The State of State: A Proposal for Reorganization at Foggy Bottom

The State of State: A Proposal for Reorganization at Foggy Bottom by Matt Armstrong, 13 January 2010, in ProgressiveFix.com.

The past decade has seen the U.S. government expand its activities around the globe in response to complex and stateless threats. In the face of these challenges, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, and members of Congress have all called for increasing the resources and capabilities of the State Department to roll back what Gates has termed the "creeping militarization" of foreign policy. But efforts at reform are hindered by an institutional structure rooted in a 19th-century view of the world. ...

The State Department's hierarchy was fine for another era when issues were confined within state borders by local authority, geography, and technology. But in recent years, the structure's flaws have become conspicuous. The department's ability to respond to crisis is fragmented and sclerotic. When successes do happen, they tend to be the result of individuals working around or outside the bureaucracy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has circumvented the current system with crisis-specific czars called Special Representatives. These Special Representatives, like Richard Holbrooke for Afghanistan and Pakistan, operate like super ambassadors with regional powers that should reside - but don't - in the regional bureaus. ...

Realignment will not be easy. It requires the committed support of the president, the secretaries of state and defense, the National Security Council, and Congress. But the potential benefits are considerable. Adjusting the focus of the State Department from country to region would permit the secretary of state to exercise more effective leadership and oversight over the instruments of power. It's the logical step to take in a new era of stateless challenges, and a demonstration to the world that U.S. power does not always have to wear combat boots.