As President George W. Bush struggles to resuscitate his presidency in the wake of last year’s “thumping” at the polls and the increasing assertiveness of freedom’s foes around the world, his own State Department remains one of his biggest impediments. Under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — even more than during the tenure of her predecessor, Colin Powell — rank insubordination and assiduous bureaucratic sabotaging of Bush’s policies has become the norm.
At this rate, Foggy Bottom’s permanent bureaucracy of foreign-service officers and career civil servants (many of whom were recruited and allowed to “burrow in” during the Clinton years) will soon render unrecognizable the principled and courageous tenets that distinguished from its hapless predecessors the Bush
(43) Doctrine for defending the Free World.
When Ronald Reagan confronted a similar prospect early in his presidency, he entrusted the key position of deputy secretary of State to a man of proven independence and immense common sense, William P. Clark. He did so secure in the knowledge that his longtime friend and colleague would be the president’s representative — and enforcer — in Foggy Bottom, not the State Department’s exponent at the White House. Although Judge Clark’s service at State was truncated when he was tapped to become Reagan’s indispensable national-security advisor, he nonetheless demonstrated during his brief tenure at State the importance of staffing that department so as to ensure that it works for the president, not against him.
Regrettably, instead of following this proven approach, President Bush has just decided to adopt one that is its antithesis: He will turn over the Deputy Secretary of State’s portfolio to a man far more in the mold of the disloyal Richard Armitage than the faithful Bill Clark: the quintessential career Foreign Service Officer, John Negroponte. To paraphrase the recently departed 38th president, who famously averred that he was “a Ford, not a Lincoln,” what the country and this presidency needs at State is a Clark, not a Negroponte.
The only positive thing to be said about this appointment is that at least it gets Negroponte out of a job for which he was wholly unsuited and in which he performed abysmally: the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).
In that capacity, John Negroponte proved to be an extraordinarily inadequate manager. He acted like a typical bureaucrat, building the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) into an empire of some 1,500 employees. What should have been a lean intelligence-coordinating outfit has instead developed and expanded at the expense of line agencies with real responsibilities and at a staggering cost of $100 million a year.
In a withering critique of Negroponte’s organization (and, at least implicitly, his performance) delivered at the CIA last year, District Court Judge Richard Posner – a highly regarded expert on intelligence matters — observed that ODNI was characterized by “delay and loss of information from the bottom up, delay and misunderstanding of commands from the top down, [and] turf fights for the attention of the top layer.”
Negroponte’s failure to streamline the U.S. intelligence apparatus and enhance its capabilities was greatly exacerbated by his poor judgment in staffing key positions at ODNI. Rather than filling the ranks with intelligence professionals, he opted in a number of cases to populate senior positions with fellow Foreign Service Officers. The most notable of these were two individuals whose judgment and conduct had previously been called into serious question: Thomas Fingar, the deputy DNI for analysis, and Kenneth Brill, the director of the DNI’s National Counterproliferation Center.
During his prior assignment as the assistant secretary of State for intelligence and research, Fingar displayed a poor grasp of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction know-how and technology. And like other FSOs given top State Department positions under Secretaries Powell and Rice, Fingar made no secret of his hostility to President Bush’s security policies. He went so far as to dissemble — if not lie outright — to Congress in order to oppose Mr. Bush’s choice as U.N. ambassador, John Bolton.
Worse yet was the performance of Brill as the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency. In that capacity, he routinely and insidiously tried to excuse the nuclear aspirations of North Korea and Iran — and interfere with the Bush administration’s efforts to counter them.
Given the personal history of these two officials, it is hardly surprising that they helped produce and have publicly espoused a ludicrous intelligence estimate that contends it will take the Iranian regime as much as a decade more to obtain nuclear weapons. Never mind that the mullahs have already spent roughly twenty years working covertly to acquire such arms. Never mind either that it took the United States just three-and-a-half years to go from inventing the science of atomic weapons to using them to end World War II — all without the benefit of any of the knowledge, technology and other help readily available to Tehran.
It would be a good thing if Negroponte’s new assignment permits an improvement in the performance of the director of National Intelligence’s office and, more generally, the intelligence community it is charged with overseeing. Unfortunately, the deputy secretary of State will likely play a key role in the coming months on a number of fronts crucial to our prevailing in the War for the Free World. And in that capacity, Negroponte may compound the problems President Bush is already experiencing with a State Department that is prepared to negotiate away Iraq’s future to its terrorist-supporting Iranian, Syrian, and Saudi neighbors; passive in the face of the radical, anti-American Left in Latin America; and coddling Communist China and its nuclear-armed proxy, North Korea.
If President Bush is unwilling to reconsider this nomination, he must at the very least require that Negroponte’s underlings at State not exhibit the same politicized hostility to freedom’s agenda as have those at ODNI. Moving such individuals into critical positions is demoralizing to the president’s real supporters inside the government who find themselves increasingly waging uphill battles to sustain and promote his program. At some point, it is predictable that they will join others in leaving the administration, rather than implementing and defending insupportable policies. Their loss would be the nation’s, as well.
– Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy. The Center’s senior research associate, David McCormick, contributed to this article.