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US Department of State: Career and political appointees

Paul Simon muses on ambassadors and secretaries of state: "If we are going to list Adlai Stevenson, we might well add Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was also a famed UN Ambassador. Kennan is famous in policy circles, but there are numerous career and appointee diplomats who are better-known to the public. Before 1924, the concept 'career diplomat' didn't really exist. I might also add that until about FDR's time, the title Ambassador was rarely given; the US had Ambassadors to only a handful of countries. Most countries received a Minister, a lesser title. The 1920's through 1950's were an exceptional time in the newly professionalizing Foreign Service, what with World War II, decolonization and so many new nations, the beginning of the Cold War, etc. I recommend two great books: Farewell to Foggy Bottom- The Recollections of a Career Diplomat by Ellis Briggs; David McKay, 1964 and Career Ambassador by Willard L. Beaulac, Macmillan, 1951. Those interested in diplomacy at America's inception might enjoy: The Virgin Diplomats by Elmer Bendiner, Knopf , 1976. Naturally, with a two and a quarter century history of sending diplomats abroad, there have been many folks who have been Consuls, Ministers, or Ambassadors. Those interested in researching this should start at the State Department's website: The State department has an awesome library with an unbelievable history.

While the conduct of foreign relations is vital, it would be hubris to think that a career diplomat should always be Secretary of State while other cabinet departments are run by appointees. Almost no Secretaries of Defense are recently-retired generals or career Department of Defense civilians. The department controls the storage, development, etc. of our nuclear arsenal, yet it is also run by appointees. That's our system. History shows us that career folk who make it to the top often do a lousy job. Models from other nations show us that when the executive does not appoint a certain percentage of the top people in cabinet departments, those bureaus become willful and defiant, assuming they are the professionals and know best, and that it is acceptable to foot drag or impede the head of State, despite his having a popular mandate to implement his policies".

My comment: I gather that Foreign Service Officer Paul Simon does not aspire to be Secretary of State. I tend to agree with him about the limitations of career diplomats. He mentions Ellis Briggs, but Briggs opposed the appointment of science attaches, not understanding the importance of science in the modern world. Likewise many career ambassadors oppose attachés from other departments such as agriculture. Government departments seem to have the blinkers of university departments and cannot see outside of their narrow field. The relations between cultural attachés and Nelson Rockefeller's coordinators were so bad when I toured Latin America in 1944-45 that often they were not on speaking terms.

Ronald Hilton - 6/24/02