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The Golden Sunshine

ISSUE:  Winter 1975

In explaining to British readers why the author of “The Scarlet Letter” suddenly found himself posted to Liverpool as American Consul, Henry James described in simplest terms the alchemy by which Washington converts domestic debts into foreign credits. When the party of Franklin Pierce came to power, “all good Democrats, in conformity to the beautiful and rational system under which the affairs of the Republic were carried on, began to open their windows to the golden sunshine of Presidential patronage.” Hawthorne had been Pierce’s classmate and campaign biographer, and although he was a more talented and sensitive observer than most of today’s political appointees, he owes his post, as they do, to patronage pure and simple.

The practice of exchanging handouts abroad for contributions at home took root in the period when we had no organized foreign service. Although our first Presidents had had first-hand experience in foreign affairs and were unashamedly elitist in their choice of envoys, the spoils system in the era of Jackson encouraged the indiscriminate use of diplomatic posts to pay off political obligations or to get importunate office-seekers out of the capital. For nearly a century, our foreign business was mostly consular. What little diplomatic business we had was conducted in Washington, and the forgotten appointee abroad grew into a hardy perennial, watered by American indifference to foreign opinion and fertilized by American self-confidence during the long dream of our insulation from the woes of wicked Europe. The species coexisted happily with the rather exotic professionals created by the Rogers Act of 1924. Even the brusque awakening of the Second World War and the incessant tinkering with the Foreign Service during the ensuing period of new requirements have left the diplomatic offshoots of the spoils system undisturbed. Now and then they earn a horselaugh, as when the nominee for Ceylon cannot remember that the Indian Prime Minister is called Nehru, or a sweating insurance man admits to Senator Fulbright that his post in Scandinavia is worth just about the amount of his modest campaign contribution. But on this subject, public sentiment, which considers that diplomats operate in a world of unreality akin to that of Groucho Marx’s immortal Rufus Firefly, has rarely gone beyond amused head-shaking. When journalists asked if post-Watergate reforms would curtail the nomination of political ambassadors, Mr. Ziegler, in a rare flash of accuracy, replied that “the practice has been going on for years, as we all know.” To judge from the appointments of President Ford, it bids fair to go on for many more.

No one asked Mr. Ziegler whether mere longevity sufficed to justify this method of filling posts abroad. Even if it did, one would have to recognize that the Nixon Administration created political ambassadors on an unprecedented scale. And the transactions of the unfortunate Herbert Kalmbach, formerly known in our embassies as “the bagman,” left little doubt that the measure of an envoy’s loyalty and even capability had become nakedly monetary. Foreign governments, which gauge their representation in more complicated terms, used to suffer in silence when we sent them wealthy ambassadors whose inexperience, as one member of the Quai d’Orsay put it, was global. But now that client states have dropped the respectful attitudes of the 1950’s, their discontents have become more articulate. It is a grave offense to reject the representative of any head of state, and especially that of the American President, but the mutterings of host governments have effected changes in at least two European capitals, even though no career diplomat benefited from them. In a third capital, a left wing party laced into the government for accepting an American businessman who owed his appointment to the fact that a more lavish contributor had evicted him from a nearby post of less importance. The outburst had no sequel, but it set off sympathetic vibrations in a government to which we have accredited no professional since 1968—and very few before that since the foundation of the Republic. An unbroken cascade of political appointees is taken, quite justifiably, as a mark of American indifference or contempt, and to small countries such as Switzerland, Belgium, or the Netherlands, this kind of treatment is doubly wounding.

Campaign contributions have produced one interesting change since Hawthorne’s day: the golden sun of wealthy aspirants now outshines that of the White House. Only an ambassador of the most flagrant dishonesty could find his job lucrative enough to amortize the outlay, and even the detachment of Henry James would be shaken by the scale of bidding in the quadrennial auctions that pass for the selection of plenipotentiaries.

