November 12, 2007

Political Scientists Fight Back

Abu Muqawama's post earlier this weekend on Secretary Rice's managerial skills, or lack thereof, generated a lot of traffic in the comments. He ascribed this problem to her political science background, but assured Charlie she wasn't to take offense. Ha! (And backhanded compliments at her shoe collection are insufficient as an ego-salve...even if she does look better in boots than Condi.)

The trouble with secretaries of state is not their political science background (one assumes that DPhils in military history wouldn't necessarily fare much better). In fact, a v. quick glance suggests the only other political science PhD serving at SecState in the last 30 years is Madeleine Albright (George Schulz's doctorate is in industrial economics).

The real problem is the relationship between SecState and the department. Most Secretaries are externally focused: their job is to personally represent the government of the United States around the world. When they're not doing that, they're working with the President and National Security Advisor crafting foreign policy (again, for an external audience). Internal problems at State have been plaguing the Department for years, but they rarely capture the Secretaries' attention, what with Middle East/Balkan/Northern Irish peace, terrorism, and global warming taking up all their time.

The exception that proves the rule is Colin Powell. Secretary Powell was beloved, Charlie is told, because he treated the civil and foreign service employees the way any good military officer would treat their men. That is to say, with something like care and respect. He paid attention to State's civil service, for the love of god. And yes he was good manager. But he also viewed his job as Secretary differently that most who came before (and at least one who came after).

One could make a similar argument about National Security Advisors, whose job is miserable on a good day and impossible otherwise. Henry Kissinger was probably the last really effective one and he did it by systematically undercutting his SecState! Not exactly a model to be emulated.

Condi Rice has many problems. Her political science background is really among the least of them.