The Duck of Minerva

The State of State


25 December 2008

One of the benefits of a high-powered player appointed to lead State is that you can get someone willing and able to be assertive about the place of diplomacy in the conduct of US Foreign Policy. This, I think, is on balance a good thing, as the NYT reports:

Even before taking office, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seeking to build a more powerful State Department, with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and an expanded role in dealing with global economic issues at a time of crisis.

She’s filling both Deputy Secretary slots–who even knew there was a second deputy?(!!)–one of which the Bush administration left purposely un-filled.

The NYT story raises the potential of future conflict between Clinton and other cabinet agencies who have been responsible for those portfolios over the past 8+ years. On the one hand, sure, there is always bureaucratic turf-fighting in DC, that’s the name of the game. On the other hand, there seems a genuine willingness and previous public policy commitment on the part of both Obama and Gates to enhance the role of State and hand off certain responsibilities to them.

Here, I think, is where Obama’s legislative approach to Cabinet appointments and senior officials might pay off (ie, Senator Clinton, veteran operative Jack Lew as one of her deputies). One might recall, the emaciation of State that got us into the present state of affairs really began under the Clinton Administration. After the Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, Clinton had an extremely difficult time securing resources for State and diplomatic programs. The death of USIA and ACDA, folding them into State as Undersecretary spots, was the result of a compromise with Jesse Helms (with Biden as a co-sponsor of the bill) to win passage of other legislation on diplomacy. With Helms as chair of Foreign Relations, Clinton was not able to put resources into State for diplomacy.

As a result, State languished. DoD, on the other hand, had no difficulty winning resources, as it was easy for Clinton and the Republican Congress to agree on money for the military. Hence, the military got money for nation building and other diplomatic activities normally reserved for State. Under Rumsfeld, this only continued. Its what Gates is reacting (negatively) to with his recent speeches, and its good to see Obama making it a priority to reverse this trend.

Like all shifts in US politics, it will require an Act of Congress–literally, as the budget of both agencies will make or break these plans. Legislative players at major posts makes it somewhat easier to get this done.

And, I think, having diplomats back in charge of key areas of US foreign relations will be a better thing.

This is quite a slow, uneventful Thursday… Chinese food and movies. That’s what we do.
(hurray for Bond marathon on Spike!)