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Right turn in the Foreign Service.

Right Turn in the Foreign Service

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank which drew up many of Ronald Reagan's position papers during the 1980 campaign, recently issued a report titled "How the White House Can Regain Control of Foreign Policy.' Written by James T. Hackett, a former Foreign Service officer who worked for Henry Kissinger at the National Security Council from 1971 to 1973 and was part of Reagan's transition team in late 1980, the report reflects the conservative community's conviction that "a pervasive old boy network of senior Foreign Service officers . . . seems determined both to run its own affairs and to instruct the administration in office on the formulation of foreign policy. . . . It's time to stop treating the Foreign Service as a government within a government.' The report suggests that the President place his own political appointees in the State Department's top Foreign Service posts-- director general and inspector general--which have been reserved by tradition or law for career officers. It also calls on the White House to appoint "a reasonable number of well-qualified, non-career candidates, who support the policies and philosophy of the President, to managerial and policy-making positions in the Department.'

If Ronald Reagan has not anticipated all of the Heritage

Foundation recommendations, since January 1981 he has nevertheless transformed the Foreign Service, once an insular and sacrosanct bureaucracy, into one of the most highly politicized agencies in the Federal government.

The President, of course, has always had the right to appoint nonprofessionals as ambassadors. Dennis Hays, head of the American Foreign Service Association, points out that the Foreign Service is the only arm of the Federal government still subject to the practices of the nineteenth-century Jacksonian spoils system. But Reagan has taken those practices to an unprecedented extreme. In the postwar period, about 30 percent of the ambassadors sent abroad under each Administration have been political appointees. Under Reagan, that figure has jumped to more than 40 percent. Inside the State Department, where past Presidents have appointed outsiders to four or five of the fourteen assistant secretary slots, Reagan has appointed ten. And Reagan's political appointees have taken places deep in the ranks of the State Department that are normally reserved for career officers: deputy assistant secretaries, special assistants, office directors and even one consul general.

The appointments are not mere campaign payoffs to cronies. Those chosen share Ronald Reagan's world view. What makes them so important--beyond their number-- is the fact that they and the President they serve are determined to leave their ideological stamp on the Foreign Service.

The President's campaign to politicize the Foreign Service has enraged many career diplomats. They have fought back, creating a rift in the State Department which may help explain why the Administration has suffered so many foreign policy disasters: the failed embargo on the Siberian gas pipeline, the collapse of arms negotiations with the Russians, the fiasco in Lebanon and so on. Neither camp is satisfied with what has become a stalemate. The career officers who manage foreign policy on a day-to-day basis are a sullen, resentful lot, while the political appointees and the men around the President distrust the professionals more than ever.

When Reagan took office he began imposing his people on the State Department with a vengeance. Every Administration brings with it a list of political appointees, but Reagan came bearing a list of dozens of Foreign Service officers he had targeted for removal because they were too "liberal' to carry out his policies. Many of those on the "hit list,' which was published in Human Events (said to be Reagan's favorite magazine) and in Richard Viguerie's Conservative Digest, have been purged from the department altogether or relegated to inconsequential jobs.

The Central America bureau was hit hardest. Carter's Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, career officer William Bowdler, was told by Reagan's transition team to clean out his desk by Inauguration Day. "It was made clear to him,' says David Newsom, a retired Under Secretary for Political Affairs, "that there was no place for him in any slot because of his service to the previous Administration.' Bowdler had implemented Carter's Nicaragua policy of easing out Anastasio Somoza while trying to keep the National Guard intact. James Cheek, who served as Carter's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, was also canned. John Blacken, director of the Office for Central American Affairs, was ousted and sent to the Dominican Republic as a Deputy Chief of Mission.

"They removed all the key policy people in the region,' says Herman Cohen, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Personnel and former Ambassador to Senegal. "It was assumed that those men couldn't carry out new policies. In fact, policy really didn't change under Reagan. It was, after all, Carter who made the decision in 1980 to supply arms to El Salvador and to the Sandinistas' opponents.'

