The Assessment of Colin Powell’s State Department
A thoughtful appraisal of Colin Powell’s campaign to restore the capability of American diplomacy ispresented in this journal. It was prepared by the Foreign Affairs Council, a non-partisan consortium of eleven organizations devoted to improving the effectiveness of the conduct of U.S. international relations. The evaluation does not address the foreign policy issues which have arisen during Secretary Powell’s two years in office; rather, it focuses upon his performance as chief executive of the Department of State.
In brief, the report praises Powell’s strong leadership, his success (where predecessors had failed) at obtaining adequate resources for diplomacy from the Administration and the Congress, his attention to restoring personnel levels to match the level of requirements and to expand professional training, his drive to install modern information management and communications systems, his concern to assure adequate security at overseas installations and to improve State’s relations with the Congress. The report emphasizes that these and other reforms are well under way but must have continuing determined attention to reach completion. And certain deficiencies remain to be addressed.
The state of American diplomatic readiness is critical to national security. This appraisal is particularly timely for two reasons: first, because neglect in the 1990s allowed our diplomatic system to erode nearly to dysfunctionality (see my essay, “The Infrastructure of American Diplomacy” in the archives of this website), and, second, because we are entering a stage of history in which diplomacy will be of special importance to American interests.
As the military phase of the Iraq initiative comes to a close and we begin the challenging task of nation building, we will have sore need of other governments to help provide essential resources and expertise. We must restore our frayed alliance links; we must develop the understanding and confidence of the Islamic world, now withdrawn and hostile toward America. Vigorous American engagement in the search for understanding between Israelis and Palestinians will be a precondition to mending these strained relationships. It is thoroughly in our self-interest anyway. And the continuing struggle to eradicate terrorism is a multilateral affair, depending upon cooperation among the security services, the financial systems, the intelligence components and the judiciaries of governments across the globe. This all is the work of diplomacy.
The United States’ dominant economic and military strength can lead to the temptation to pursue our objectives unilaterally, relying upon our armed forces to obtain our ends. But, as Joseph Nye and others have so convincingly argued, America’s true influence in the world is based less upon military power than upon “soft power”: the example of our form of government, our free society, our values, the success of our economic system, the English language, the persuasiveness of our diplomacy.
A common metaphor compares national security to a stool with three legs: intelligence, diplomacy and military power. Each leg is essential; to rely upon one only or two without the third courts a fall. American diplomacy has been sapped by a decade of neglect. The leadership of Colin Powell is restoring that essential diplomatic readiness upon which we are now especially dependent, but the reforms and the rebuilding must continue.
Past editorials can be found here.