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 Service's views out of hand. It is time, I submit, to call a halt to this long struggle. Accordingly, in my conclusion I suggest a legislative modus vivendi, one which takes account of the need to maintain, indeed improve, the Foreign Service's morale.


Perhaps it is because Foreign Service officers (and many of their journalistic champions) have relatively little experience with the American government as a whole that they are unaware of how anomalous is their claim to policymaking positions.

Senior political posts in the executive branch of the U.S. government, those presumed to carry policymaking functions, are almost invariably presidential appointments requiring Senate confirmation. For the most part, they are designated as executive appointments at levels from one through four: level one is reserved to the Cabinet (and the Special Trade Representative); level two is typically a deputy secretary (but also includes the Directors of the CIA and FBI); level three embraces the under secretaries and level four the assistant secretaries. Men and women who fill these jobs are normally thought of as part of the President's team; indeed, they are extensions of the presidency.

Among the world democracies, the United States uniquely functions with so many political appointments at senior levels of government. But the United States' tripartite governmental structure is also unique. The parliamentary democracies fuse legislative and executive powers; the civil service in those countries, therefore, looks only to one political authority. By contrast, in the United States both a presidential sun and a congressional moon exert a gravitational pull on the Civil Service. Since our chief executive must compete with legislative authority for the allegiance, or even the attention, of the Civil Service, it follows that he needs a considerable number of senior executives in the departments who are closely tied to his political fortunes. Even these ties do not guarantee him bureaucratic support, but they ensure an irreducible minimum of influence.

In all the executive departments save State, these executive-level appointments almost invariably go to supporters of the President-persons who share his political goals, or at least are drawn from the President's political party. To be sure, occasionally a civil servant will be selected for political appointment but, in that event, he or she is assumed to have abandoned the neutrality of the career service and does not return to career status when the administration leaves office.

The State Department is structured like other executive departments with a secretary, deputy secretary, four under secretaries, and over a dozen assistant-secretary-level positions. In addition, however, there are more than 150 ambassadorships, all presidential appointments requiring Senate confirmation and carrying an executive-level ranking-depending on the importance and size of the embassy-from two through five. The more important ambassadorships, then, have equivalent rank to the deputy or under secretary posts since an ambassador, in theory, personally represents the President of the United States in his assigned country. According to strict protocol, the American ambassador outranks even the Secretary of State at his embassy (a protocol nicety that few ambassadors have dared assert). As a direct representative of the President, an ambassador is not restricted to communications with the State Department. Some have even advanced personal views or positions espoused by other departments that ran counter to State's wishes-unless instructed otherwise by the President. It is not unknown, for that matter, for Presidents to direct ambassadors on certain sensitive matters without even informing the State Department.

Over the years, however, the majority of these embassies and a goodly proportion of the senior posts in Washington have been occupied by career Foreign Service officers who maintain their career status while in these positions. Accepted Washington wisdom, as disseminated by the diplomatic press corps, holds that these appointments should normally go to Foreign Service officers. Career status has, in the State Department, been deemed synonymous with merit. Political appointments are implicitly regarded as non-meritorious. During the presidential campaign of 1976, for example, C. L. Sulzberger, the venerable if predictably conventional foreign correspondent of The New York Times, paused in a little town outside of Plains, Georgia to write a column in which he described the importance of a presidential candidate committing himself to appoint Foreign Service officers to ambassadorships. After his subsequent meeting with Jimmy Carter, he breathlessly reported that, sure enough, the Democratic candidate was determined to make "merit" appointments to foreign policy positions. After the election, as we all saw, Jimmy Carter did not completely accept the congruence of career status and merit. He did appoint fewer political ambassadors but, in contrast to the Ford-Kissinger Administration, President Carter took more care to ensure that his assistant and under secretaries were drawn from political circles that shared the President's foreign policy philosophy.


The Foreign Service has persistently argued for a congressionally imposed limit on the number or percentage of non-career appointments to ambassadorships and has grumbled at what it regards as excessive appointments of non-careerists to comparable positions in Washington. A necessary corollary to the Service's position has been its explicit assumption that foreign policy-unlike all other responsibilities of government-is not appropriately a subject for political difference. As Fred Iklé recently put it, the Foreign Service has a direct career interest in defending the cliché that "politics stops at the water's edge."2

George Kennan, perhaps the leading apostle of foreign policy careerism (some say elitism), argues that our political parties play no important role in the long-term formulation of foreign policy because in the United States, unlike Europe, they are not ideological. He sees them as purely pragmatic groupings of various constituencies without ideological content. When politicians challenge the Foreign Service's conduct of policy, they are, according to Kennan, responding merely to "highly organized lobbies and interest groups."3

The ultra-careerist must thus denigrate the impact of politics on foreign policy, for if it were to be conceded that our political parties do represent alternative philosophies of foreign policy, it would also have to be conceded, consistent with democratic theory, that the successful party is entitled to place its adherents in senior State Department positions to carry out its philosophy.

