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The State Department is the Source of All of Our Ills

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…or so Peter Baker would have you believe. That’s not quite fair to Baker, but it’s not far off, either. Baker allows that slashed budgets and “unforeseen” events have wounded Bush’s pro-democracy agenda, but swallows the line that most of the blame for failure at the feet of State Department and other foreign affairs “bureaucrats”, who manage to gut the pro-democracy programs either intentionally (through refusing or changing the President’s directives), or accidentally (bureaucracies screw things up, don’t you know?). This would be silly if it weren’t sad; as Laura Rozen notes, there are several impressively large examples (Saudi Arabia) that should give pause to anyone who wants to believe that democracy promotion was something that this administration took seriously. Indeed, Baker inadvertently gives evidence about how unseriously they took it; actual State Department professionals were excluded from critical conversations about democracy promotion in favor of Karl Rove, Michael Gerson, and John Lewis Gaddis.

Blaming the State Department for every ill that afflicts American foreign policy is a strategy that goes back at least to Joe McCarthy. It was on prominent display in Rudy Giuliani’s Foreign Affairs article…

Another step in rebuilding a strong diplomacy will be to make changes in the State Department and the Foreign Service. The time has come to refine the diplomats’ mission down to their core purpose: presenting U.S. policy to the rest of the world. Reforming the State Department is a matter not of changing its organizational chart — although simplification is needed — but of changing the way we practice diplomacy and the way we measure results. Our ambassadors must clearly understand and clearly advocate for U.S. policies and be judged on the results.

…and remains a handy explanation for the failure of any conservative pet foreign policy program that fails to get off the ground. Moreover, as plenty of people have noted, this is all part of the larger family of conservative rejection of expertise. I should add that, if Gideon Rose can’t tell the difference between criticism of an informal group of often self-defined experts who dominated public debate in the run-up to the Iraq War and criticism of professional State Department personnel, he needs better glasses.

The elephant in the room remains, as always, Iraq. Even if we were to allow that this administration’s thoughts on democracy promotion were more sophisticated than “tyranny bad… uh, sometimes”, it’s ridiculous to think about the impediments to that program without first mentioning Iraq. Iraq has poisoned every other American foreign policy initiative, whether diplomatic or military, and it’s hardly surprising that State Department professionals can’t produce results on democracy while they’re fighting the erosion of American legitimacy that Iraq is producing.

Drum and Publius have more.

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