The loftiest peak in the post-election range of diplomats is still that of Mrs. Ruth Farkas, who, after complaining to Mr. Kalmbach that a quarter of a million was “an awful lot of money for Costa Rica,” upped the ante to $300,000 and acquired Luxembourg. The Luxembourgers, whose long struggle with party faithfuls has been consecrated by Ethel Merman in “Call Me Madam,” are doubtless flattered that the price of the Grand Duchy now tops that of the United Kingdom.

While the Farkas exhibit is by no means unique, there is no point in dwelling on the unedifying list of abuses to which the Senate Watergate Committee has given notoriety. It will suffice to recall that, according to the Committee’s report, American ambassadors provided more than $1.8 million to President Nixon’s campaign for re-election; that eight subsequent beneficiaries contributed a total of $706,000; and that six ambassadors “who contributed an aggregate of over $3 million appear to have been actively seeking appointments at the time of their contributions.”.

In making new nominations, Mr. Ford has watered the financial wine, and even when the campaign of 1976 goes into high gear, National Committees and their hangers-on, remembering the fate of Mr. Kalmbach, will probably exercise greater prudence than in the past. But despite the investigative bustle on Capitol Hill and Mr. Kissinger’s untiring quest for more docile collaborators, the new team has shown little disposition to tamper with the “beautiful and rational system” described by Henry James. Thus Mr. Bush, the Republican National Chairman, is thrilled by his appointment to Peking. Mr. Bruce is abandoning the silences of China for the uproar of NATO. Mr. Rush of Union Carbide has attained a second Embassy by displacing, for motives unfathomable in Paris, the most capable of the four political appointees assigned to France in the space of seven years. Senator Cooper has been awarded the dubious pleasure of leading off our relations with the East Germans. One interesting variant in this curious pattern was the offer of London to William Fulbright; had the Senator accepted this bi-partisan gambit, the White House would have silenced a prestigious opponent well before the expiration of his term.

Whatever the abilities of the new appointees, their assignments do nothing to increase the proportion of career ambassadors. Forty per cent of American diplomatic posts throughout the world are headed by political appointees, including the missions to NATO, the United Nations, and the OECD. In key posts the ratio has become overwhelming: three months after the accession of President Ford, fourteen of twenty embassies in non-Communist Europe were headed by political appointees (the exceptions were Athens, Nicosia, Valletta, Reykjavik, Oslo, and Bonn), while six posts in Eastern Europe, including Moscow, were allotted to career officers. The only major post in Western Europe left in professional hands was Bonn, where the combination of high stakes and the undisputed competence of Ambassador Hillenbrand has thus far staved off the wolves of the National Committee.

With the steady increase in political appointments to key posts, professionals find themselves virtually barred from important missions, except for occasional handouts in international organizations, in trouble spots such as Santiago or Saigon, or in the capitals of Eastern Europe, where the social life does not attract iron butterflies, or where the situation might get out of hand. The average career officer must hold his breath until the call comes from Abu Dhabi, Ansunciôn, Ouagadougou, Bamako, or the like. There he enjoys the title of Ambassador in return for work which is exacting, tiresome, and even fatal, as the ghastly episodes in Guatemala, Khartoum, and Nicosia bear witness. But the mission he heads is not an Embassy at all. It is really a consulate or an observation post, which could just as well be handled by an adventurous junior. This possibility was destroyed in the anti-colonial frenzy of the 1960’s, when numerous politicians found it quite expedient to ornament their front offices with blacks and pander to the vanity of the new leaders in Africa and the Caribbean. Since the latter demanded representation equal in grade, if not in quality, to what we provided in Europe, the useful institutions of the legation and multiple accreditation went by the board. The consequent proliferation of embassies created a handy dumping ground for frustrated career officers, but as a solution to the problems of representation it is neither adequate nor just. All of these pressures have produced serious damage: fewer qualified officers join the Foreign Service; others quit before they are too old to find more rewarding jobs.

Over the last quarter of a century, both career and non-career ambassadors have had their turns with the hottest issues of our time, including various facets of our relations?> with the Soviet Union, with the two Chinas, and with Israel and France, to mention two of our more rambunctious friends. These issues are still burning brightly, but so far without the ultimate disaster. One may therefore well ask whether the game of patronage has really damaged our diplomacy. Have the amiable businessmen and the eager admirals done any worse than the worry-warts in striped pants? What, in short, is all the fuss about?.