Kennan and his supporters, I submit, fundamentally misunderstand our political system. American political parties can indeed be seen as competitive constituency groupings, but these have always been bound together in significant degree by an ideological glue of varying viscosity-using "ideology" simply to mean a reasonably coherent set of ideas about the relationship between government and its citizens. Our great geographical and cultural diversity, as virtually every first-year college student is taught, has caused a certain degree of ideological overlapping. Still, for almost 50 years the Republican Party, or at least its central core, has differed with the Democrats over the fundamental issue of the desirability, equity, even morality of coercive redistribution of wealth and income, and the corollary question of the growth of governmental power.

Moreover-and this point is crucial-domestic ideological differences have always been, in part, reflected in the differing foreign policy approaches of the Democratic and Republican Parties. Surely the restrained enthusiasm with which conservative Republicans view delegations of authority to the United Nations is ideologically connected to Republican distrust of domestic governmental growth, and the greater receptiveness with which most liberal Democrats examine the developing nations' demand for a New International Economic Order is related to their espousal of domestic economic redistribution. For most liberal Democrats, "narrowing the gap" in world income by direct transfers of wealth follows ineluctably from their domestic political objective of similarly "narrowing the income gap" among Americans. Domestic liberals-and most are Democrats-are almost as prone to believe that world order can be achieved through supra-national planning as they are to believe that we should move toward greater governmental planning domestically. Conservatives, by contrast, in both domestic and foreign policy, tend to distrust rationalistic schemes and give greater deference to the natural growth of domestic and international structures. These differences, between liberal and conservative, go back to Rousseau and Burke.

True, domestic ethnic, religious and racial lobbies have always exerted political influence on American foreign policy. In recent years U.S. policy toward disputes in the Aegean, the Middle East and southern Africa has been so shaped. Still, these issues are not without ideological content. Most American blacks, for instance, are aligned with the Democratic Party, which party, particularly President Carter's wing, has seemed much less troubled by black African nationalism with a Marxist flavor than have Republicans. This, in turn, is clearly related to the present Administration's overall effort to reduce the anti-communist character of American foreign policy.

Although both parties share a strong distaste for totalitarianism, Republicans are naturally, on the whole, more distrustful and fearful of totalitarianism on the Left and Democrats more apprehensive of its rightist counterpart. That is surely why Roosevelt's foreign policy in the 1930s was more aggressively anti-fascist than many Republicans thought prudent. And why Republican views for years have been, on the whole, more aggressively anti-communist.

Admittedly, there are important foreign policy differences within both parties. The 1976 Reagan challenge to President Ford was most successfully rooted in foreign policy disagreements centered on the Ford-Kissinger policy of détente. In that respect there are similarities between conservative Republicans and the Jackson-Moynihan-Nunn wing of the Democratic Party. That these kinds of issues are often disputed intra-party as well as inter-party does not at all detract from the proposition that our political process properly accommodates foreign policy debates or that they normally have an ideological content. Senator Jackson, like Governor Reagan, lost his primary fight for nomination and, therefore, as much as some of us might regret it, President Carter was certainly on sound democratic (note the small "d") grounds in rigorously excluding Jackson Democrats, as well as orthodox Republicans, from significant foreign policy positions. They manifestly would not fit.

I do not mean to suggest that American foreign policy will or should shift 180 degrees as administrations change. In the first place, the great strength of American democracy is the relatively narrow degree of ideological differences between our political parties with respect to either domestic or foreign issues. What we virtually all agree upon-our shared premises-is greater than that which divides us. Therefore, philosophic changes in foreign policy orientations, while significant, will not be fundamental-not sea changes.

Second, the United States does have relatively permanent economic and strategic interests that no administration, regardless of ideology, can ignore. To be sure, which of those interests are vital is very much a political question because vital interests are those a nation is willing to take substantial risks to preserve or advance. Thus, different administrations may well be willing to assume greater political, economic and even military costs, on the margin, to protect different objectives. Put another way, the political process sets priorities on national interests; Vietnam was in that manner continually downgraded from vital to borderline to irrelevant. No computer or group of wise men can objectively divine the outer boundaries of vital interests, because in a democracy the people as a whole must determine the acceptable cost-benefit ratio of actions that preserve or advance foreign policy goals. Still, the central core of our policy, or any nation's policy, will always be shaped by objective factors. Not surprisingly, then, as time passes, we see that at least certain of President Carter's policies have begun to conform to those of the preceding Administration. Take, for example, the abandonment of the Turkish arms embargo or the President's "Camp David" change in Middle East policy.

Some scholars argue that ideology should play little or no role in the conduct of foreign policy, but it is hard to take that position seriously. Can one imagine American policy in this century uninfluenced by antipathy to or a healthy fear of fascism and communism? Nonetheless, how much weight ideology should be given when fashioning policy toward other nations is surely questionable. As Bayless Manning put it, since the beginning of the Republic pragmatism and ideology, held in uneasy balance, have been twin themes of our foreign policy.4 Sometimes an administration has emphasized ideological factors over pragmatic ones, for example, Woodrow Wilson's self-determination, John Foster Dulles' anti-communism, and Jimmy Carter's human rights. At other times, as most recently with Kissinger's Realpolitik, pragmatism seems to dominate.

