The Cable

“The idiot in the basement”

Both Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have spoken about their desire to demilitarize foreign policy and return to the State Department many of the functions that the Pentagon has assumed over the past eight years. But much of that authority comes in the way of money and that ...

Both Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have spoken about their desire to demilitarize foreign policy and return to the State Department many of the functions that the Pentagon has assumed over the past eight years.

But much of that authority comes in the way of money and that money goes through Congress, where the State Department and its interests are woefully underrepresented, especially when compared to the extensive network of relationships that Congress maintains with the military.

And the Pentagon’s massive lobbying effort is only growing. The Department of Defense plans to quadruple the number of military fellow serving in Congress to 100 by the end of the year, compared with the 10-12 Pearson fellows the Foreign Service has there, according to a new paper by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

There is a culture clash underlying what the paper identifies as a "crisis" in communications between Foggy Bottom and Capitol Hill. Congress is unruly, disorganized, and desperate for media attention. The State Department is bureaucratically stuffy, skeptical of the press, and has little respect for the throngs of young congressional staffers who they feel only complicate their jobs with little added value, according to the report:

"[Congress] is really the only place where some kid making 30,000 a year, two years out of college, can kick the crap out of an assistant secretary who’s been in the diplomatic corps for fifty years, and he can do it quite easily any day he wants to, at any briefing he wants to," said one mid-level Republican Senate aide.

The paper also criticizes State heavily for discouraging staff from joining the department’s legislative affairs team, known as the "H" bureau. Those staffers suffer from a lack of prestige and promotions, the paper explains, further displaying State’s contempt for seriously engaging Congress:

One senior Republican Senate committee staffer who previously worked in the Foreign Service analyzed the problem this way: "When I was in the Foreign Service, ‘H’ was like the idiot in the basement. A dead end. It was not a career enhancing move to go there. In fact, it is where substandard people go to die bureaucratically. It is part of the received wisdom of the Foreign Service that you hold ‘H’ in contempt."

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