The Daily Demarche
Monday, April 18, 2005
Secretary Rice so far- one FSO's opinion.
Thanks to everyone who left us such kind words yesterday, and to all who suggested a topic for us to post on. Gordon Daugherty was the first to suggest a topic (actually two topics, at least):

From time to time I'd like to know the inside take on how the new Sec of State is doing and, more broadly, what changes (if any) are evolving in the DoS since 9/11.

Since Smiley is working on a post addressing the Department (or at least portions thereof) in the post 9-11 world, I offer you my opinion of SecState Rice so far.

In one of his first posts on this blog Smiley offered us his "thoughts on Dr. Rice":

To me it appears that, at least from a policy perspective, Rice will be good for the State Department, for American foreign policy, and by extension, for the country. It is fair to say that she has the trust of the President. The President has said that he intends to pursue a variety of multilateral foreign policy initiatives in his second term, notably the Middle East Peace Process (or Road Map, if you're nasty), bringing more countries on board in terms of Iraq reconstruction, and repairing the transatlantic relationship. It seems evident to me that by putting a close confidant in charge of our country's foreign policy, the President is effectively putting his money where his mouth is.

I seconded that opinion then- that Dr. Rice would be good from a policy perspective- and still do now. She is a well known policy "wonk", and her career up to her appointment as SecState had been largely in the policy realm. But being Secretary of State means much more than just policy, and those non-policy areas of filling the role are of interest to me today.

First among these areas is personal gravitas. Smiley provided a link to the Council on Foreign Relations where James Lindsay offered this quote:

Dr. Rice brings to the State Department something that every secretary of state wants to have: a reputation for having the ear of the president. That is immensely helpful to a secretary of state. When such secretaries walk into a room and talk to a head of state or a foreign minister, the understanding is that when they speak, they speak for the president. It often seemed that Secretary [of State Colin] Powell didn't have that kind of credibility. I would expect Dr. Rice to be a very powerful and credible secretary of state.

Contrast that with this quote from Foreign Policy magazine:

One top State Department official who worked very closely with Powell suggests that the secretary of state's popularity also complicated his relationship with the outside world, in that Powell became perceived as the voice of reason who could rein in the administration's transformative impulses. "A lot of people look at Colin Powell and they see the Colin Powell GI Joe doll action figure," he notes. "And they want to dress him up in their own clothes." At the 2003 World Economic Forum in Davos before the war [in Iraq] " he actually was forced to get pretty explicit with the Europeans and say, "I'm not the man you think I am. I'm not fighting your case in the American government. I think differently than you. I think we have to deal with Iraq. I think the president will decide if we have to do that militarily or not. But you guys have to understand, I am not the European spokesman inside the administration.""

I can promise you that there is no one in Europe who thinks that Sec. Rice is a "European spokesman inside the administration." Europe's heads of state know for a fact that when Sec. Rice speaks to them she is doing so with the full backing of the President, and that when they speak to her they are not just delivering a message, they are dealing with one of the top advisors in the administration. The difference in the field is amazing. My working relationship with my local counterparts has changed tremendously since the start of Sec. Rice's tenure.

While Sec. Powell was frequently criticized for not traveling enough, Sec. Rice has made it clear she will spend much more time on the road. She made that point quickly and clearly when she passed out pocket atlases to the press corps on her first trip abroad as Secretary of State. More than a few of our Foreign Service posts have never been visited by a Secretary of State- a visit of this level can go a long way towards improving or strengthening relations between nations (although it might put a lot of strain on some of smaller posts).

But what about at home in Foggy Bottom? Secretary Rice is faced with some big shoes to fill after the departure of Secretary Powell, and I am not talking about her boots. Sec. Powell made it his mission to improve morale and working conditions around the world for "the troops" as he liked to call us all (annoying the heck out of many a leftist in the Department). Sec. Powell inherited a somewhat dysfunctional, technologically backwards department (no Internet on most desktops until 2002!) and presented us with his leadership doctrine. Leadership within the department was, until that point, a topic no one discussed. Powell made promises and kept them. He focused on leadership, and is widely recognized for the actions he took to repair and reinvigorate the Department of State, with the two most prominent being:

Training To his displeasure, Powell discovered that many career officials had little to no management or leadership training, says Ambassador Katherine Peterson, the director of the Foreign Service Institute, State's training arm. Senior staff had taken only a two-week seminar that focused mainly on administrative issues. "This is ridiculous," Peterson recalls Powell saying. Employees were thrust into managerial positions with no formal preparation. Powell thought leadership courses would benefit everyone. Even Foreign Service officers who weren't managers might lead a staff at an embassy. Now, those officers must take at least six weeks of management and leadership training. Courses focus on team building, but also contain crisis simulations that teach how to respond, for example, to an airplane crash or a coup d'etat. After 2006, such courses will be a prerequisite for promotion.

Information Technology In 2001, only 2 percent of State Department computers were connected to the Internet. A 2001 report by a task force headed by former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci found that 92 percent of overseas posts had "obsolete classified networks, some of which have no classified connectivity with the rest of the U.S. government." Powell, who checks his own e-mail every day, made technology upgrades another pillar in his reform plan. By January 2003, 81 percent of all desktop computers were connected to the Internet. Today, 100 percent of the computers are connected, Powell says, and every post is connected to the department's classified information network."I want to get information out to every mission in the department instantaneously - not [in] 12 hours, 18 hours . . . instantaneously," Powell says.

To date Sec. Rice has not addressed many of these issues, and it is possible that she might not do so. Of course there are many top positions to be filled at State still, Assistant and Under Secretaries to be named, as well as Ambassadors, so it is possible that focus may once again turn within. In my opinion the dose of reality that the Secretary has injected into global diplomacy with her close relationship to the President and frequent travel is a welcome turn from the days when Newt Gingrich was attacking Sec. Powell and rumors of discord between State and the White House were rampant. The Secretary, and every Secretary that follows her, however, will have to face up to the Powell legacy within state. The idea that leadership matters and that development of personnel is the key to good policy development and practice can't be lost.

All that said, I rate the current SecState very highly so far on all matters policy- whether or not she can become the leader that State sorely needs, or indeed is even inclined to do so, remains to be seen. If she can strike a balance between policy and leadership Secretary Rice will be formidable indeed.

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dé·marche 1) A course of action; a maneuver. 2) A diplomatic representation or protest 3) A statement or protest addressed by citizens to public authorities.

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