Duff Cooper tells us that when Talleyrand relinquished the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he presented the permanent staff personally to his successor. “You will find them loyal, intelligent, accurate, and punctual,” he said, “but, thanks to my training, not at all zealous.” When M. de Champagny showed surprise Talleyrand continued solemnly, “Yes, except for a few of the junior clerks who, I fear, close up their envelopes with a certain amount of precipitation, everyone here maintains the greatest calm. Hurry and bustle are unknown.”.

Such deliberation in conducting business was of great service to Napoleon, who, like many modern statesmen, wanted problems to go away immediately and always worked at top speed. He was frequently relieved to find that instructions which he had given too hastily to the Foreign Ministry had not been acted upon several days later when he was getting ready to countermand them.

Thus Duff Cooper makes clear what Talleyrand meant when he issued his often misunderstood warning against zeal. He was not defending laziness; he was attacking eager-beaverism. In the United States we have long been familiar with this attribute, but the smiles we reserve for it have always been indulgent. We are just beginning to learn how, in foreign affairs at least, it can ruin the best conceived initiatives, whether they be undertaken in Washington or abroad. And when Talleyrand contrasted this fatal ingredient with the four virtues he had inculcated in his staff, he put his finger precisely on the difference between professional diplomats and political appointees. He had come to realize that the rapid solution of international problems frequently entailed the creation of others, and he preferred to go slow until he was reasonably sure that the new set was no worse than the old. Henry Kissinger once consigned the Mideast crises to the same basket as the Balkan Question; he must have recalled that both are rich in examples of the perils which Talleyrand had in mind. On the whole, loyalty, intelligence, accuracy, and punctuality make a better compound in these circumstances than hustle and bustle. But where to find them?.

Nearly all amateur diplomats—and especially the businessmen and soldiers—possess the “do-something” mentality which Talleyrand deplored. The pity is that by the time they have earned enough money to stand the high cost of taking up their second calling, they are too old to unlearn the attributes which have brought them success in the first. At the same time, this dynamism (as well as its financial fruits) makes them popular with National Committees and with the White House, even during administrations less open in their worship of Mammon than that of Richard Nixon. American Presidents ever since Franklin Roosevelt —that is, ever since we had a genuine corps of professional diplomats—have always fretted and fumed against the Department of State because it is not “creative.” President Kennedy described it as a bowl of jelly and Vice President Nixon once referred to its representatives as “cornballs.” This view, which is shared by many members of Congress, reflects not only the growing American mistrust of élites but also an underlying impatience with the basic outlook of diplomats, who are congenital party poopers when it comes to facile or rapid solutions. The military and the businessmen, on the other hand, as well as the ivy-league wizards of the C. I. A. , are what Barbara Tuchman calls “brisk, can-do problem solvers,” and a harried President in a critical situation will rarely look around for nay-sayers to give him advice. It was more agreeable for Franklin Roosevelt to hear Patrick Hurley telling him he could save his investment in Chiang Kai-shek than it was to listen to John Service’s gloomy but accurate prognosis of the Chinese future. Dynamism is—or used to be—the American “thing,” but when it gets into contexts where we no longer hold the whip hand, or where the natives, be they Arab, Indochinese, or French, perversely cling to native solutions, it produces delusion and disaster. The loss of China and the resulting damage to our own Foreign Service, the Bay of Pigs, the war in Vietnam, and the recent imbroglios with our NATO allies over practically everything—the Mideast, petroleum, the “year of Europe”—all bear marks of the zeal which Talleyrand abhorred.