According to Cohen and other diplomats, Ambassador Robert White's cables from El Salvador during the last six months of 1980 contained the same policy recommendations that Reagan's appointees are sending from that country today. White, who is now a vociferous critic of Reagan's Central America policy, dismisses such easy symmetry, saying that all along he emphasized that the Salvadoran military was "not the solution but the problem.' Nevertheless, he admits that even if "the threat of the insurgency was not a military threat,' the United States could not pursue a human rights policy in El Salvador without providing some support to the country's military establishment. "Otherwise,' wise,' says White, "you would lose all your influence over those people.' With a different emphasis, that is the Reagan Administration's publicly stated policy.

Thus the argument that Bowdler and other officers were removed for policy reasons does not hold up. "They were thrown out merely because they were symbols of the previous Administration,' says Cohen.

Bowdler doesn't talk about his ouster. "I have put that chapter of my life behind me,' he says. But he does have an opinion on how Reagan's policies in Central America developed: "This Administration is filled with ideologues, but once in office, they found out that events would dictate their policy. They came in with this heavy emphasis on military means to the exclusion of political overtures. For a solid year they pursued the military line. And during that time, the far let in El Salvador gained ground. They missed an opportunity, right after the January 1981 guerrilla offensive failed, to exert pressure for a negotiated settlement. They could have exerted a lot of pressure on the opposition through the Europeans and the Mexicans. Now the far left is much stronger, and it will be very difficult to work something out.'

The people Reagan chose to direct his policies in Latin America were political appointees, career diplomats with no background in Latin affairs or Foreign Service officers who had disagreed with the Carter Administration's policies. Frank Ortiz, a conservative officer ostracized during the Carter years, had his career resuscitated with an appointment as Ambassador to Peru. Thomas Enders, who, as Deputy Chief of Mission in Phnom Penh, selected targets during the secret bombing compaign in Cambodia, had been Carter's Ambassador to Canada; Reagan brought him to Washington and promoted him to Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs. (Ironically, Enders was later fired for being too "liberal' in considering the possibility of a negotiated settlement in El Salvador.) Frederic Chapin, who had been expelled by the Marxist military regime in Ethiopia when he was Ambassador there, was made Ambassador to Guatemala because the Reagan crowd perceived him as a hard-liner. A Latin specialist, John Bushnell, worked hard on Capitol Hill to push Reagan's Caribbean Basin Initiative, but Reagan's advisers never lost their suspicion that he had loyalty to Carter Administration policies. Due for an ambassadorship, Bushnell "walked the halls' without a job for months before he finally accepted a post as Deputy Chief of Mission in Argentina.

The ideological purge was not confined to Central America. Lannon Walker, a Deputy Assistant Secretary closely associated with Carter's policies in Southern Africa, was made to walk the halls because Senator Jesse Helms held him responsible for the collapse of the Muzorewa regime in Zimbabwe. Carter's Ambassador to South Africa, William Edmondson, stayed on under Reagan for six months. But the Administration so distrusted him that when national security adviser William Clark visited Pretoria, Edmondson, thought to be a critic of Reagan's so-called constructive engagement policy, was cut out of meetings with South African officials. Today, Edmondson serves as a Deputy Inspector General of the Foreign Service. The Inspector General's office is one of those places where the Foreign Service takes care of its own, often providing jobs for blackballed officers.

Politicizing the Foreign Service results in distorted reporting and a withholding of bad news that hurt the President's ability to carry out policies. But shouldn't the President be able to appoint men and women committed to his ideological viewpoint?

Foreign Service officers ritualistically explain that they are professionals, capable of taking any orders from any President. And most insist that they object to some of Reagan's appointees not because they come from outside but because they are incompetent. The officers note that about 42 percent of John Kennedy's ambassadors were political appointees, but they included people of clear intellectual stature like John Kenneth Galbraith, and most had some experience in foreign affairs. The best of Ronald Reagan's appointees do not meet such standards.

