- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003


Joel Mowbray

Regnery, $27.95, 312 pages

If reporter Joel Mowbray thinks he is on a Department of State blacklist now, he should wait until the department’s bigwigs read author Joel Mowbray’s book, “Dangerous Diplomacy,” subtitled “How the State Department Threatens America’s Security.”

Mr. Mowbray is the reporter and columnist who, when he was covering the State Department for National Review, had a penchant for asking tough questions and writing tougher stories, both of which made him few friends and more enemies among the department’s upper echelons. In his book, thoroughly documented, he pulls no punches, names names and explores attitudes and actions that will outrage any reader who thinks the department should put the interests of America and American citizens first.

Too often, Mr. Mowbray believes, State Department officials put the interests of other nations ahead of those of the United States. And too often, the interests of this nation’s citizens are deemed less important than keeping other nations happy.

Chief among Mr. Mowbray’s villains is Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage whom Mr. Mowbray calls “a trusted friend” of Saudi Arabia, the home of most of the September 11 terrorists. Mr. Mowbray discloses that nine months after the terrorist attacks Mr. Armitage, in a letter to the Justice Department, wrote that merely believing a person poses a terrorist threat is not a good enough reason to deny that person a visa to enter the United States.

The department itself, Mr. Mowbray reveals, has a regulation reading that “advocating terrorism through oral or written statements is usually not sufficient ground for finding an applicant ineligible” for a visa. The State Department’s visa practices along with its treatment of American citizens, largely women whose children have been kidnapped by foreigner husbands and held in the husbands’ homelands, are particular objects of Mr. Mowbray’s ire.

Mr. Mowbray’s articles for National Review are generally credited with forcing the State Department to end what was known as the Visa Express program in Saudi Arabia, which, in effect, allowed just about any Saudi who could afford to come to the United States to get a visa with only the most casual, if any, scrutiny. Under the program, which was instituted three months before the September 11 attacks, three of the terrorists received visas. In fact, at least l5 of the l9 hijackers were in the United States legally, thanks at least in part to slipshod State Department practices.

Mr. Mowbray devotes a chapter to the plight of Americans fighting to get their children back. The problem, as he sees it, is that the State Department is not as interested in helping American citizens as it is in maintaining good relations with other nations. The fate of one child or the anguish of one parent is not nearly as important as is getting along with, say, Saudi Arabia or even Sweden.

Mr. Mowbray is convinced that the major problem with the State Department is that it has too many career Foreign Service officers in high places and not enough political appointees whose loyalty would be to the president’s (any president’s) policies and not to those that have evolved through the years in the department. Mr. Mowbray believes that Secretary of State Colin Powell “committed a fatal mistake in deciding that his top priority would be to promote and enhance the role of careerists at state.” He notes wryly that “while Powell may have won the hearts of the Foreign Service he did not win their minds.”

Mr. Mowbray recognizes that many of the State Department’s practices and policies require the support of Congress. He names three senators, in particular, as knee-jerk supporters of what it wants or opposes. They are Indiana Republican Richard Lugar, currently chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel and Delaware Democrat Joseph Biden. He accuses them of “standing in the way” of any congressional effort to reform the department.

Mr. Mowbray admits that “fixing” it would be a difficult if not impossible job for any secretary of state. A major roadblock is that it is nearly impossible to fire Foreign Service officers and almost as difficult to get rid of those employees who have civil serviceprotection.He credit’s George Shultz, secretary under Ronald Reagan, with having made some reforms, but calls the results “mixed.” However, he likes Mr. Shultz’s practice of telling new ambassadors to go to the globe in his office and “point to your country.” Their country, he was usually forced to explain, was not the country to where they were going but the United States.

Too many persons at the State Department seem to have trouble remembering that.

Lyn Nofziger, a Washington writer, was a political consultant to President Ronald Reagan.

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