State Department Blues

John Bolton, writing in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, observes how cravenly the Bush administration has been kowtowing to North Korea in what are supposed to be six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear program but have turned into one-party concessions by the United States—even in the face of evidence that North Korea was helping Syria construct a nuclear facility. This follows astounding posturing by Karen Hughes, Condoleeza Rice, and Laura Bush, who have visited the Middle East, donned the abaya, and spoken out in favor of Palestinian statehood, even as Palestinian territories collapse into civil war. The administration acts as if it is taking its marching orders from the Democratic Presidential candidates, who see diplomacy as the answer to every foreign policy question and who never met a dictator they didn’t trust.

Why does every administration, regardless of its initial ideology, end up treating diplomacy as an end in itself? Part of the explanation lies with the press, which applauds every agreement as a victory, whether or not it is verifiable or in the interests of the United States. But I think a large part of the problem is the State Department. State Department officials take on the views of the countries and regions in which they specialize. Middle East experts in the Department, for example, may start out representing American interests to the countries in that region but end up representing those countries’ interests instead. The result: Our foreign policy is largely in the hands of people who are, functionally, lobbyists of the countries with which we are supposed to be negotiating.

I am pleased to see several of the Republican Presidential candidates distancing themselves from current Bush administration statements and actions concerning the Middle East and North Korea. I would be even more pleased to see one propose a plan for restructuring the State Department to give its diplomats incentives to represent the United States rather than its adversaries.

One thought on “State Department Blues

  1. The Foreign Service employees always outlast any presidential administration. And yes, I believe that too many of the regional experts at State go “native.” This is bound to hurt US interests.

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