No one would deny the need for vigor in foreign policy (of which diplomacy is only one instrument), but when policy makers call for “creativeness” from their agents, what they really want is reinforcement for their own preconceptions. “Foreign policy,” Barbara Tuchman tells us, “obeys Newton’s law of inertia; it keeps on doing what it is doing unless it is hit by an irresistible force.” Even when confronted by the inevitable, policy makers behave like ancient kings who killed the bearers of bad tidings. Stalin was infuriated by clear evidences of German intentions in 1941 because they devastated his own calculations. In the thirties President Roosevelt’s entourage, including Joseph Davies, his henchman in Moscow, broke up the Russian Division in the State Department because careerists were reporting facts which made it too clear that we had cozied up to a régime even more brutal than that of the Czars. It took twenty-five years, during which we jettisoned our Chinese experts, to convince policy makers, including Richard Nixon, that Ambassador Gauss was right in 1944 when he frankly admitted that so far as Chiang Kai-shek was concerned, “I confess there is nothing that I can suggest we might do.” And heaven knows how many heads have rolled since 1960 for recommending that we heed the warnings of the French and others about booby-traps in Indochina, or that we count our cards more carefully in dealing with Arab states.

Political appointees are usually more reluctant than professionals to recommend uncomfortable changes to Washington or to dwell on the less attractive antics of the clients whom they are supposed to keep in line. Because of their go-go inclinations and their greater sensitivity to White House staffers, who want optimistic pablum for the Boss to use with press and Congress, many political ambassadors tend to fuzz over thorny issues and expunge from their reports some of the less agreeable phenomena which appear on the local radar, In reporting a possible rapprochement between the Labor and Catholic Parties in the Netherlands, one of our junior officers referred to the “Roman-Red Coalition.” After receiving a call from Washington (such inquiries are rarely made in writing), the Ambassador asked that we refrain from using that odious expression in our telegrams. For him the fact that the term was circulating in press and political circles was of no importance in comparison with the picture of stout hearts in little Holland which he wanted to furnish for the White House.

Short-term envoys also have a penchant for bringing off what are known as “diplomatic triumphs.” If such triumphs are real, they produce in their victims a resentment and suspicion—even a thirst for revenge—that may well come to the fore just when the United States Government has the greatest need for the co-operation and confidence which its envoy has effectively destroyed. If the triumph is merely the product of an overcharged imagination, it may lead to misunderstanding at headquarters. Political appointees, unless carefully watched, constitute a threat to the objective reporting that is—or ought to be—the holy of holies in any foreign service. Not that career officers have any greater anxiety to wallow in unpleasant realities or to underline their inability to influence the situation. To apply a touch of gilding, however discreet, to one’s mastery of the art; to report a little more than what one actually said or did; to take the thought (and especially the afterthought) for the deed—these are cardinal temptations which diplomatists have to resist tooth and nail. The professional, however, has usually developed a greater wariness than his political colleague; he has less of a sweet tooth for cheery bits and more of a tendency to scrutinize “dynamic options” in the light of what the traffic will bear rather than the short-lived admiration of the folks back home. While this may add to his value, it does not increase his popularity.

Another obvious disadvantage of the short-term diplomat was described in 1716 by François de Callières in his admirable “De La Manière de Négocier avec les Souverains.” De Callières had been a secret agent and then an accredited representative of Louis XIV in three countries, and he served as Secretary to the King’s Council, a position analogous to that of Mr. Kissinger in the National Security Council. He published his book at a time when the consolidation of the nation state had touched off a revolution in diplomacy even more profound than that produced by the radio and the airplane. “We find,” says de Callières, “that instead of gradual promotion by degrees and in the light of proven capacity and experience, as is the case in the usages of war, one may often see men who have never left their own country, who have never applied themselves to the study of public affairs, being of meager intelligence, appointed overnight to important embassies in countries of which they know neither the interests, laws, customs, language, nor even the geographical situation.” De Callières also observes tartly that while a government can always supply a brilliant but impoverished envoy with money, it cannot equip a rich but stupid one Avith brains. This is the obvious answer to those who tell us that only the wealthy can support the expenses of representation in London or Paris. While Americans may not agree that public affairs are a nursery of intelligence, anyone who has served abroad or scanned the testimony of ambassadors before Senator Fulbright’s Committee will acknowledge that two and a half centuries have done nothing to diminish the justice of de Callières’ strictures.

