The Secretary of State is in many ways a glorified cat herder. All hiring, firing, transferring, and promoting is handled not by the Secretary, but by panels comprised of members of the Foreign Service. The Secretary of State isn?t even able to fire a convicted felon?including when that felony is for defrauding the State Department.
The most effective Secretary of State in recent memory, both in terms of motivating the rank and file and getting them to support a president?s agenda that they otherwise wouldn?t, was George Shultz. He had three meetings every morning before 9:30, including at least one with non-executives. Yet though he was loved at State, he was only marginally effective in getting his department on board with President Reagan.
While many have complained that Condi was not an effective manager at the National Security Council?with most critics pointing to the raging interagency debates?there is one aspect of her record that is perhaps more troubling: the makeup of her NSC staff.
Though she often sided with Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, her NSC is largely comprised of career members of the Foreign Service and the CIA and foreign policy elites whose worldview could not be more starkly different than the president?s.
She needs to reverse that trend if she hopes to change her new agency, because reliance on careerists was Mr. Powell?s greatest failure.
General Powell trusted his foot soldiers and consequently ushered in an era of Foreign Service dominance over most key leadership posts?spots normally reserved for political appointments. Given that the Foreign Service already controlled 99% of substantive positions, there has been little internal dissent, or even discussion.
?Powell let the Foreign Service run the place, and the White House won?t let that happen again,? notes an administration official, who adds that there will almost certainly be a sharp increase in appointments of people more supportive of the president?s worldview.
Condi Rice could be a solid Secretary of State, but the obstacles in her path are substantial?and her track record is not entirely encouraging. But at least she meets the first requirement: she knows her job is to serve the president, not the bureaucracy.
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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