Rogue State Department

Anti-American sentiment is rising unabated around the globe because the U.S. State Department has abdicated values and principles in favor of accommodation and passivity. Only a top-to-bottom reform and culture shock will enable the State Department to effectively spread U.S. values and carry out President George W. Bush's foreign policy.

In Washington today, two worldviews on U.S. foreign policy are colliding. One view emphasizes facts, values, and consequences. The other believes in process, politeness, and accommodation.

In Washington today, two worldviews on U.S. foreign policy are colliding. One view emphasizes facts, values, and consequences. The other believes in process, politeness, and accommodation.

Consider, for instance, the following statement: Libya chairs the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The values- and fact-based advocates note immediately that Libya is a dictatorship with a history of terrorism, and they thus conclude that Libya cannot chair the commission with any moral standing or credibility. By contrast, the accommodation worldview contends that Libya won the vote in the United Nations and that contesting Libya’s moral and legitimate claim to the chair would be impolite and a violation of proper process.

I am convinced that U.S. President George W. Bush and a vast majority of the American people share the view that stresses facts, values, and consequences. The media and intellectual elites, the State Department (as an institution), and the Foreign Service (as a culture) clearly favor the process, politeness, and accommodation position.

In May 2001, when the United States was ambushed and voted off the U.N. Human Rights Commission for the first time since the commission’s inception in 1947, those people who focus on facts, values, and outcomes were justifiably outraged. But the State Department, admitting it was surprised, did nothing. Such passivity emboldened France to launch a campaign seeking to defeat U.S. foreign policy objectives articulated by Bush.

The State Department needs to experience culture shock, a top-to-bottom transformation that will make it a more effective communicator of U.S. values around the world, place it more directly under the control of the president of the United States, and enable it to promote freedom and combat tyranny. Anything less is a disservice to this nation.


Initiatives and calls to create a more effective State Department have a long history — as does State Department resistance to such efforts. In 1979, Ambassador Laurence H. Silberman authored an article in Foreign Affairs titled "Toward Presidential Control of the State Department." He described the recurring frustration of U.S. presidents with their relative inability to control and direct the State Department. Ambassador Silberman characterized the practice of Foreign Service officers (FSOs) serving in senior State Department positions as fundamentally inconsistent with U.S. democratic theory. He also explained that career FSOs tend to consider the president’s political appointees as rivals for senior department positions, thus creating a destructive resistance against following appointed leaders and therefore the direction of the president. These conditions are compounded by the difficulties the secretary of state traditionally has faced in firing FSOs.

The February 2001 report of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century (known as the Hart-Rudman Commission) represents one of the most recent and credible efforts to reform the State Department. I worked with former U.S. President Bill Clinton to create the commission and then served on it when I left Congress. The commission’s report proved both authoritative and prescient: More than seven months prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the report warned of the threat of a major attack on U.S. soil that would cause heavy casualties. The bipartisan commission also recommended the creation of a National Homeland Security Agency with a cabinet-level director (a Department of Homeland Security now exists) and called for a transformation of the Defense Department (an effort that is well under way).

Not under way, however, is the commission’s proposed reform of the State Department. "The Department of State, in particular, is a crippled institution, starved for resources by Congress because of its inadequacies, and thereby weakened further," concluded the report. "Only if the State Department’s internal weaknesses are cured will it become an effective leader in the making and implementation of the nation’s foreign policy. Only then can it credibly seek significant funding increases from Congress. The department suffers in particular from an ineffective organizational structure in which regional and functional policies do not serve integrated goals, and in which sound management, accountability, and leadership are lacking."

This language and all of the report’s recommendations were written during the Clinton administration. Current State Department officials are well aware of the commission’s report; in fact, the commission briefed current Secretary of State Colin Powell shortly after he assumed his post in 2001. Characteristically, however, the State Department dismissed the commission’s findings. The nonpartisan Foreign Affairs Council released a report in March 2003 explaining that the State Department resisted the Hart-Rudman recommendations because the drastic reorganization recommended by the commission is "too disruptive and distracts too much energy for ongoing operations."

In other words, the State Department is far too busy being ineffective to bother fixing its internal structures in order to become more effective.


Some critics, including Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former Republican Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, have taken me to task for my remarks at the American Enterprise Institute on April 22, 2003, where I argued that the State Department was engaging in a "deliberate and systematic effort" to undermine Bush’s foreign policy. Yet that charge has proved true historically, and additional examples have emerged even since the speech.

Only six days following my remarks, Bush made the following statement to a group of Iraqi Americans in Dearborn, Michigan: "I have confidence in the future of a free Iraq. The Iraqi people are fully capable of self-government." He also told them that "You are living proof the Iraqi people love freedom and living proof the Iraqi people can flourish in democracy. People who live in Iraq deserve the same freedom that you and I enjoy here in America."

Contrast that vision with a recent classified report by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research titled "Iraq, the Middle East and Change: No Dominoes," which was leaked in March 2003 to the Los Angeles Times. As reported by that newspaper, the document stated that "liberal democracy would be difficult to achieve [in Iraq]…. Electoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to exploitation by anti-American elements." And according to an anonymous intelligence source interviewed by the newspaper, the thrust of the report argued that "this idea that you’re going to transform the Middle East and fundamentally alter its trajectory is not credible."

The Los Angeles Times has also reported that U.S. diplomats (insisting upon anonymity) "said they are profoundly worried about what they describe as the [Bush] administration’s arrogance or indifference to world public opinion, which they fear has wiped out, in less than two years, decades of effort to build goodwill toward the United States." Meanwhile, as reported recently by National Review Online contributor Joel Mowbray, a Bush administration official believes the outgoing director of policy planning at the State Department, Richard Haass, has "made it his mission to loosen sanctions on Iran," despite Bush’s designation of Iran as part of the "axis of evil."

