TO: The Next President of the United States
FROM: Michael C. Polt
DATE: March 1, 2008
SUBJECT: Strengthening American Diplomacy
Mr. President, you have asked your Foreign Service to recommend ways to strengthen our country’s diplomatic capabilities. We are of one mind: For our diplomacy to continue to influence world events, we must fundamentally modernize and strengthen our profession for the 21st century. We recommend that you reaffirm the decisive importance of diplomacy as the front line of our foreign policy by ordering that modernization, summarized in the six recommendations proffered by this memorandum.
Since the end of the Cold War, under both Democratic and Republican Administrations, we diplomats have examined our role in a new foreign policy era without a name. “Post-Cold War” is still with us as the only substitute for a static old designation, except for the additional, tragic “post-9/11” identification. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked us to practice “transformational diplomacy” in this yet-to-be defined era. We now speak of an “expeditionary Foreign Service” as we take up posts in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
As your representatives abroad, we are not passive observers of events unfolding around us. We shape America’s foreign affairs environment in challenging and dangerous circumstances with persistence, patience and courage, and we achieve results at a fraction of the cost of the use of force. A recent study by a former Deputy Secretary of State coined the term “smart power” to describe the skillful use of America’s diplomacy, backed up by “hard capabilities.” Your diplomats fully subscribe to such a sequencing and combination of assets.
Our country’s post-Cold War, post-9/11 sense of national security has had to adjust to some serious body blows. In recent years, it has been prudent to ask how well we “do” foreign policy these days. Critical observers both in and out of government have argued that our national security structure is dysfunctional, that our policies are wrongheaded, that the wrong people are at the wrong place at the wrong time, or all three. In truth, you are not inheriting quite as bleak a situation as that. I would suggest, however, that you publicly renew a commitment to rely on your professional diplomatic service and invest in its people and infrastructure as the most effective and efficient way to achieve your foreign policy goals.
Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice both worked hard to address critical shortfalls in people and infrastructure. They achieved some important progress, but more needs to be done. Secretary Rice’s global diplomatic position realignments addressed a central reality: We need...