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First-class outfit, first-class program. (State Department Briefing).

Early in November, two dozen intrepid NCEW members gathered in Washington for the fifth annual NCEW State Department briefings. To those who weren't there, we missed you, and you missed the single most exciting two days of information intake I have experienced since joining NCEW in 1977. No kidding; it was that good.

I remember when we started these briefings during the Clinton years. There were grumblings from some that we weren't getting balanced views. My response was then, and remains, that the United States has only one State Department and one foreign policy. We are being briefed on that. Challenge it, please, but don't insist on "equal time" for the views from Heritage, AEI, or Brookings.

This year's briefings, being the first of a new Republican administration, really supported that view. The State Department is a class outfit, and all but the top appointees are professionals quite capable, and quite committed, to helping formulate, then carrying out, the foreign policy of whomever the American people see fit to elect. (Don't anyone mention Florida, please.)

The State Department of Secretary Colin Powell is the best run I have seen. Partly that is because it is coming off the starvation rations to which it had been subjected during the Clinton years. Partly it is probably because, as one young career staffer said, the Democrats are fun, but the Republicans really know how to manage things.

And they did a fine job of managing our visit. From the opening luncheon, hosted by department spokesperson Richard Boucher, a former ambassador to Cyprus and possessor of a fine wry wit, through the final meeting, with deputy secretary Richard Armitage, everything was smooth, well coordinated, and above all informative. Gone were the worries about on-record vs. background, deep background, and off-record comments. The briefers just spoke their minds.

With one exception they were genial, and with one exception extremely well versed in their subject matter. John Bolton, under secretary for arms control and international security, is congenitally unable to be genial. He was dismissive and contemptuous of questions regarding withdrawal from the ABM treaty and such matters. Walter Kansteiner, assistant secretary for Africa, came across as somewhat of a lightweight.

The rest dearly are stars: William Burns, assistant secretary for near eastern affairs; Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development; A. Elizabeth Jones, assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs; Charlotte Beers, under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs; Secretary Powell.

Oh, I forgot to mention: For the first time in five years, we got a chance to talk with the secretary. He took about 40 minutes with us, talking about what guides the department in the wake of September ii. He put great emphasis on the American values that are at the heart of American foreign policy. It wasn't a talk heavy on specific policy issues, but it was a very good talk nonetheless.

Charlotte Beers personally was my favorite. She's a former Madison Avenue advertising executive who has been put in charge of rebuilding the public diplomacy at which the United States was so good during the Cold War. She really knows what she is doing, and her influence is clearly felt department-wide. Now she just needs to give John Bolton some lessons in being a tad more cuddly.

Every NCEW member in attendance has policy differences with the department on one issue or another, but we were all impressed at the professionalism, the personableness, and accessibility of the folks who briefed us. President Bush and Cohn Powell have assembled a first-rate crew at the State Department. It was a privilege to interact with them for two days.

They seemed to be impressed with us as well, and very eager to get their message out beyond the Beltway We plan to do another set of briefings in March, so we can get back on the early-spring timetable we had followed until it was upset by the turnover in administrations. Plan now to join us, won't you? There will be plenty to talk about, and a very good bunch to talk with.

NCEW member Jim Boyd is deputy editorial page editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Contact him at boyd@startribune.com
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Author:Boyd, Jim
Publication:The Masthead
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2002
Words:702
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