I suggest that a long-term aim of our policy is to keep these considerations, ideology and pragmatism, in appropriate balance. No magic formula, however, will permanently achieve that equation. The best means to keep these factors in balance, and the one most appropriate to our system of government, is partisan public debate. Inevitably, the administration in power will emphasize one or the other factor and the party out of power will duly criticize the administration for overemphasis-just as the Democrats attacked Dulles for excessive moralizing and Kissinger for too little attention to moral concerns. The political process ensures that the balance can never be tipped too far in one direction.

In that fashion, I would argue, partisan political debate over foreign policy serves long-run stability rather than instability. The democratic process is often thought to jeopardize professionally devised foreign policy continuity; in fact, it ensures a deeper continuity which eludes totalitarian states. The key theoretical proposition, then, of the careerists' argument for their own dominance of senior foreign policy positions-that domestic politics is the appropriate process for the resolution of domestic economic and social issues, but not for foreign policy questions-is plainly and demonstrably wrong.


Still, political theory aside, the question of expertise remains. Foreign Service spokesmen maintain that the conduct (and fashioning) of foreign policy is inherently subtler and more sophisticated than other facets of governmental responsibility. The stakes, moreover, are much higher-particularly in a thermonuclear world. American democracy, it is argued, has no practical choice but to delegate to its Foreign Service greater responsibility than is granted to the domestic Civil Service. George Kennan assumes this delegation when he describes the Foreign Service officer as an anomaly not belonging to "that great body of lower-level servicing personnel known as the civil service" but rather somewhere between the ordinary civil servant and the political appointee.5

The grade, rank and pay of Foreign Service officers, however, is comparable to that of Civil Service officers-except when the former are serving in those executive-level presidential appointments described earlier-so Congress has not explicitly made the delegation Kennan assumes.6 In fact, the Foreign Service was created through executive orders of Presidents Roosevelt and Taft and the Rogers Act of 1924 to bring our diplomatic personnel up to the professional standards of the Civil Service.

But should the Foreign Service be regarded as superior to the Civil Service? Is the substance of foreign policy so uniquely challenging as to compel acceptance of a Foreign Service policymaking role?

To answer No, to reject this claim, it is not necessary to denigrate the complexities of foreign affairs. It is only necessary to observe that other aspects of governmental responsibilities are no less complex. I would go further, however. The average American has a sounder instinctive grasp of the basic dynamics of foreign policy than he does of domestic macroeconomics (the management of which is, after all, the most important domestic responsibility of the government). Common sense-the sum of personal experiences-will take one farther in the realm of foreign policy than in macroeconomics. Even children playing together begin to learn lessons about the balance of power-to prevent one from dominating others-but they manifestly do not learn the way people behave economically in the aggregate. As George Will laments, much of domestic democratic government consists of futile efforts to reverse economic laws-laws, I would add, that are rooted in human nature.

The Foreign Service contends that the actual conduct of day-to-day relations between countries-as opposed to the administration of domestic departments-requires of those who do this business special expertise that only professionals with a lifetime of training gain; expertise both in the process of diplomacy itself and in profound knowledge of the nature of other societies. The military is a favorite analogy used to buttress this argument. We do not appoint politicians to senior military commands because we recognize the need for that special expertise which only the careerist can provide; the same reasoning, it is argued, should govern appointments to the senior foreign policy commands. On close examination, this analogy disintegrates. Civilian or political control of the military is well established in the United States. Consequently, the Assistant Secretaries of the Defense Department and of the services are invariably drawn from the ranks of civilians, and the military are almost never given political authority (the exception would be temporary wartime or postwar occupation of enemy territory).7

To be sure, the Joint Chiefs of Staff report directly to the President in his role as Commander in Chief. This is obviously of more practical significance in war than in peace. But war and planning for war are a good deal more specialized and outside the experience of most politicians than the conduct of diplomacy. (For that matter, it is equally outside the experience of the Foreign Service, which surely is one of the reasons why, when George Kennan recently called for a special conclave of experts to redefine Soviet capabilities and intentions, he excluded any consideration of the Soviet military buildup.)

Drawing once again upon James Q. Wilson, if one wishes to determine whether political appointees bring any desired attitudes or skills to the conduct of foreign policy, one should look carefully at the actual tasks performed both abroad and at home. What is it that diplomats actually do? Are there comparative advantages and disadvantages as between typical careerists and non-careerists with respect to requisite skills and experiences?

The Foreign Service is divided into four categories or "cones": political, economic, consular, and administrative. Political officers-from whose ranks the lion's share of ambassadors is drawn-are responsible, when abroad, for analyzing and reporting political trends and events in their assigned country. Economic officers, similarly, report on economic affairs, but when serving as commercial attachés or when supervising them, they are also responsible for searching out business opportunities for American firms, then helping these firms take advantage of those opportunities. Consular officers are charged with aiding Americans who run afoul of host country laws and also are responsible for the often vexing administration abroad of U.S. immigration laws. Administrative officers provide support services for the embassy, much as do administrative officers in the Civil Service.

All four groups must also represent American interests to the host country in their respective spheres. The job of an embassy, then, including the various attachés who work for other governmental departments (agricultural, military, legal, etc.) is partly to report to our own government on events in that country and partly to represent the American government and American interests there.

