In naming Condoleezza Rice as his pick for Secretary of State, President Bush is sending his most loyal adviser to his most disloyal agency: the State Department. But no matter what changes she makes?and many are needed?the bureaucracy at State is entrenched almost to the point of being impenetrable, meaning real reform could well prove illusory.
Ms. Rice will soon take the reins of a massive 47,000-employee operation that is literally sprawled out across the world. It is an insular institution that operates remarkably similarly from one administration to the next, typically viewing presidents, as one Foreign Service Officer puts it, as the ?summer help.?
Never has this been more apparent than during the past four years.
After President Bush gave his ?axis of evil? speech, U.S. embassy employees in Paris and elsewhere fanned out to assure nervous Europeans that the president didn?t mean ?axis? and he didn?t mean ?evil.?
When the rest of the Bush administration was following the president?s post-9/11 leadership by doing everything possible to thwart terrorism, the State Department was busy keeping open a program known as Visa Express, which allowed every resident in the country that sent us 15 of 19 terrorists?Saudi Arabia?to apply for visas at travel agencies.
And anyone who opens a newspaper knows that ?anonymous? State Department officials routinely trash the president and his foreign policy, particularly in Iraq and the Middle East. No one from this State Department has received so much as a slap on the wrist for such rampant insubordination.
How did the Foreign Service operate in open opposition to the president, particularly with a loyal soldier like Colin Powell at the helm?
Rather than reforming the State Department and its conformist culture, Mr. Powell saw his role as one of tireless advocate for the Foreign Service and its positions, never putting quite the same energy into getting his subordinates to support the president as he himself did.
But the State Department?s rabid distaste for bold new ideas long precedes Colin Powell, as does its worshipping at the altar of ?stability,? the doctrine that the world is safest when left unchanged.
The irony is that ?stability? also defines the composition of the State Department, because outside of a small number of political appointees, almost all substantive positions must be held by careerists who have no particular loyalty to any president?least of all this one.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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