Back to Index

State Department and Global Affairs



Tim Brown, formerly a career Foreign Service Officer. served in eleven countries, and his son, currently at State, has served in five countries. He comments on Paul Simon's strong defense of the department:

"My understanding is that it was less State than USIA, AID, and ACDA that opposed their being absorbed by State, since they were the ones who would lose the most in terms of independence and money.

As to the complexities of modern diplomacy, Mr. Simon understates them. I an currently teaching a college course on foreign policy formation and implementation by nation-states as a generic group, and my students are simply stunned by how complex the process is everywhere. But I have as yet to discuss the American version of this process, except to label it an exercise in chaos. The US is the only serious country in the world without a coherent and disciplined foreign policy process. In my view, the principal causes of this chaos and lack of foreign policy discipline are that, while State is paid lip service as the leader in foreign policy implementation and is held responsible for its execution, Congress and the President actually give virtually all the budget money, manpower, and authority to execute policies to other agencies. And, in any bureaucracy, real power follows the money. If Ambassadors directly, or through their personal staffs [that is to say the Foreign Service], actually controlled budgets, assignments, and the promotions of everyone who works for them, this might change. But when budgets are independently allotted and controlled, the Ambassador has at most a desperation veto over assignments to his own embassy; other agency employees can get promoted for defying him, and discipline is all but impossible.

I could recount for hours, even days, the frustrations and even dangers this chaos constantly generates. But just one personal experience may suffice as an illustration. From 1987 through 1990, as a Foreign Service Officer, I was charged with day-to-day oversight of the management in Central America by other agencies of the Nicaraguan Contra project, a high visibility, extremely controversial policy that had almost brought down the Reagan presidency. This was a specific responsibility that had been assigned to the Secretary of State after Iran-Contra, and I was supposed to be the eyes and ears. But the money, personnel and actual operational control to implement the policy were all given to other agencies, first the CIA and then AID. In short, State had full responsibility, but other agencies had full control, and it was my job to ensure that the ensuing chaos did not explode within the Central American theater of operations. I was expected to oversee independent agencies that made every effort to hide from me everything they wanted to do that might be political dynamite. It was hardly the way to run a coherent foreign policy! On top of that, an important and influential faction of Congress, many very active public advocacy groups, and a largely hostile partisan media, were all dedicated full-time to find things in the policy they could criticize, often leaked to them by anti-Contra War government bureaucrats, including some from within State, and even more from other agencies such as Defense. That we so often succeed despite ourselves is, I believe, largely thanks to our wealth and power, not our bizarre approach to foreign policy".

Ronald Hilton - 10/28/01


Webmaster