The gremlins of public relations have introduced a further complication by planting in political ambassadors an obsession with their “image” that frequently carries them to pathetic extremes. No one in the twentieth century would question the need for close contact with public and press, especially with correspondents who deal in policy rather than the cheap spice of bureaucratic warfare. But presidential envoys seem to be haunted by a deep-seated desire to go beyond the humdrum requirements of diplomacy. X wants to speak French as well as General de Gaulle; Y has decided to lick the drug traffic single-handed or serve as America’s gift to European youth; Z lusts to be the Machiavelli of atomic strategy or the Leonardo da Vinci of the space age. The variants of this insidious pretension to look like someone else are endless, but unhappily, the cosmetics of culture and statecraft, no matter how thickly applied, tend to peel under the klieg lights of high office. The wearers rarely deceive the malicious foreigners for long, and they come to be regarded as frauds—amiable perhaps, but faintly ridiculous. So that while officials usually accord the outward marks of respect to any ambassador, those who expose themselves as fakes in extra-curricular matters soon undermine the confidence which is indispensable to the conduct of their regular business. Far better to take a page out of Benjamin Franklin’s book. While he was compelled to comb his few hairs and give up his knobby cane, his native character and gifts struck just the balance between sage and savage which the French required in the age of Rousseau.

We are often assured that nowadays, with Secretaries of State, Prime Ministers, and even Presidents and Kings calling up at any hour or pouncing out of the sky on a moment’s notice, the ambassador, be he ignoramus or expert, has dwindled into a mere ceremonial appendage. He is viewed as a mailman—or even worse, a mailbox-—and a purveyor of hospitality to visiting firemen. His expertise, so the argument runs, is not half so important as his cook. While culinary skill is far from negligible as an instrument of persuasion, a moment’s reflection will show that this whole notion is false.

If jets and electronics can seriously diminish an ambassador, then he is not filling his indispensable rôle as Johnny-on-the-spot. With a modicum of bureaucratic guile, he can circumvent the many unwise or offensive instructions he receives from headquarters and carry out others in a manner of his own choosing. He and his staff can best decide at what level in the hierarchy a démarche can profitably be made, to whom, and, above all, where and when. If the Foreign Minister is bored by the SALT talks, better try the Secretary General, who drafts the instructions on this matter anyway. On Chinese credentials, why not talk to that little man who kept correcting the Minister, without visible reproof, during our last interview? If M. Tel-et-tel is allergic to weekend calls, call M. Tant-et-tant, whose wife loves him to feel important. “Be sure,” one of my chiefs in Paris told me, “to dispatch no business with Monsieur de X except in the morning when he is clearheaded and a little dispirited, before the long lunch hour and the red wine have restored his overweening self-confidence.” If the ambassador is any judge of character—and nothing is more important in diplomacy—he can also find the right argument ad hominem, or nowadays, ad feminam. Tell Colonel Khadafi that petroleum cuts are pleasing to elderly atheists, but don’t tell Indira Gandhi or Golda Meir to rely on her intuition.

Even when they descend in person upon their hapless envoys, American officials need guidance. Their success in dealing with Abba Eban or Brezhnev or Chou En-lai depends heavily on the man who knows how these gentlemen are feeling and how busy they are. And since Washington officials are briefed in haste and are often less retentive than Mr. Kissinger, they sometimes require a pull on the checkrein even in mid-course. They could do worse than to remember the words of one senior diplomat when informed that Washington was rushing out experts to help him untangle a financial snarl involving the British. “A few facts,” he growled,’ “would be more useful than a posse.”.

