Saturday, January 1

US Department of Pack Rat

"Pundita, re your blog about the "American Desk" at the State Dept., have you read Joel Mowbray's book on the State Department? Mowbray is an investigative reporter with extensive contacts inside the State Department. Even with all his contacts and all his research of publicly available data, he admittedly only scratched the surface of the department's inner workings.

"Also, some powerful senators on both sides of the aisle have blocked attempts to investigate State's actions with regard to critically serious US defense-related problems."

"As for changing the culture inside the State Department, Rice will face the same problem that every other Secretary of State has faced. It's virtually impossible to fire any State employee who has tenure.
[Signed] Chicago Dan"

Dear Chicago Dan:

No, I've not read Mowbray's book, but he's a frequent visitor on John Batchelor's radio program. From John's interviews with the author I think there was a very specific focus to the research and interviews that went into Mowbray's 2003 book on State, Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security : Mowbray was particularly interested in whether State obstructed US security measures in the wake of 9/11, and whether State's influence on a range of US security-related policies helped leave America open to the kind of attack 9/11 represented. Thus, much still might be turned up by a researcher of Mowbray's caliber and contacts, if the focus switched to the "America Desk" -- the Office of Business and Commercial Affairs -- and its connection with the EU and Soros's activities during and since the Clinton administration.

This said, I'll grant that digging into State's affairs since the creation of the America Desk (in 1995) would be a Herculean task. However, I don't think it takes an army of investigators to get a handle on State's way of doing things, nor is sending in a team of Special Forces the only way to dislodge recalcitrant bureaucrats dug in at Foggy Bottom. We first need to understand State's central problem.

It's often observed that State has taken on too many functions but America is a superpower nation -- and for more than a decade, the lone superpower. So of course our foreign office necessarily has its hands in many pies.

I believe I stumbled across State's central problem while observing a particularly unpleasant squabble amongst my foreign policy advisors. I interject that forging diverse wildlife into a team was no easy task. But to stay with the thread there is a beaver, who has a fondness for the bamboo in Pundita's back yard, who occasionally sits in on the meetings. The beaver's first appearance at a policy meeting, or perhaps it was his attitude, touched off a barrage of insults between the hunting and foraging members of the team. These culminated in the hunters hurling at the other side what seems to be a supreme insult among wildlife: "Pack Rat!"

What I find most interesting about State's deep involvement in regime change in former Soviet countries is that this suggests State is still fighting the Cold War. However, the America Desk has obviously been very sensitive to the changes in Europe after the Soviet Union dissolved. And yet some of the horror stories about State that Mowbray recounted for Batchelor's audience suggest that State's Arab Desk is still functioning as it was in 1952.

That in turn suggests State doesn't so much evolve to keep up with changing times as pile desks on top of desks. There is probably a desk at State that is still doing all they can to help tear down the Berlin Wall. And another desk still working to smooth China's entry into the UN Security Council.

The situation represents the pack rat mentality: don't throw it away because you never know when you might need it. Of course many marriages have crashed because of a spouse's pack-rat tendencies. And (no surprise) psychiatry has deemed the worst cases to require medication. But maybe the profession has not gone overboard in this instance; if it comes to the point where your domicile is so stuffed with things that you're camping in the yard the medication option should be considered.

However, until we see State installing desks on the roof I don't think we need call in the psychiatrists. But it might be helpful, if Dr. Rice announces at the first staff meeting she chairs at State that this thing we call living includes letting go and moving on.

If that doesn't work, we might look to the World Bank for advice. If you can't fire employees, you can reorganize their desks out of existence. State is long overdue for an overhaul of its organization chart, of the kind the World Bank conducted a couple decades ago. It cost a fortune in golden parachutes but through the reorganization of divisions and departments, the Bank was able to cut out much deadwood.

The obstacle to a similar approach at State has been the Secretary of State; there has been no secretary in my memory who had the will, and the presidential backing, to conduct a reorganization at State. I think that will change with Dr. Rice. Yet the American adult public must not sit back and hope for Rice to make magic. We can do our part by getting informed as best we can, then flooding the White House, Secretary of State and Congress with letters that contain informed questions and complaints about State's doings.

Regarding the complaints, a caution. We should keep in mind that State headquarters are situated in Washington, DC, which is the #1 target on the terrorists' hit list. So, those who live in the Greater Washington, DC region (this includes Pundita) have a very special interest in seeing that nothing like 9/11 ever happens again. The interest is shared by employees who labor at Foggy Bottom.

Yet the policy views that undergird the horror stories in Joel Mowbray's book are clearly wrong -- wrong for this country in the present era. So now all the desks at State should be brought under a single guiding philosophy; one that's in the spirit of Donald Rumsfeld's comment about the need for an "American Desk" at State, and one that is more comprensive than supporting U.S. business expansion abroad.

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