Does the State Department need a “cultural revolution”? At the very least it needs a housecleaning, and has for a very long time, according to former Ambassador John Bolton. Bolton, one of the short-listers to run Donald Trump’s State Department, reaches back all the way to the George H. W. Bush administration to explain how the Foggy Bottom bureaucracy — all 70,000 or so members of it around the world — act more as an independent foreign-policy think tank than act to implement the president’s policies. Bolton quotes former Secretary of State Jim Baker, who said at the time of his appointment, “I will be the president’s envoy to the State Department, and not the other way around.”
The job is more than just a management challenge, Bolton tells Fox & Friends — it requires a reformer:
— FOX & Friends (@foxandfriends) December 1, 2016
Bolton told Fox Business Network the same thing yesterday in a bit more detail than the clip above:
Clearly, Bolton has a good reason to make this argument. One, it’s true — complaints about this very issue arose during both Bush administrations, but especially during the Bush 43 years. When Republicans urged Bush to take action to correct it, Democrats accused them of politicizing the State Department and threatening civil-service rules, and George W. Bush had other fires to fight anyway. (The same issue arose in the intelligence community, and came to a head in the Department of Justice under Alberto Gonzalez.)
Two, if that continues, then Trump will need someone who can unwind that problem and undertake a very broad and potentially controversial reform of the State Department if he wants his own foreign policy to get fully supported by the executive branch. That puts the stakes for the Secretary of State position in much the same context as the choice facing Trump at the Veterans Administration. Does he want someone who can manage some incremental reforms and accept a slower pace of transition from former policies, or does Trump want to go bold and attempt systemic change from the very beginning?
It Trump wants to play it on the safer side, Mitt Romney would be a good choice. He’ll get a fairly easy confirmation hearing, and Romney has plenty of experience in reorganizations, if not necessarily in foreign policy. If he wants systemic reform and someone whose outlook lines up more closely with his own, then John Bolton would be the obvious choice.
Interestingly, Newt Gingrich seems to be cheering for the bold choices in both cases. We’ll see how much that will influence Trump’s eventual decision.