To do this job, officers need background and knowledge of the host country-including usually the host country's language as well as broad training in political theory, economics and history. They also, however, need an even more profound understanding of our own country, its governmental and political processes, and the nature of national objectives and interests. One who represents the United States obviously must understand it but in addition-and this is insufficiently appreciated-to report well on events in an assigned country, one must have an analytical framework which assigns relevance, and relevance depends on American interests. That assuredly does not mean that reporting should be filtered through an ideological prism which would distort the truth, but it does mean that there are all sorts of truths, and some are of more compelling interest than others.

The Foreign Service ambassador will often (but by no means always) have a deeper knowledge of the country to which he or she is assigned than a non-careerist, but the non-careerist often has a comparative advantage in understanding the United States, particularly if he or she comes to a post with a broad background in government, economics or scholarship.

Career officers typically complain that politicians and political appointees do not sufficiently appreciate "the world as it is." In a sense that is true. The Foreign Service will more accurately reflect trends and values prevailing outside the United States than the non-careerists. But, I believe, the converse is also true: the Service will less accurately reflect counterpart trends and values dominant within the United States. The Foreign Service in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s was significantly more sympathetic to dominant trends in Western Europe during that time, including what we have come to see as misguided ideas of accommodation with fascism, than was the Roosevelt Administration.8 Today, I would argue that the Foreign Service is more willing to accommodate Marxist trends around the world than are many politicians or the American people as a whole. Essentially that is why Daniel Patrick Moynihan as U.N. Ambassador was so popular with the American public but so repugnant to our professionals.

To some extent the world, to the Foreign Service, is divided up into the sum total of ambassadorial posts. The resulting distortion is analogous to the political distortion at the United Nations (one dictator/one vote). Thus, Foreign Service partiality to the Arab side of the Arab-Israeli dispute over the last 30 years does not have its roots (as some critics have suggested) in undue deference to Arab oil power, nearly so much as in the fact that there are over a score of Arab capitals-which means there are that many embassies and that many ambassadorial slots in Arab nations.

Foreign Service officers necessarily tend to specialize in certain areas of the world; the burdens of language training alone ensure this. For self-advancement, an officer must be hospitably received in the country or countries in which he specializes. Moreover, once posted in a country, good reporting requires sources of information, particularly among influential or governing elites. Inevitably, therefore, a Foreign Service officer has a tendency toward what is referred to in the State Department as "clientism," a term which suggests overemphasizing the interests of a foreign country (as defined by the governing elite) vis-à-vis the broader interests of the United States. "Good relations" between the host country and the United States (often at our expense) become an end in themselves without sufficient regard to U.S. geopolitical and geostrategic interests.9 Some political appointees, admittedly, are subject to the same tendency, but since political appointees have other career options they are likely to be less susceptible to the germ.

The Foreign Service officer has a natural tendency toward caution; one advances in the Foreign Service by not making mistakes. It follows, then, that risk is to be avoided. One kind of avoidable risk involves too sharp a presentation of options. Just as a diplomat must often seek to paper over disputes between his own country and his assigned country, he learns to blur American foreign policy options for presentation to policymakers. Thus the State Department's nickname, "the Fudge Factory."

The other kind of risk typically eschewed by career officers is too vigorous a defense of American interests because such behavior can lead to relative unpopularity with the nation or group of nations in which the officer specializes-particularly if that group of nations shares a common ideology. For instance, two political appointees of Roosevelt in the 1930s, Claude G. Bowers to Spain and William E. Dodd to Germany, were far more outspoken in defending American values and ideology in the face of fascist attacks than the prevailing views within the career service or, in the case of Dodd, his career-service successor.10

At bottom, a good diplomat, like a good politician, domestic bureaucrat, businessman, lawyer or administrator, is one who exercises good judgment. The Foreign Service does attract, on the whole, the ablest men and women who enter government. But I would contend that it is relatively rare for Foreign Service officers in their first ten or 15 years to exercise responsibility equivalent to that available to a talented young person in the domestic Civil Service or, even more pronouncedly, outside government. Good judgment comes from the opportunity to exercise responsibility-even the opportunity to make mistakes. The Foreign Service is one of America's most rigidly hierarchical organizations. The most insignificant question must be passed up through the apparat, layer after layer. This is particularly so in Washington but true also in most embassies. Such an operational climate does not produce sufficient opportunities for junior officers to assume responsibility and, therefore, to develop seasoned judgment.

All of these considerations lead me to believe we would have a far better Foreign Service if we could provide incentives for Foreign Service officers to spend significant periods in domestic agencies where real responsibility can be offered earlier. The present personnel practice of the State Department discourages this. One-year stints on the Hill or with domestic agencies are not uncommon. But three or four years at the Treasury Department or Interior will actually injure the Foreign Service officer's career chances. By comparison, great newspapers will often assign journalists, whose function closely parallels certain tasks of the diplomat, alternately to domestic and foreign assignments. Indeed, the best foreign correspondents and columnists are those whose interests and experience include domestic affairs.

