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Secrets of state: the State Department and the struggle over U.S. foreign policy.

Barry Rubin has written a diligent but disappointing study of the State Department. The book suffers from too little real experience of either the world or the State Department itself. Rubin's discussion of the Roosevelt and Truman years, for example, is decorated with quotations lifted from the memoirs of various officials of the time, but it lacks the flavor of the personalities and events. Similarly, his discussion of the Carter and Reagan administration often seems culled from the files of Time and Newsweek. It is full of the sort of drama that newsmagazines love: feuds between various national security advisers and secretaries of state; power plays by bureaucrats; rivalries and intrigues that frustrate policy. But do we really need to know, for example, that after a news leak about the "Big Pine II" military exercise in Honduras, "an angry Schultz protested directly to Reagan about Clark's failure to keep him informed?"

Rubin's book is stranded awkwardly between journalism, history, and political science. It doesn't adequately meet the standards of any of these disciplines. But the real problem with the book is that it doesn't have the intellectual horsepower to digest all the quotations and newspaper clips and say something new and useful about how foreign policy is made. Instead, Rubin tends to stick to familiar themes that have been explored better by others: the friction between State and the NSC; the frustrations of career foreign service officers; the bureaucratic obstacles to coherent policy.

Few would argue with Rubin's broad theme--that the State Department is an imperfect instrument of foreign policy and that its problems are getting worse rather than better. But Rubin's insipid recommendations at the close of the book--for example: "The most important single factor is the need for competent knowledgeable people in key positions"--suggests that the State Department isn't alone in making solemn, unedifying pronouncements on foreign policy.
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Author:Ignatius, David
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1985
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