Foreign Service Journal - June 2013 - page 21

JUNE 2013
I remember see-
ing attitudinal changes
among senators who
visited the Soviet Union
during the Cold War. The
doves, hoping to reach
arms control agreements,
often commented, “The
Russians really are nasty
and uncooperative.” The
hawks, previously convinced of Soviet military superiority, now
noticed that the elevators didn’t even work.
Myths about Foggy Bottom on the Hill
Myth 1: State is disloyal to the administration or has clienti-
The late Senator Jesse Helms, R-N.C., a lifelong critic of the
State Department, used to complain that “there’s no American
desk at State.” He viewed FSOs as lobbyists for foreign govern-
ments rather than advocates to those governments for U.S.
policies and interests.
Sad to say, there is a long record of presidential distrust of
the Foreign Service and the State Department, as well. FDR,
JFK and Richard Nixon all disparaged U.S. diplomats. Former
Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich famously complained that
Secretary Colin Powell had “gone native” and was insufficiently
supportive of President George W. Bush.
FSOs are professionals who loyally serve whoever
is in the White House. Career officials have a duty to give
advice when asked (and, equally important, without being
asked)—but also to carry out approved policies. The occasional
official who leaks damaging information, or otherwise tries to
undermine presidential policy, is the very rare exception—and
certainly not unique to the State Department.
Diplomats can overcome suspicions of clientitis by address-
ing local concerns in terms of U.S. interests and opportunities.
It also is wise to be careful with wording, making sure “we”
always refers to America, not the other country.
Myth 2: Diplomats always favor appeasement; they’re not
This misguided view arises because diplomats tend to
prefer engagement and continued discussion with an adver-
sary instead of a severing of relations. The essence of diplo-
macy is discussion leading to negotiations and compromises.
Hardliners and purists never want to talk to bad guys; they
hope that threats and ultimatums will be sufficient. Rarely is
that true.
There is ample evidence in recent U.S. history that
civilian officials have
been more hawkish, more
ready to use military force,
than the military. Diplo-
mats aren’t afraid of the
application of force; they
just want that option to be
in the background to give
them leverage for agree-
ments that can make force
Lawmakers need to understand that diplomacy—just like
legislation—requires contact and nuance, as well as the explo-
ration of options in a search for areas of agreement. Sometimes
bluster works, but it can also be counterproductive.
Myth 3: We spend too much on foreign aid and other inter-
national activities.
Opinion polls repeatedly show that the
American people stubbornly believe that foreign aid accounts
for between 10 and 20 percent of the federal budget. It is the
only federal program that regularly receives “cut” judgments
from overwhelming majorities in those surveys.
Total allocations for all U.S. international activities—
including running the State Department and related agencies,
foreign assistance, contributions to international organizations,
etc.—amount to only about 1 percent of federal spending.
The politicians should know this, since they appropriate
the funds, but many of them apparently don’t. It will take a
sustained education campaign to overcome the public igno-
rance about the level of spending on foreign relations. It will be
even harder to overcome public anger over examples of failed
programs and scandals, which seem to be unavoidable in for-
eign assistance. In the short run, lawmakers need to focus on
specific programs, and their strengths and weaknesses, rather
than just criticizing generic “foreign aid.”
Two Cultures that Don’t Always Clash
While the world looks different from the eastern and
western ends of the National Mall, there are actually many
similarities between the congressional and diplomatic
cultures. Both diplomats and legislators are dealmakers: the
former with other nations and their interagency counterparts,
the latter with their colleagues from other states, districts and
parties. Each holds reaching agreements as a major measure
of merit.
Both groups—unlike, say, the uniformed military—are
comfortable with ambiguity. Nuance is not a dirty word, for
One of Congress’ greatest
shortcomings is failing to
clean up the rabbit warren
represented by the Foreign
Assistance Act of 1961.
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