West European countries, in the main, rigorously segregate their foreign services from their domestic departments-and from political appointees as well. That should hardly be a persuasive precedent, however, since many of those countries are still burdened with an ancient tradition that demands aristocratic pedigrees (or reasonable contemporary facsimiles in the form of university degrees) from career diplomats. The communist states and many developing countries, on the other hand, often transfer diplomats back to responsible jobs in domestic affairs. This practice ensures that ambassadors are more well rounded and, not incidentally in my view, more aggressive in pursuit of national interests when serving abroad. That Japan, for instance, draws heavily upon its economic ministries for diplomats may be related to its persistent and successful pursuit of foreign markets.

It is sometimes observed-Harold Nicolson, the British counterpart to George Kennan, said it patronizingly-that career diplomats are trained to patience, whereas amateurs often blunder by seeking to accomplish too much during their relatively short tenure. There is a good deal of truth to that, but the other side of the coin is that the Foreign Service officer is often slow to see the importance of change, and "the essence of good foreign policy is constant re-examination."11 For this reason, I believe we need both careerists and non-careerists among our diplomats.


What, it may be asked, does all of this have to do with the stuff of foreign policy? Does it really make much difference whether our ambassadors and assistant secretaries are drawn from the career Foreign Service or from outside those ranks-and in what proportion? Is this just an unseemly squabble between two classes of jobseekers without relevance to the broad compelling issues of foreign policy? On the contrary, in my view the tension between political authority and careerists has had, and continues to have, an unfortunate impact on the shaping and articulation of these issues.

Consider the recurring frustration American Presidents express concerning their relative inability to control and direct the State Department. One need not agree with Daniel Yergin's revisionist theory of the cold war set forth in his recent A Shattered Peace to recognize that he chronicles a sad story of guerrilla warfare between the professional Foreign Service and the Roosevelt Administration. The story is amplified by Martin Weil's more recent A Pretty Good Club. Since the 1920s, the constant theme of the Foreign Service has been resistance to political appointees and that, in turn, has led to presidential hostility and various techniques to circumvent the Foreign Service. President Nixon's use of the National Security Council to fashion and implement his Soviet and China initiatives-because he distrusted the Foreign Service-parallels Roosevelt's efforts to conduct foreign policy, as Weil and Yergin recount, using various confidants outside the State Department. The Foreign Service did its best to sabotage Roosevelt's efforts to negotiate terms for diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1933; thereafter, he wisely did not trust his State Department.12 Nixon, it seems, distrusted State even more than the domestic bureaucracies. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson all, at one point or another, expressed the same exasperation with the State Department and sought to circumvent its institutional hostility.13

Now, of course, Presidents have been known to complain about unresponsiveness in other executive branch bureaucracies as well, but the State Department has been in a class by itself. If one thinks hard about this, it seems extraordinary. Other bureaucracies present difficulties for presidential direction because of their symbiotic relationship with domestic constituencies and congressional committees and staffs-often referred to as "iron triangles." But as the Foreign Service so often complains, it has no supporting domestic constituency and, therefore, less of an institutional ally within the Congress. One would expect that the State Department would be the department most responsive to presidential will rather than the least. The answer to this paradox lies, I believe, in the resentment, unique in our government, that Foreign Service officers feel for political appointees in the State Department. This resentment inevitably leads Foreign Service officers toward resistance to any political direction of foreign policy-even presidential.

Of course, disputes between the Foreign Service and political authority are always couched in policy terms, but the root cause, I believe, is often found in the Foreign Service's natural fear of diminishing job opportunities and a concomitant wish to expand these. It is impossible to exaggerate the fierce attention career officers pay to the number of political appointments (like the unemployment rate, the absolute number is less "politically" significant than the rate and direction of change), or the resistance new political appointees encounter. I dare say this is less a reflection on the Foreign Service than it is an observation on human nature; any group of people would surely behave the same. One should keep in mind that promotion in the Foreign Service is more difficult than in the Civil Service; the personnel structure is more like a pyramid. So long as every political appointment is seen as a direct threat to the Foreign Service officer's career advancement, his or her attitude vis-à-vis both the appointee and the authority represented is inevitably negatively affected.

The most troublesome aspect of this phenomenon is that the bureaucratic struggle it causes takes on a life of its own. Since the career Foreign Service officer rejects the legitimacy of politically appointed ambassadors or assistant secretaries, it necessarily tends to reject whatever new ideas or perspectives those men or women bring to their posts. For instance, the previously mentioned Ambassadors Dodd and Bowers saw the dangers of European Fascism and Nazism with a good deal more clarity than the professional Foreign Service. But the views of both men were rejected and both were criticized for their efforts to defend American values under fascist attack. In turn, the President's appointees, if they are not beaten into submission by the obdurate hostility of the Foreign Service, tend to reject its expertise. A whole administration can thereby turn a deaf ear to legitimate concerns of conscientious Foreign Service officers.

