Hillary's New Year's New Leaf

Knocking pointy heads together at the State Department.

When Mr. Obama decided to skate on thin ice with respect to the US Constitution and selected Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State, there was no shortage of fascinated observers with fascinating reactions.  On the left was found high dudgeon, considering that Hillary had arguably supported the Iraq invasion and still felt that we should win there rather than precipitously cut and run; on the right, there was something resembling resigned relief for the same reasons.

On both sides, the obvious question was: how exactly are these two heavyweights with their own very distinctive agendas going to co-exist?  Hillary wasn't entirely subordinate to her own husband when he was President and she held no official position at all; now, with a national following and significant political clout in her own right, is it reasonable to suppose that she will be willing to implement Mr. Obama's vision for foreign policy and not her own?

The New York Times brings us the beginning of the answer.

Even before taking office, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seeking to build a more powerful State Department, with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and an expanded role in dealing with global economic issues at a time of crisis.

This is not entirely a bad idea.  There are times when a military response is appropriate.  There are other times when you'll get better results with a softer hand - administrators, police, and old-fashioned stripedy-pants diplomats from the State Department.

The Department of Defense is very very good at their mission of, as Rush Limbaugh describes it, "killing people and breaking things."  Historically, they are not so great at healing communities and fixing things, though our warriors have been getting quite a bit of experience in that arena of late and are much improved.

Even if a soldier is building you a hospital, however, he's still a soldier, armed and threatening.  Logically, it makes perfect sense to have a completely separate organization composed of less threatening people who are obviously civilians.

To win an insurgency, we need to win hearts and minds; the velvet glove does this better than the iron fist.  The Pentagon knows it.  Contrary to the claims of the left, our military took over this job primarily to fill a vacuum, as the Times had to admit:

For years, some Pentagon officials have complained that jobs like the economic reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq have been added to the military's burden when they could have been handled by a robust Foreign Service.  "The Pentagon would like to turn functionality over to civilian resources, but the resources are not there," the official said. "We're looking to have a State Department that has what it needs."

The left seems to be concerned that Hillary is trying to establish her State Department as a power base to rival the Department of Defense and even to exert some degree of control over Mr. Obama's policies.  You think?  Colin Powell tried to use State that way; more recently, Condi Rice has been somewhat less assertive and somewhat more successful in bending the ear of the Oval Office.  If there's one thing Hillary is about, it's power; the real surprise would be if this wasn't her intent.

She may have overlooked one small detail: the people who work in the State Department don't want to be used that way.  Diplomats like the glitter of the embassy cocktail circuit; they don't much care for the dusty backwaters of Kerblakistan.  Just last year, State Department civil servants flatly refused to go to Iraq.  The executives had to threaten to fire the refuseniks, as their job description clearly allows, in order to get sullen and begrudging acceptance.

Hillary Clinton is not going to become a powerful force by sending more diplomats to the salons of London or Paris, except for a few lucky economics types.  If she is to cut a wide swath through history, it will be by putting spats on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Lebanon, even China and Russia, in a sort of cross between the flower-children of the Peace Corps and the missionary engineers of the old British Empire.  Can this be accomplished by the current denizens of Foggy Bottom?

No.  It can't.  They don't want to, and they won't.  To accomplish her goals, Hillary will have to build a new State Department from the ground up, establish a new vision, a new dedication, a new work ethos, a new staff... maybe even a new sense of patriotic Americanism that has been sorely lacking there for a long time.

Forcing the State Department to turn over such a profoundly new leaf ought to keep her busy for a while - and if she can do it, she'll have legitimately earned a significant place in American, maybe even world, history.  It'll not only be to her own benefit; it would be a great benefit to everyone, near and far.

Well, maybe not to the left.  They hate America's presence overseas when things aren't going well and large majorities wish we weren't there.  How angry will they be if we actually accomplish some real nation-building?

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
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