This take by TNR’s Michael Crowley on HRC’s start at State seems perceptive although tending towards soft HRC bashing. Its opening is appropriately evocative:
The seventh floor of the U.S. State Department is a generally dreary place. Its employees roam hallways so long and confusing that they are color-coded for guidance. Fluorescent lights throw down a harsh hospital glare. But, to most State employees, the “real” seventh floor is a secure area, protected by armed guards and doors that require electronic keys, where the department’s top staffers, including the secretary herself, spend their days. There, Hillary Clinton works from a gently lit, wood-paneled office adorned with portraits of her predecessors.
Crowley still does the lazy personality driven approach – the classic Washingtonian tactical, transitory who’s up, who’s down analysis. For example, it’s plain laughable to assert in the opening that Cher Condi had more foreign policy expertise than Clinton. But the HRC persona compelling catty comparisons still exerts magnetic sway even now.
From a conceptual point of view the Stiftung supports wholeheartedly her avowed focus on Asia and priority for crafting a long term U.S. diplomatic strategy. Especially given the incompetence and neglect by the Warlord. Under both General Jello and the bubble-headed Cher Condi, U.S. drift, passivity and fixation on the ludicrous GWOT allowed Chinese influence to expand on an almost completely free ride.
Development is also a welcome priority — perhaps now U.S. development initiatives won’t be de facto outsourced to the strangely erratic and incoherent Sharon Stone’s tourette-like performance art on mosquito nets at Davos. We kid. But only a little. It’s really been that bad.
Managerially, the Stiftung can report that the rank and file at State we have spoken to are elated with HRC’s drill down and the presidential endorsement of area studies, language and actual expertise. She seems to understand the importance of the Secretariat as a tool by which a strong Secretary exerts day to day bureaucratic control. Cher Condi knew less how to manage a cabinet department than she did functioning as national security advisor (the most inept ever). FSOs passed over for ambassadorships will complain under any Administration. Crowley apparently gulped down fistfuls of Ecstasy to believe any non-Warlord embeds hold Cher Condi, Karen Hughes et al. as ‘benchmarks’ for competence.
A Secretary who presides over a renewed co-equal status among the National Command Authority (NCA) – especially and significantly the uniformed military and SecDef will have internal clout accordingly. Will Holbrooke go Scarface one day? Rampage down the Seventh Floor corridors howling “Come say hello to my little friend [this memo]!!!?” We doubt it. We also don’t see Jones’ embryonic NSC structure tolerating the dysfunction.
A sign that Crowley doesn’t grasp the State Department power dynamic beyond stenographic personality gossip? He would note there are really only two key personalities who will determine her overall success. Aside from the President, HRC’s Imperial City fortunes are linked to Gates and his successor. She lucks out if the successor shares Gates’ demeanor, wisdom and internal control at OSD and over the building. Without that, Holbrooke on qualudes or Mitchell on meth won’t matter. We’d still get a memorable Crowley personality driven essay.