Patrick Hurley's experience is, in this respect, instructive. As our Ambassador to China during the crucial period of the Chinese civil war, he is often accused of ignoring-indeed, of persecuting-the old China hands, that corps of excellent Foreign Service China experts who consistently warned U.S. policymakers of the likely communist triumph in China. But what is not often noted is that Hurley, by the time he arrived in China as Special Envoy in 1944, had experienced several years of Foreign Service coolness or even hostility. He had undertaken several wartime missions for President Roosevelt and, in particular, after a sojourn in Iran as Roosevelt's Special Envoy, his recommendations for postwar U.S. policy toward that country-of which Roosevelt approved-had been buried by the State Department's hierarchy. To be sure, Hurley was a man of severe limitations, but the persistent hostility of the Foreign Service surely contributed to his inability to draw upon its expertise.14

Perhaps no one in recent years has more directly confronted the Foreign Service than Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose views expressed both in his famous Commentary article "The United States In Opposition" and during his term as Ambassador to the United Nations so fundamentally challenged conventional wisdom as to the appropriate tactics the United States should employ vis-à-vis the Third World (as well as the "socialist" bloc). The implacable hostility he aroused in our own Foreign Service against a "politician" obscured the validity of Moynihan's analysis even for some officers who privately conceded much of his thesis. Andrew Young's more recent performance has generated similar if more muted disdain among the professionals. Moynihan and Young represent virtually polar philosophic extremes with respect to most foreign policy issues facing the United States; both have been, concerning the appropriate strategy and tactics the United States should employ vis-à-vis dictatorial Marxism, marginally further to their end of the pole than the administrations they have served. But both were appointed Ambassadors to the United Nations because of their views and not despite them, by administrations that wished these articulate men to help fashion the indispensable ideological component to foreign policy. Both, therefore, were entitled to the Foreign Service's full support rather than the back-alley muggings which have characterized their respective tenures.15

Ostensibly it is their style to which the Foreign Service has most objected; neither man was sufficiently discreet to satisfy the requirements of career diplomacy (admittedly both made gaffes)-but the truth of the matter is that both sharply articulated fundamental policy issues so that the American people could see them. That is terribly threatening to the Foreign Service officer because it allows for political resolution of these issues.

The career Foreign Service officer will, and indeed should, exercise a cautious drag on political swings in foreign policy direction. Any government bureaucracy will do the same, since it has an intellectual and psychological investment in past policy. Particularly is this important in foreign affairs, since other nations, too, have investments in these policies. Capricious turns of the foreign policy wheel will inevitably undermine U.S. credibility. But the Foreign Service's challenge to the legitimacy of senior political appointees in the State Department does not serve a policy interest because it does not actually focus on policy. More, it extends beyond advice regarding fashioning of policy to constitute obstruction of the implementation of policy. And this, in a vicious circle, tends to generate within political authority a disposition to disregard completely whatever the Foreign Service has to contribute.

No one seems to have understood the difficulties in dealing with the Foreign Service better than Henry Kissinger. As National Security Adviser he deftly outmaneuvered the whole State Department including the senior political appointees, and as Secretary of State he exercised astonishingly successful control over most issues of foreign policy. He did so not by "managing" the State Department; middle- and lower level officials often were blissfully uninformed concerning Kissinger's strategy and tactics even in their areas of substantive responsibility. And when informed or partially informed, they were frequently shockingly open in their opposition, particularly in the early stages of his tenure as Secretary.16 But Kissinger so centralized decision-making and personally so dominated the important cable traffic as to ensure his own direction of key policy movements. Naturally some matters, like the Cyprus crisis of 1974, fell between the cracks, but Kissinger's energy and range were absolutely astonishing. To aid him-for not even Kissinger could do everything alone-he promoted into senior presidential appointments relatively young and capable Foreign Service officers who because of their junior status would be unusually loyal to the Secretary.

Most of these young men, however, had little attachment or loyalty to the Republican Administration or to the President. In fact, the majority were at least nominal Democrats, which of course accentuated their calculated dependence on Kissinger personally. As a result, the foreign policy of the United States appeared-and indeed was-the child of the Secretary of State without structural links to the Administration or the Republican Party. When, as was inevitable, foreign policy came under attack in the presidential campaign of 1976, both Reagan first, and Carter second, effectively denigrated President Ford's leadership by pointing to Henry Kissinger's dominant role. The senior appointees in the State Department were not then conspicuous, even in private, in their defense of the President. They may, as some have noted, have been busy with transition plans, but even if they had been willing to respond vigorously to the political attacks, as careerists they would not have been credible or effective.17

So even though Kissinger dominated the State Department's product to a degree not seen before, and probably not to be seen again, his technique did not lead to political-that is to say, presidential-control over foreign policy. Unless a President can command the political loyalty of all of his senior department appointees, political control is impossible.


