Courtesy Reuters

Toward Presidential Control of the State Department

This article challenges the notion that it is appropriate for Foreign Service officers to routinely occupy senior policymaking positions in the State Department. As a recent "political" ambassador who has also served at a senior level in domestic departments of our government, I confess that I ended my ambassadorial stint with less than friendly feelings toward the Foreign Service as a whole. Since then, reflecting as dispassionately as possible on my own observations and looking with some care into past history, I have concluded that the frictions that have arisen almost continuously between the Service and successive Presidents (and their political appointees) have their roots deep in the system of appointments itself-and that they lend themselves to constructive remedies.

The practice of having Foreign Service officers in senior State Department positions goes back a long way; in the minds of many it has attained the status of an accepted convention. I believe it is time to reject that convention, not only because it is fundamentally inconsistent with American democratic theory, but also because-perhaps more directly relevant to those interested in the substance of foreign policy-for the last 50 years the Foreign Service's quite natural desire to preserve and expand these job opportunities has caused or exacerbated unfortunate clashes with presidential authority over the conduct of foreign policy. As Professor James Q. Wilson of Harvard has recently observed, indispensable to a full understanding of any government department's policy-formulating process is an appreciation of that department's formal and informal incentive system.1 So long as the Foreign Service sees itself in competition with political appointees for senior positions, it will instinctively resist presidential direction of the substance of foreign policy. In resisting the legitimacy of political appointments essential to presidential control, it inevitably rejects as well the legitimacy of political direction.

Indisputably, the Foreign Service has much to offer in the fashioning and implementation of foreign policy, but the troublesome friction to which I refer has often led Presidents and their appointees to reject the

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