January 19, 2006

Nil desperandum, brothers and sisters...

I confess. This surprised me. I've just been assuming that, even if reactionary despotisms of the Middle East can be transformed, the one in Washington would be unassailable...

Washington Post: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that she will shift hundreds of Foreign Service positions from Europe and Washington to difficult assignments in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere as part of a broad restructuring of the diplomatic corps that she has dubbed "transformational diplomacy."

The State Department's culture of deployment and ideas about career advancement must alter now that the Cold War is over and the United States is battling transnational threats of terrorism, drug smuggling and disease, Rice said in a speech at Georgetown University. "The greatest threats now emerge more within states than between them," she said. "The fundamental character of regimes now matters more than the international distribution of power."

As part of the change in priorities, Rice announced that diplomats will not be promoted into the senior ranks unless they accept assignments in dangerous posts, gain expertise in at least two regions and are fluent in two foreign languages, citing Chinese, Urdu and Arabic as a few preferred examples.

Rice noted that the United States has nearly as many State Department personnel in Germany -- which has 82 million people -- as in India, with 1 billion people. As a first step, 100 jobs in Europe and Washington will be immediately shifted to expanded embassies in countries such as India, China and Lebanon. Many of these diplomats had been scheduled to rotate into coveted posts in European capitals this summer, and the sudden change in assignment has caused some distress, State Department officials said.

Officials said that ultimately as many as one-third of the 6,400 Foreign Service positions could be affected in the coming years....(Thanks to Betsy Newmark)

Wow! Shake-ups! Psychological even more than physical, I'd guess. "Coveted posts in European capitals" forsooth. Expect the usual subjects to howl about "stifling of dissent," "Unitary Executive," "Imperial Presidency," "fill-in-the-blank" blah blah blah. But what's really being crushed is one of the last places the Cold War is still being fought, like those Japanese soldiers in island jungles long after the homeland has surrendered.

Expect a lot of early retirements of the old guard. And expect those who are excited by the world as it is to be heartened and encouraged. Also, the main rationale of the reactionaries is that the experienced old hands understand the world better than elected newcomers, who should not be allowed to make changes. Condi's changes undercut that brutally. India IS more important than Germany. Probably 10 times as important. and the State Dept. is being forced to accept it.

Posted by John Weidner at January 19, 2006 8:05 AM
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