Three competing interests, then, are involved here. First, democratic control of foreign policy requires political presidential appointments in the State Department just as is the case with all other government departments. Second, the debilitating friction between administrations and the Foreign Service must be reduced. Third, spokesmen for the Foreign Service are right to concern us all with maintaining the morale of the Service. If a career officer cannot look forward to the day he or she is appointed an ambassador, we will not continue to attract top-grade talent into the Foreign Service. That consideration has led Service spokesmen to urge Congress to limit by statute the number or percentage of non-career ambassadorial appointments. The Constitution, in my view, however, will not tolerate such legislative limitations on the presidential appointment power.18

These three conflicting policy interests-to encourage political control, to reduce competitive friction and to ensure a fixed percentage of ambassadorships for Foreign Service officers-can be accommodated. I propose a law that would convert all but a set number of ambassadorships, say 15 or 20, into appointments of the Secretary of State.19 Incumbents would be limited to career officers and would carry their Foreign Service grade (normally at the top or close to it), but not an executive-level rank commensurate with senior presidential appointments. Of course, this would change the ostensible nature of these ambassadorships; they would no longer be seen as policymaking positions. But the truth of the matter is that few ambassadorships today are in practice real policymaking positions. As has been remarked too often, advances in transportation and communications have erased much discretion that ambassadors were once called upon to exercise. For the same reason, it is more a fiction than fact to describe most ambassadors as personal representatives of the President-they usually take directions drafted by an assistant secretary or below. No purpose is served in perpetuating the fiction.

To be sure, some ambassadorships to countries whose relationships with the United States are of overriding importance are of a different order. Usually in those cases, a web of political, cultural, economic and military connections makes appropriate an American envoy who actually is the personal representative of the President rather than merely of the State Department. Fifteen or 20 ambassadorships would, therefore, be reserved for presidential appointments confirmed by the Senate, and could be used by the President as he wishes for those countries he and the Secretary regard as falling within that category. These need not be assigned to the largest nations; one can visualize a particularly sensitive negotiation, like that over the Panama Canal, which could require an ambassador-at-large or an ambassador to a small country drawn from this pool.

Some may contend that those nations to which a political appointment is not sent will object to an implied downgrading of their importance. The United States and all other nations, it will be recalled, were, for similar reasons, driven to convert all legations into embassies (ministers to ambassadors). But my proposal treats all titles the same; it is only grades and political status that vary among embassies. Grades already vary among ambassadors today, depending on the size and importance of embassies, and as to political status, the Foreign Service claims that most nations prefer a career officer (which is not necessarily true) so the issue cannot be argued both ways.

A careful examination of presidential appointments in the Department should also be made with an eye to converting any that should not be regarded as truly policy-level positions into career appointments of the Secretary. The rest, particularly assistant secretaries and above, like the small group of political ambassadors, will be the President's men and women.20 This doesn't mean that Foreign Service officers would be ineligible for appointment to these positions; that, too, might be an unconstitutional abridgement of the President's appointment power. But-and it is a very big but-the law should require any Foreign Service officer who accepts such an appointment immediately to resign from the Service with no right of return. On those rare occasions in the past when a civil servant accepted a presidential appointment, that has been the practice in other departments21 and it should be the rule in the State Department. Once having accepted a presidential appointment, a career officer should have committed his or her fortunes and loyalty to that President's administration. If the appointee has the right to return subsequently to the Service, either that commitment and the resulting presidential confidence will be undermined, or else subsequent administrations would be disadvantaged.

Some will certainly argue that it will be too difficult for either party to recruit able non-careerists for all senior posts-particularly toward the end of an administration. For that matter it is never easy to attract the very best political appointees into government in any department, but it can be done with sufficient effort. Surely the talent pool of those interested and experienced in foreign affairs throughout the nation is no smaller than that from which presidential appointees are drawn for other departments. It may not always be possible to find appointees with actual diplomatic experience any more than those coming into other departments have experience in the actual tasks performed by those departments. But it is not undesirable, in my view, that some political appointees bring different perspectives formed through varying experiences.

Others will contend that the conditions I would impose on Foreign Service officers who wish to accept a presidential appointment are draconian and will therefore effectively prevent careerists from serving in such positions. Admittedly, I do not mean to make it easy for ex-careerists to dominate policymaking positions; I would rather see the pool of other experienced political appointees in both parties expand. Nonetheless, a careerist who accepts a presidential appointment and is thereby forced to resign from the Foreign Service will hardly be unemployable when the appointing administration leaves office. We are, after all, discussing very senior appointments and the private market for such people is strong and will get even stronger. Moreover, depending on one's age, there is no reason to believe that such a person's diplomatic career would be finished upon the expiration of the appointing administration. Some, like the late David Bruce, might be appointed in successive administrations; others would surely reappear when their party returned to office. In any event, it is probably advisable to consider some modification of the Foreign Service retirement scheme to ensure a greater measure of financial security for persons in this category.

If this proposal were made law, what benefits would flow from its implementation? Foreign policy formulation would thereafter be generally recognized as the responsibility of political authority and, at least conceptually, would be distinguished from foreign policy execution. The latter responsibility, clearly subordinated to the former, would be the task of the careerist. A clear line of demarcation between political appointments and career jobs would, both at home and abroad, substantially lessen that institutional friction between the Foreign Service and the presidency which has negatively affected the conduct of American foreign policy.

The Foreign Service would have gained a great deal, however: a fixed number or percentage of ambassadorships-the vast majority, at that-would be reserved to the careerist. What is crucial here is not so much the particular number, but that there be a fixed number. Certainty as to the number of political appointments would substantially relieve the quite natural career anxieties of Foreign Service officers; future political appointments would not thereafter be seen as the institutional threat they presently constitute. Furthermore, with only a relatively few ambassadorships to appoint-at senior levels-any President would be a good deal less likely to give those appointments to men and women whose primary qualification is financial campaign contributions.

