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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
|
OCTOBER 2012
65
Time for Straight Talk
State of Disrepair: Fixing the Culture
and Practices of the State Department
Kori N. Schake, Hoover Institution Press,
2012, $19.95, hardcover, 157 pages.
Reviewed by Donald M. Bishop
Here’s how Kori Schake of the Hoover
Institution frames her book: “Te culture
shock of working in the Department of
State for someone who’d professionally
grown up in the Pentagon is difcult to
overstate.” As its title says, the depart-
ment is in a state of “disrepair” and needs
“fxing.”
Opening it, I feared a screed by some-
one who spent years at the Pentagon
but only a few months on State’s Policy
Planning staf. What could she know?
How can she understand the nuances
and texture of our work? Doesn’t she
understand all the burdens we bear? As
I read on, however, I found many telling
criticisms.
“State has not been able to provide the
personnel, readiness, fexibility, agility
and funding to support and shape recon-
struction programs.” I saw that up close
and personal in Afghanistan.
Te department “fails to foster the tal-
ent it possesses.” How true.
“Te ‘whole of government’ opera-
tions mantra chanted by Secretary of
Defense Robert Gates and Admiral
[Mike] Mullen should be understood as
a plea by the Department of Defense for
State to better do its job.” Amen.
Te department “blames its manage-
ment inadequacies on lack of resources.”
Count me guilty, too. I’ve voiced the
same opinion.
“State excuses itself from the respon-
sibility of building support in the public
and, crucially, on Capitol Hill.” Ouch!
Tink of what many of us say to col-
leagues, or ourselves, over cofee in the
department cafeteria or an embassy can-
teen. “We don’t do any training except in
languages.” “We policy plan, but
we don’t plan programs.” “No
one gives us the people or the
money we need.” “We don’t have
a constituency.”
Schake agrees that these are
accurate descriptions of organi-
zational shortcomings that have
atrophied the department. But
she also sees them as excuses for
failure, and she is impatient with
our “business as usual” approach.
Te militarization of foreign policy,
in her view, has come about not because
the armed forces covet working on
diplomacy and development. It’s hap-
pened because State proved unequal to
its taskings, and missions migrated to the
military.
Schake argues—to my mind, accu-
rately—that much of this is due to the
department’s culture and organizational
dysfunction. We see problems, but we
shrug our shoulders. Tey’re just too big,
too hard to fx.
It’s not possible in a short review to
address all her recommendations. She
gives the work of consular ofcers high
praise, indeed, though she might have
noted that the Department of Homeland
Security now plays a role in visa deci-
sions, too. In any case, consular ofcers
are best placed to see just how ambitious
is her agenda for the cone, and how dif-
fcult to achieve.
Schake’s diagnosis and the
strong medicine she prescribes
both stem from the depart-
ment’s shortcomings in Iraq
and Afghanistan. Many in the
Foreign Service regard our
massive deployments in those
nations as aberrations we can
soon, happily, put behind us.
I sense a longing for a steady-
state Foreign Service, for the
protect-report-represent institution we
knew in the 1990s.
Laying down the burdens of Iraq and
Afghanistan will not, however, release the
State Department frommeeting the chal-
lenges of insurgencies or violent extrem-
ism. Moreover, we need to be prepared
for equally disruptive new challenges.
Schake is right: Now is the time to
address training, education and plan-
ning defcits, as well as the confusion of
executive authorities that so hobbled our
response after 9/11.
For all these reasons,
State of Disrepair
is an important book. Without a manage-
ment and professional upgrade, State and
the other foreign afairs agencies, and the
Foreign Service, will fall short.
Tat stark conclusion should not be
dismissed simply because it’s sweeping,
direct and lacking in nuance, and may
hurt our feelings.
n
Donald M. Bishop, a retired Foreign Service
public diplomacy ofcer, was a public afairs
ofcer in Dhaka, Lagos and Beijing, and
twice a political adviser at the Pentagon.
His last assignment was Kabul.
Schake is right: Now is
the time to address State’s
training, education and
planning defcits, as well as
the confusion of executive
authorities that so hobbled
our response after 9/11.