"We are just going to have to recognize that politics in this business is here to stay,' says one career officer. "We have to resign ourselves to working under the car salesman from San Diego.' Indeed. The salesman referred to is Robert Dean Nesen, an old friend of Reagan's and currently Ambassador to Australia. A confidential State Department assessment of Nesen, prepared for his confirmation hearings and obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reads:

Nesen, 63, of Thousand Oaks, California, is currently chairman, R. D. Nesen Oldsmobile-Cadillac, Inc. . . . His entire background has been in the automobile and aviation business. . . . His reputation for honesty and as a superb salesman should be useful in his personal dealings with the senior members of the Australian government. Nesen is the prototype of the non-professional envoy.

If you ask regular officers to list incompetent political appointees, they all mention the same names: movie actor John Gavin in Mexico, investment banker Evan Galbraith in France, Chicago insurance executive Paul Robinson in Canada, uranium mining engineer William Casey in Niger, big-game hunter Theodore Maino in Botswana, and Reagan's former personal secretary Helene von Damm in Austria.

This spring Reagan announced the selection of Thomas Anderson Jr., 38, as Ambassador to Barbados. Anderson was an assistant to the House minority whip, Trent Lott, for a decade, but his chief asset seemed to be his wife's position as associate director for the White House's Office of Cabinet Affairs. And the Ambassador to Hungary, Nicholas Salgo, got his job partly because as owner of the Watergate apartment complex, he is landlord to not a few of the rich and powerful in Washington.

Many of those appointees are what Herman Cohen calls "wild-eyed idelogues.' David Funderburk, the Ambassador to Rumania, is another case in point. The State Department's confidential assessment of Funderburk, prepared for his confirmation hearings, tried to reassure the senators: "He has not been identified strongly by the public as an anti-communist. The Rumanians see him as fair and impartial.' The editor of the Journal of American Romanian Christian Literary Studies, Funderburk has, in fact, openly antagonized the Rumanians with his stereotyped blend of anticommunism and strident Christianity.

None of the foregoing compares with what has been done with policy slots inside the State Department. Traditionally, most assistant secretaries have been drawn from the ranks of the Foreign Service. Today, of five regional bureaus, where policy is actually formulated and implemented, only one, the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, is led by a career officer. And it has been cut out of the action by National Security Council adviser Robert McFarlane, who is conducting Middle East policy through special envoys.

Reagan's batch of assistant secretaries are exceptional ideologues, and Jimmy Carter must take part of the blame for the motivation behind those appointments. If Kissinger started the process of injecting heavy doses of ideology into the department, Carter did nothing to stop it. An officer working in the Bureau of African Affairs says of the Carter appointees, "They came in with the attitude that because we had served under Kissinger, we were the enemy.' Among Carter's appointees were highly political personalities such as Pat Derian, who brought a near-evangelical ardor to her position as Assistant Secretary for Human Rights.

"Derian was an affront to the Foreign Service,' says a retired senior officer. "And when Reagan came in, he gave us conservative ideologues like Elliot Abrams as Derian's replacement, and Scott Burke as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Rights.'

Still, most of the top State Department positions under Carter were filled by career officers, many of whom left the service during Kissinger's reign. Career or noncareer, most of them could have worked in any postwar Administration. Reagan, on the other hand, has men like Richard Burt, James Malone, Richard McCormack, James Purcell, Chester Crocker and Gregory Newell--all political appointees and all of his ideological stripe. Take Richard Burt, the former New York Times reporter who is Assistant Secretary for European and Canadian Affairs. As a reporter, Burt had been a conduit for the hard-line views of the Committee on the Present Danger. "Burt is very energetic and articulate,' says one Foreign Service officer in the Executive Secretariat, the Secretary of State's staff of senior aides. "But his mind is already made up. He doesn't encourage debate or long-range thinking. Even the hint of a new thought in European Affairs is regarded with suspicion. Dissent is automatically regarded as pink.'

Burt at least is viewed as capable. Other Reagan appointees are utter disasters. "Richard McCormack, the Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs, is a terrible ideologue who is also just incompetent,' says an officer in the Executive Secretariat. "The real problem with these political appointments is that when they turn out to be totally incompetent, you have to try to work around them. In a bureaucratic structure, where lines of authority are firmly established, that is a very hard thing to do without letting the other guy know he's being cut out. With McCormack, nothing gets done when you cut him in on the business at hand.'