Can anyone imagine a State Department more out of sync with Bush’s views and objectives? The president should demand a complete overhaul of the State Department so it is capable of executing his policy goals effectively and of redefining peace on his own terms. To this end, Bush should call for the equivalent of a Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act (which in 1986 mandated a comprehensive reform of the U.S. Department of Defense) applicable to the State Department.


One of the areas most urgently in need of reform is the State Department’s global communication strategy. To lead the world, the United States needs to communicate effectively. This crucial capability must receive adequate resources, and the State Department must learn to fulfill this role. As the world’s only superpower, largest economy, and most aggressive culture, the United States inevitably infringes on the attention and interests of other peoples and nations. A country this large and powerful must work every day to communicate what it is doing. The world does not have to love us, but it must be able to predict us.

Moreover, the rise of a global anti-American network of activists and nations — including left-wing non-governmental organizations, elite media, and most of the elite academics around the world (including in the United States) — further increases the country’s need for a comprehensive communication and information strategy. The British Broadcasting Corporation, according to some observers, was at least as hostile to the United States as Al Jazeera was during the entire Iraqi conflict. Today, the United States does not have a strategy, structure, or resource allocation capable of dealing with this sort of opposition. That must change if the United States is to gain sufficient popular appeal with ordinary people around the world, such that their governments will in turn support U.S. policies.

The state-to-state diplomatic system of the past simply will not survive. The State Department must develop a new approach that considers the realities of the 24-hours-a-day global media. Such an information strategy must be implemented on a nonstop, worldwide basis, with some variations by region and country. The new systems and structures that this strategy requires will transform diplomacy permanently.

As part of this strategy, the human cost of terrorism must be clear, vivid, and unforgettable for populations around the globe. U.S. authorities must initiate an ongoing campaign so that everyone who has suffered from torture or repression at the hands of dictators can tell their stories and bear witness; world opinion will therefore correctly condemn such atrocities. The new standard for the 21st century must be the absolute unacceptability of innocent people facing such cruelty.

The impact and success of a new U.S. communication strategy should be measured continually on a country-by-country basis. An independent public affairs firm should report weekly on how U.S. messages are received in at least the world’s 50 largest countries. One can hardly overstate how poorly the United States communicates its message and values to the world: Large majorities in France, Germany, and South Korea opposed the U.S. perspective on Iraq — not to mention the 95 percent disapproval rate in Turkey. Without external professional help and guidance, internal efforts by the State Department will be a waste of time. Wherever possible, U.S. chambers of commerce should help explain and develop the rule of law, transparency and accountability in government, and free markets across the globe. And business advisory groups drawn from effective, internationally sophisticated corporations should advise the State Department on how to improve U.S. communication strategies.

The president should receive a weekly report on U.S. successes and failures in communicating around the world from a special assistant for global communication, a new post with coordinating authority over the State Department, the Defense Department, and other agencies engaged in international communication efforts. Only by raising this critical challenge to the level of presidential concern will dramatic improvements ever materialize. And progress should be gauged with measurable improvements in public and elite understanding of U.S. values and positions around the world — not by how much money is spent on the communication program.

Additionally, the U.S. government should commission a comprehensive study on the international press coverage of the United States leading up to and during the war in Iraq. The study should encompass state-owned media in the Arab world to determine if those outlets are a major contributing source of anti-American hostility. Private media organizations attacking the United States represent a different phenomenon from state-owned media attacking the United States. The latter is a government-sponsored act of hostility and should be dealt with accordingly.

Ultimately, a revamped and effective communication strategy is necessary because the United States should actively stand for and promote its values around the globe. Every person deserves safety, health, prosperity, and freedom. The United States supports the core values of constitutional liberty, the right to private property, free speech (including a free press), independent judiciaries, free markets, free elections, transparency and accountability in government, the equality of women and of opportunities for women, racial equality, and the free exercise of religious beliefs. Without these values, it is hard to imagine a world in which U.S. safety can be secured. We should not confuse respect for others with acceptance of their values if they violate these principles.


Key to transforming the State Department’s culture is the adoption of the right vision — President Bush’s vision. We can no longer accept a culture that props up dictators, coddles the corrupt, and ignores secret police forces. The State Department needs to instill a culture of continuous learning, adapting, evolving, and improving. Concrete and tangible indicators must also be created, adopted, and continually monitored to ensure transformational success.

Ambassador Silberman’s theme of loyalty to the president of the United States must resonate throughout the State Department’s transformation. Bush’s thoughts expressed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, provide a clear signal: "[C]ommitment to liberty is America’s tradition — declared at our founding; affirmed in Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms; asserted in the Truman Doctrine and in Ronald Reagan’s challenge to an evil empire. We are committed to freedom in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in a peaceful Palestine. The advance of freedom is the surest strategy to undermine the appeal of terror in the world. Where freedom takes hold, hatred gives way to hope. When freedom takes hold, men and women turn to the peaceful pursuit of a better life. American values and American interests lead in the same direction: We stand for human liberty."

The United States of America cannot help develop a vibrant world of entrepreneurial progress — where countries grow in safety, health, prosperity, and freedom for all — with a diplomatic bureaucracy of red tape and excuses. We must have effective and reliable policy instruments beyond the Defense Department, and that can only occur with a serious and long overdue transformation of the State Department. Without bold and dramatic changes at the State Department, the United States will soon find itself on the defensive everywhere, except militarily. In the long run, that is a dangerous and unacceptable position for the world’s leading democracy.

Newt Gingrich was a Republican candidate for president of the United States and is the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. John A. McCallum is managing partner of JAM Capital Partners and former policy advisor to the speaker.

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