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Diplomats under fire

By David D. Newsom / August 8, 1985



WE are seeing a repeat of past chapters in US political and diplomatic history. An ideological faction of a political party, unhappy with the nation's foreign policy, is laying the blame on the secretary of state and the ``Foreign Service bureaucracy.'' According to press reports, three former ambassadors and leaders of several conservative groups have called for the resignation of Secretary of State George Shultz, accusing him of ``undermining President Reagan's foreign policy.'' Several conservative groups are planning a conference to mount a campaign against this ``Foreign Service bureaucracy.''

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This type of frustration appears to reach a peak in the later stages of an administration, when secretaries of state, having experienced the ``untried in diplomacy,'' seem to turn increasingly to those of experience, even though these officers may have worked in senior positions for a previous administration. Secretary Shultz has been waging a laudable and largely successful battle to install in key positions those who bring professionalism and experience, rather than ideology, to the jobs.

There are many fallacies in the premises of the attack on the secretary and on the Foreign Service.

It is naive to consider that a secretary of state, in our complicated decisionmaking process, has the power to block -- as effectively as the consevatives claim -- the wishes of a strong president. US foreign policy, after all, is made by many players in Washington.

Ideological factions in US politics do not like the message, so they blame the messenger. Their concept of how the United States should react to situations abroad is often simplistic and unrealistic. Presidents find, as they assume the responsibilities of office, that the world is far more complex than campaign rhetoric would suggest. The United States cannot set a path in foreign affairs that totally ignores the political sensitivities of allies or the reaction of regional communities.

The conservatives may argue that a policy based solely on the sensitivities of others or of our public opinion is a policy without leadership. That may be true -- to an extent. In our history, there are too many examples of administrations that have proceeded without consideration of these two factors, however, to suggest they can be ignored. There is room for initiative for any leader in this country, but the room is not as wide as many would wish it to be.

At the heart of this debate, also, is the question of the style of our diplomacy. Retiring political ambassadors, such as Evan Galbraith, the former envoy to France, are strongly critical of the Foreign Service for not upholding the President's policies. Such ambassadors seem to be unwilling to accept that a president's policies are those that flow out of the complex decisionmaking in Washington, of which the president is the leader. Such policies reflect the realities of both the outside world and dome stic opinion. The Foreign Service believes in carrying out faithfully those policies that the US government, led by the president, decides to be correct and in the national interest. They are not necessarily those of an individual, whether president or ambassador.

The argument so frequently raised about political ambassadors vs. career ambassadors misses an essential point. The argument is not over the backgrounds of the ambassadors, but over style. The more ideological ambassadors would carry their views to the publics of foreign countries, even if they included public criticism of the host government. The citizens in the United States, including many conservatives, would react very adversely to a foreign ambassador in the United States who publicly involved him self in our politics. So do the people of other lands. The ``professional'' diplomat, whether from the career field or from public life, recognizes this basic sensitivity and, to maintain effectiveness, refrains from such actions.

The present attack on the secretary of state and the Foreign Service is likely to pass. The President and those about him seem clearly to recognize that policies must be based on a broad vision of our interests and an accurate view of the world around us.

David D. Newsom is associate dean and director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.