need to bring in someone who is not a slave to the Foggy Bottom mindset — Mr. Powell has indicated that he does not want any foreign service officer in the position. This is hardly inconsequential, considering that no secretary of state in recent memory has been as supportive of — not to mention loved by — the Foreign Service. Though Mr. Powell’s military background leads him to be loyal to his troops, they have not been loyal to him, and certainly not to the President.

From the beginning, Mr. Powell pledged to promote foreign service officers wherever possible, a promise he has fulfilled. Though there are many talented and qualified FSOs, in the Foggy Bottom lingo, many more are disdainful of President Bush and have worked at cross-purposes with the White House. Career FSOs have pushed for “engagement” with Iran and North Korea, directly undermining the president’s demands for tough stands against the two remaining “axis of evil” regimes. Nowhere has this insubordination been on greater display than in Iraq and the preparation for a democratic government.

State Department careerists have installed Saddam Hussein loyalists into key positions in the new government, while at the same time trying to shut down the pro-democracy Iraqi National Congress. Only because of Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator and one of the “good” career diplomats, have Baathists been banished from public life. Replacing Mr. Haass with someone loyal to President Bush — ideally someone as loyal as Mr. Powell himself — and committed to the President’s agenda will not be a panacea that cures all of Foggy Bottom’s many problems. But it will be a start.

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