Most important, as Presidents gained greater confidence in their ability to control the Foreign Service, they would have less incentive to circumvent the State Department. The undoubted expertise in that Department, therefore, would be more effectively employed.


1 James Q. Wilson, The Investigators, New York: Basic Books, 1978, passim.

2 "Beyond the Water's Edge: Responsible Partisanship in Foreign Policy." Common Sense, Summer 1978.

5 Kennan, op. cit., p. 151 (emphasis added). Surely, this unwarranted assumption of the superiority of the Foreign Service over the Civil Service owes much to the "aristocratic" social origins of Foreign Service officers of the 1920s and 1930s (and the pretensions of some others whose backgrounds were more modest). See Martin Weil, A Pretty Good Club, New York: W. W. Norton, 1978. That is not to say that today's Foreign Service is drawn primarily from the same social circles, but the sense of superiority remains-in search of a justifying rationale.

6 The last step of an FSO-1's pay schedule is equivalent to a GS-18. There is a handful of career ministers who carry the grade of executive level five; there are also, however, a number of executive level five positions in the domestic departments filled by civil servants.

7 Ironically, the State Department argues, usually successfully, that military serving in foreign countries should be subordinate to ambassadors, for the latter carry political authority as the direct representatives of the President.

11 David Halberstam, The Best and The Brightest, New York: Random House, 1972, p. 121.

16 Foreign Service morale at any point seems always to be worse than it was in the past but, as is true of any department, a strong Secretary with a coherent strategic view improves career morale in due course even when there is widespread disagreement with that Secretary's views. This appears to have been true in Mr. Kissinger's case.

17 The tradition precluding State, Defense and Justice appointees from political campaigning does not and should not prevent their response to political criticism directed at policies or activities of their departments.

18 Congress has, over the years, sought to fashion legislative limits on the President's appointive discretion by specifying characteristics of those to be appointed to particular posts. When applied to executive branch appointments, this practice is constitutionally dubious; the more discretion is restricted, the more dubious the practice. Cf. Meyers v. U.S., 272 US 52: "We see no conflict between [congressional power to prescribe qualifications for office] and [presidential power] of appointment and removal provided, of course, that the qualifications do not so limit selection and so trench upon executive choice as to be in effect legislative designation." The Senate could, as has been suggested, resolve or otherwise declare that it would not confirm more than a fixed number or percentage of political ambassadors. That approach strikes me as an unseemly circumvention of the Constitution.

19 Under the Foreign Service Act of 1946, all Foreign Service officers like military officers are presidentially appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate-to a class or grade, rather than to a specific post (22 USC 906). The Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 specifies that "ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States" shall be appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. It also provides, however, that "Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers as they think proper in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments." "Inferior officers," as used here, is not a pejorative, but simply means officers who can be appointed by constitutionally recognized officers. Although the issue has never been squarely decided, and occasionally courts have referred to inferior officers as those not specifically mentioned in that clause (see U.S. v. Germaine, 99 US 508, 510) it seems more likely that ambassadors, public ministers and consuls would be regarded as inferior to the Secretary of State if appointed by the Secretary. Attorney General Cushing implied just that in an opinion (7 OP AG 186, at p. 217). He pointed out that "the term ambassadors and other public ministers comprehends all officers having diplomatic functions whatever their title or designation" (page 211). It is therefore quite unlikely that the Constitution intended that no diplomatic officer could be considered an "inferior officer." In any event, because Foreign Service officers are presidentially appointed and confirmed for all promotions, it is clearly not constitutionally required that they be nominated and confirmed to each ambassadorial job assignment, as is statutorily required today (22 USC 901).

20 A limited number of political appointments below the rank of presidential appointment would be necessary as immediate staff to presidential appointees, corresponding to the "Schedule C" or NEA appointments in other departments. These are now generally treated as Foreign Service Reserve appointments, but I would suggest a separate category to avoid needless friction. Perhaps one top administrative post could be reserved for a careerist who would then be recognized as the senior serving Foreign Service officer, but I do not see this post as carrying a line policy role like the Under Secretary for Political Affairs.

21 Unfortunately, the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, effective this July, provides otherwise. Mr. Campbell of the Civil Service Commission believes, contrary to the thrust of this article, that civil servants should have the opportunity to serve in political appointments and still maintain Civil Service reemployment rights. I strongly doubt, however, given the tradition in the domestic departments, that many civil servants will be offered presidential appointments (other than such posts as Assistant Secretary for Administration), or that after receiving them, they would invoke the new right to return to Civil Service status. If they do, succeeding administrations would surely bury them.

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  • Laurence H. Silberman currently practices law in Washington and is a Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He was Ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1975 to 1977, and prior to that served as Deputy Attorney General in 1974-75, as Under Secretary of Labor in 1970-73, and as Solicitor of the Labor Department in 1969-70. The author acknowledges research assistance by two Dartmouth undergraduates, Robert and Katherine Silberman.
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