August 4, 2005

August 4, 2005 | Commentary on

Will State undergo reforms?

Bureaucratic reorganizations of Washington government departments are not the stuff headlines are made of. Yet, the announcement of changes at the State Department made Friday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, made in low-key fashion before a select crowd of diplomats and dignitaries, is worth some tea-leaf reading.

It signals an expanded role for the department in the areas of fighting terrorism and nuclear proliferation, and in the area of democracy promotion. So far Miss Rice has been eloquent in her public statements about democracy as a central piece of the Bush foreign policy in the second term, but the operational details have been vague.

The beginning transformation of the unwieldy 200-year-old State Department could also indicate that the secretary is taking back foreign policy from the Pentagon, where Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld held it firmly in his grip during the first Bush term. It should be added that Miss Rice will have the added strength of yet another highly trusted Bush adviser on board at State, Karen Hughes, who was confirmed at long last by the Senate as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy a week ago.

Setting the course for foreign policy was something that often eluded former Secretary of State Colin Powell, though he did introduce important managerial reforms in the State Department. One legacy of the Madeleine Albright reign in Foggy Bottom was a letter signed in the summer of 2000 by 1,400 diplomats, a full quarter of the officer corps, protesting their working conditions. Mr. Powell did wonders to lift the department's morale, but he failed to get the State Department on the same side as the White House in a number of important foreign policy battles.

The reorganization announced Friday by Miss Rice will do four things:

  • Create a new bureau for International Security and Nonproliferation by merging the bureaus of Arms Control and Nonproliferation to focus on the nightmare nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.
  • Expand the role of the Bureau of Verification and Compliance to include also implementation of treaties that protect American security in areas such as arms control.
  • Strengthen the Political-Military Affairs bureau to employ additional resources against urgent security issues.
  • Institutionalize democracy promotion through the office of the undersecretary for Democracy and Global Affairs (an expanded title) and through the creation of an assistant secretary for Democracy.

Most of these structural changes make sense, and have been rumored to be in the works for a while. One move may be a false step, though, taking the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement from Global Affairs and placing it under the undersecretary for Political Affairs. If ever there was a global issue, narcotics production, trafficking and consumption certainly is it.

Concurrently with these changes has been an intense debate within the Bush administration about the war on terror itself, or more specifically over the semantics of it. Administration officials have dropped the global war on terror - GWAT, as the Pentagon dubbed it in inimitable military jargon - and started using more comprehensive and less controversial descriptions, like "the struggle against global extremism" or "the struggle against the enemies of freedom." Now, neither of these characterizations quite expresses the idea that we are at war (as we definitely are) or who we are at war with (terrorists inspired by a violent, extreme form of Islam). Yet, they do suggest that we need to deploy the full range of our diplomatic and political, as well as military tools. That is, after all, how we won the Cold War not so long ago.

As Miss Rice stated on Friday, "We must also confront the ideology of hatred in foreign societies by supporting the universal hope of liberty and the inherent appeal of democracy." It has become very clear that the challenge of appealing to moderate Muslims cannot just be focused on the Middle East, Asia or Africa, but also has to reach into the Muslim communities of Europe, where extremism is thriving, and here at home as well, where terrorist cells continue to be unraveled.

The two-pronged approach suggested by Miss Rice, combining a strong emphasis on security with the projection of freedom and democracy, holds a good deal of promise. Now, let us see if the Foggy Bottom bureaucracy, as entrenched as any in Washington, will let the secretary of state get on with it.

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies of the Heritage Foundation. 

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in The Washington Times