While generals find it advantageous to direct battles from headquarters, it has become Utopian, since the black day when President Wilson mounted the gangplank of the George Washington, to expect ministers and presidents to chain themselves to their desks. They prefer to flit from capital to capital for “frank, constructive” exchanges in the glare of publicity; all too often the results are confusion and, despite fixed grins before the camera, hostility. One recalls the Eisenhower-Khrushchev confrontation in 1960, the Kennedy-Khrushchev bout in Vienna in 1961, Kosygin’s pilgrimage to Glassboro in 1967, and, more recently, the shadow-boxing of President Nixon in Moscow. Mr. Kissinger has undeniable talents for the peripatetic style, but one asks oneself more and more whether he wouldn’t do better in Washington than in Tel Aviv or Cairo, Moscow or Peking, not to mention the mare’s nest of Brussels. But the American propensity for these fatiguing and disruptive forays is only redoubled when Washington lacks confidence in the abilities of ambassadors who spring from presidential patronage.


No one in our Foreign Service has a monopoly on Talleyrand’s four virtues. The non-career ranks include astute and balanced men, whose special competence—say that of a banker in the Netherlands or a wild-life enthusiast in Norway—may prove useful to their mission. There are moments also when fresh insights are needed on situations where tired professionals have lost hope. “Tant mieux, vous n’aurez pas de préconceptions,” was General de Gaulle’s reply to the bewildered civil servant who pleaded inexperience as a bar to his heading the shattered French administration in Algeria. There are also political diplomats who have a genuine and discriminating enthusiasm for a game in which they have long since become professionals. One thinks immediately of Averell Harriman or Douglas Dillon, of Ellsworth Bunker or David Bruce, but unhappily the horizon of the NixonFord appointments is rather bare of this kind of talent.

Even the rankest duffer commands the services of an embassy staff that is supposed to know the country well enough to prop him up at critical moments and to keep his reporting (he will draft very little himself) on the rails. But most political appointees start—sometimes justifiably—by regarding their career staffs as poisoned gifts. Even the most indulgent, especially if they are businessmen, entertain a deep-seated suspicion of the bureaucracy at home and abroad. They see the regulars of their mission, particularly those with long hair, as tainted with radicalism (“soft on Communism” is still a current term among political appointees) and lusting for revenge on those who have taken over the top posts. While experience may mitigate this sense of having fallen into a nest of vipers, it is never agreeable to draw on the expertise of others. Nor is the second-hand product convincing to foreigners, who easily detect the facile generalizations with which non-professionals fill the gaps. “You have to live with problems yourself,” one hard-bitten member of the Dutch Foreign Ministry told me, “in order to realize that you can’t solve them.”.

Finally, one must admit that career officers frequently create their own problems. Most are loyal and precise, some are highly intelligent, but few are gods or even demi-gods. The traps with which their paths have been sown over the last thirty years foster conformism, even timidity, and discourage the qualities of initiative that their less gifted chiefs possess in abundance and, all too often, in excess. Few regulars can be expected to handle alone and unaided a diplomacy that involves space research, ballistic missiles, nuclear fission, drawing rights, farm subsidies, pollution controls, and petroleum pricing. While the myth of their expatriate mentality is unjust, they do give off an aroma of elitism. And long stays abroad isolate them from the rough and tumble of Washington to the point where they forget that sensible solutions won’t always sell back home. In 1955 the Legal Adviser of the Department, a highly political animal, asked for a recommendation regarding American extra-territorial rights in Morocco. I replied that since the colonial era was rapidly drawing to a close, the realistic course would be to give up this anachronism. He suggested, quite properly, that it would be realistic for me to examine the records of the Foreign Relations Committee to discover how senators reacted to proposals to give away something for nothing. No businessman, he added, would have made such a recommendation.

I have served under four political ambassadors and had dealings with a dozen more at conferences or in Washington. Most of them were estimable businessmen or soldiers, one was a civil servant, and another a wealthy writer (but not of campaign biographies). I have never quite fathomed what mysterious hankerings caused them to leave hearth and home—or bank and blockhouse—to take up a career to which none of them was basically suited. But I can only salute their sense of duty in submitting to unknown terrors and tortures —and paying heavily to do it. Homage is due also to their wives, many of whom, contrary to popular supposition, loathed the wild and futile unrealities of diplomatic hospitality as much as the rest of us but made a college try anyway. Some ambassadors reveled in their titles, others enjoyed calling the prestigious and powerful by their first names, and nearly all burned to show the State Department how to apply the methods of Wall Street or the Pentagon to such bargaining plums as General de Gaulle’s vexing predilection for French independence, the unification of Germany, the recognition of China, and—most tempting tidbit of all—the energy crisis. Many of them, as I have said, gave the rest of us fresh insights into these problems; the incidental drawback that, so far as one can remember, they solved none of them should not detract from their evident good will. But the frustrations and failures, the sorrows and successes of political ambassadors are really of little importance by comparison with the unsuitability of their style.