According to another Secretariat officer, Secretary of State George Shultz will not read a memorandum signed by McCormack. When Elinor Constable, a career officer who is McCormack's senior deputy, has an important economic paper that she wants Shultz to see, she has it passed to him via another bureau.

When McCormack came aboard he insisted on personally scrutinizing every candidate slated for duty as an economic officer in every U.S. Embassy. The paperwork was too much for one man, so for a long time, no economic officers were appointed. By the time decisions were made, many of the best candidates had taken other jobs. McCormack ended up filling embassy slots with his second or third choices.

More often than not, political appointees under the present Administration have been strong on rhetoric but inept at carrying out their hard-line policies. The handling of export controls on sensitive computer technology to the Soviet Union is instructive. Trying to act on Reagan's campaign rhetoric, McCormack made stringent controls on such exports a high priority. First, he created the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Trade Controls and tapped a researcher from the American Enterprise Institute, Dale Tahtinen, for the job. However William Root, director of the Office of East/West Trade who had been included on the Human Events hit list, was already in charge of that issue. Although no Reaganite, Root was also eager to limit exports of sensitive technology. The question became how to do it, unilaterally or through multilateral negotiations with America's Western European trading partners.

For two years Root tried to reach an agreement with the French, who had made it clear that if unilateral bans were imposed they would be more than willing to take Soviet contracts lost by American exporters. In painstaking negotiations that involved Shultz's personal prestige, an understanding was achieved last summer on a multilateral agreement that would limit exports to the Eastern bloc.

But in September McCormack and Tahtinen threw their weight behind a unilateral proposal that appealed to purist sensibilities. "It looked like the pipeline fiasco all over again,' says Root, who decided to resign. "I went to Shultz before resigning and spelled out what had happened. After several months, he got McCormack to reverse himself.' But the damage had been done. One more career officer was out. And underscoring how politicized export control policy has become, McCormack specified that Root's replacement be a noncareer officer. Robert Price of the Central Intelligence Agency prevailed in a close competition for the job with Elliot Hurwitz, an ideologue from a conservative think tank.

Politicization has taken its toll much deeper in the bureaucracy than the assistant secretary level. Now the deputy assistant secretaries are often political appointees, and several attempts have been made to place noncareer people in country director and desk officer slots below them. In such an atmosphere, the young Foreign Service officer quickly learns that politics can project one's career onto the fast track. Shortly after the 1980 elections, a junior black officer who had broadcast his conservative political views took a short trip to South Africa. Violating diplomatic etiquette, he sent a cable to the U.S. Embassy there, demanding a slew of meetings with high-ranking South African officials. The Ambassador in Pretoria met the officer at the airport and gave him a stiff lecture. The officer nevertheless managed to anticipate the new Administration's policy of constructive engagement with the South Africans, and he was rewarded with a fairly senior position on the Policy Planning Council.

Many officers, particularly those who have joined the State Department in the last two or three years, believe a politically polarized diplomatic service is inevitable. According to one junior officer:

The standard Foreign Service line that a senior diplomat is capable of carrying out any policy is just not credible. That's not the way things work. People have politics whether they choose to disguise them or not. When I joined the service I was surprised at the tendency of so many of my peers to always equivocate--even in bull sessions. It explains why people in the White House think they have to go outside to find people who are prepared to carry out their policies.

In a sense, the Foreign Service is not political enough. It might be better if there were recognized liberal and conservative factions of officers within the Foreign Service. Then the White House would be able to choose professionals for policy-making slots in whom they have political confidence.

The Heritage Foundation would no doubt agree with that view. But ideally, the public would be better served by diplomats who possess both political principles and professional understanding of foreign cultures and politics. Reagan's people unfortunately do not fill the bill. They are dedicated ideologues whose presence in the State Department makes it clear to career diplomats that foreign expertise under this Administration will always be less important than following the "correct' political line. In the long run that can only destroy the professionalism of America's diplomatic service and harm foreign relations.
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Title Annotation:Reagan's politicalization of the Foreign Service
Author:Bird, Kai
Publication:The Nation
Date:Jun 16, 1984
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