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Two Years of AchievementsRecent weeks have pointed up for the United States the uncertainties of the international power struggle, that is, the win-some and lose-some aspect of relations between nation states. I make this point not with regard to military campaigns; U. S. and British forces prosecuted the war against Iraq quickly, efficiently, and with relatively few casualties. If there had to be a war, it could not have been better conducted.

I refer here, rather, to interaction in the arena of diplomacy, of negotiation and representation. Specifically, I speak of the inability of Washington to enlist the backing of the UN Security Council in that campaign to enforce by military means the Council’s Resolutions on the disarmament of Iraq. The effort to line up support failed—not unexpectedly—despite the best efforts of American intermediaries and the strongest representations of high-level spokesmen for the Bush administration, notably Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The Secretary was not able to overcome the negative views of some Security Council members, especially Western Europeans (with the exceptions of Britain and Spain). This was partly due to French, German, and Russian economic interests, but also because the U.S. government did not have a totally compelling case against Iraq, especially on the question of WMD’s held by the Saddam regime and Iraqi ability to deliver them beyond its borders.

Given the circumstances and what he had to work with, this lack of success was probably inevitable and should not reflect badly on the Secretary. Far be it for me to criticize him editorially for giving it his best; that’s what he’s good at, and he usually succeeds.

Secretary of State Powell has proven over the past two-plus years to be even better at another vital function of a person in his high office: leading, guiding, and providing administratively for the United States’ foreign affairs arm, the Department of State and the Foreign Service of the United States. He has thereby earned what might be called, from all accounts we receive, the devotion of State and Foreign Service people. He has gained a dedicated, admiring following among the professionals, high-ranking and low, in those organizations so vitally important to the welfare of the nation.

The Secretary’s strong leadership was badly needed. Let me speak of the Foreign Service in particular: Years of budgetary shortfalls and administrative neglect during the 1990’s had resulted by the beginning of 2001, when he entered office, in a reduced capacity in that proud organization. Recruitment and hiring were down, and therefore, staffing requirements in Washington and abroad went unmet. Lessened professional training, including importantly language instruction, had an adverse impact on the Service. Consular officers for years had been expected to do more and more with less and less in the way of resources. Pressing security needs for facilities abroad were only partially met. The Foreign Service was laboring, and those in or close to the organization knew it.

In this setting, Secretary Powell in his first two years-plus in office has earned a resounding “thank you!” from the Service. He has obtained added resources for much-needed Foreign Service personnel and to meet public diplomacy requirements; he has seen to an enhancement of security, work conditions, and information technology; and he has thus markedly raised the morale of the Foreign Service’s people. More importantly, he has enabled the Foreign Service better to meet the challenges it faces as America’s first line of defense.

The reader may note the details of these accomplishments in the Foreign Affairs Council’s independent evaluation of Secretary Powell’s first two years in office, the full text of which we publish in this presentation of American Diplomacy [click here].

Secretary of State Powell is due congratulations for his and his assistants’ accomplishments. As the Council’s assessment points up, however, much unfinished work faces all concerned with the conduct of foreign policy. These tasks range from making appointments at all levels of fully qualified people, to enhancing public understanding of the Foreign Service’s role in the conduct of policy, to bettering consular staffs ability to meet the threat of worldwide terrorism. And more, much more.

A lack of further significant accomplishments, therefore, could have serious consequences for the nation’s security. We hope and trust that the Secretary’s excellent start along these lines will continue unchecked..

Editor Henry E. Mattox
April 19, 2003

Past editorials can be found here

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