Even in our frantic age, the task of diplomacy is surely not to resolve burning issues but to dampen and cool them until time and fatigue can accomplish the inevitable transformations by which differences—as distinct from the crises that result from mishandling them—finally resolve themselves with minimum damage. Recent history abounds in examples of the opposite method: our involvements in Indochina and Chile are perhaps the most lamentable. But the Trieste Settlement, the Austrian State Treaty, and perhaps Ostpolitik, with its setbacks and its unremitting crawl toward acceptance of a fait accompli, are there to vindicate the snail-like approach. I hope I may be forgiven for thinking that, no matter how one may view the shortcomings of the career service, political ambassadors are generally deficient in the patience which this approach requires.


It would be grossly unfair, however, to blame political appointees for the tattered state of American diplomacy. Their excessive number and zeal are only symptoms of a deep-seated infection in the body politic which has been intensified by our own internal dispersion, by our drift toward imperial government, and by the insidious influence of totalitarian methods on the conduct of foreign relations. Now that the triad of classic diplomacy—discretion, honesty, and tact—has been eclipsed by the shadows of the new—publicity, deviousness, and insult—it would take a Hercules of courage and objectivity to clean the stable. Only a general reorientation can change this situation, but while we await more radical treatment, we need to keep diplomacy alive. In the absence of supranational remedies, we shall have to make do with those of national practitioners.

In 1971, thirteen task forces of the Department of State turned out six-hundred pages, telling us how to streamline our diplomatic apparatus. This formidable bolus is still working its way through the bureaucracy, with some notable digestive upsets in the younger and older sectors of a Foreign Service in full effervescence. Many of the proposals to improve morale, to increase junior participation, and to give proper rôles to women are long overdue; others are unworkable. But the best answer to the importunities of patronage would be systems of recruitment, examination, assignment, and promotion which combined rigorous competition with maximum anonymity—a kind of Jeffersonian selection à l’outrance. A corps of professionals so chosen and periodically winnowed, who joined hands with their colleagues abroad and kept up better with the art of the possible back home, might even revive the old international fraternity of diplomacy. Such representatives would have to be more attuned to public opinion than old-line diplomats, and loyal to American interests in their global dimensions rather than to nationalist ambitions. By practicing openness with the press regarding policy (as distinct from tactics) they could do much to overcome the misconception of diplomacy as a black art. Their effectiveness would depend also on the government’s pruning the wings of other agencies ( CIA, Pentagon, Treasury, Department of Commerce) whose officials insist not only on formulating policies, which is quite legitimate, but on carrying them out in the field, which is confusing for everyone. A corps of this sort could easily make room for talented outsiders and necessary experts, but its own high quality might encourage the White House to strong-arm the National Committees now and then. For in some situations the interests of the United States overshadow even the contributions of the faithful.

I am aware that all of this sounds Utopian, but what is the alternative? If we continue to expose our diplomatic establishment to the full blaze of presidential patronage, the “beautiful and rational system” is likely to come a cropper. We shall earn the contempt and resentment of other governments just at the moment when our other powers of persuasion are on the wane. And as our disgruntled foreign service officers wander off to more rewarding careers, we shall have to put up with political zealots and technical wizards, who will provide the President with service inferior to that which Talleyrand’s languid Ministry gave to Napoleon. Such officials may keep the White House in practice for public repentance and rationalization—not to mention frequent travel —but they make a poor substitute for Jules Cambon’s preferred instruments of persuasion: two decent human beings, each of whom enjoys the confidence of the other and of his own government.


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