At the US State Department, things are about to change. Or are they?
Hillary Clinton has been out of sight lately, ostensibly the result of an unusual string of very bad luck: a brief illness and a fainting spell, followed by a fall and a concussion. She is expected to recover fully, certainly in time for her Congressional testimony early next year, unless she is again indisposed by another untimely problem.
But in the interim, two very interesting things have happened at State:
--For one thing, Senator John Kerry has been selected by President Obama to become Clinton's replacement, not unexpected. There was some talk that he might be named Panetta's replacement at Defense, but he'd much prefer State, and in any case, even though he probably would be confirmed by the Senate, he would be grilled mercilessly about his antics years ago when he threw military medals---he avers that they were not his---onto the steps of the US Capitol in protest against the war in which he fought. And anyway, he may be better suited to be the country's diplomat rather than the head of an agency with its feet in the dirt and not on the ballroom floor. Defense is a job requiring consummate business acumen, endless and frustrating coordination with Congress, and no glamor.
--And for another, the Benghazi verdict has just been delivered: the US State Department's ineptitude was the major cause of the deaths in Benghazi of four Americans, including our ambassador to Libya, on September 11, 2012. Secretary Clinton had commissioned the investigative panel, led by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, two respected leaders, and they found that poor leadership and inadequate procedures led to the debacle. In the aftermath of the report, a total of one State Department official has resigned. That ought to be enough to keep folks satisfied for a while. But when he takes over, Kerry will have plenty to fix---if he is inclined to make a positive impact on the nation.
The Pickering-Mullen panel concluded that the State Department suffers from being inertia-ridden, internally fragmented and uncoordinated. Bureaus do not share vital information, and there are inadequate plans and leadership to steer the organization in times of crisis, such as the situation in Benghazi.
The panel was describing a typical, dysfunctional bureaucracy, able to do routine things in a routine way but without creativity and unable to respond to difficult situations, a handicap exacerbated by infighting, competition for scarce resources and many of the other characteristics one sees among packs of animals and street gangs. The sad thing is that these are also the characteristics of the other executive departments, too. They suffer from the same maladies that afflict all overstaffed, overfunded, irrationally structured offices, places where the majority of things that are accomplished are purely for the benefit of the organizations and not for the people they are supposed to serve. Of course, we may not care whether the Department of Labor works smoothly, or if the Department of Commerce is giving us our money's worth. But if the Department of Homeland Security is a hide-bound mess, or the Department of Justice can't get out of its own way, or the Defense Department is drowning in its own muck, we are in very deep trouble.
As for John Kerrey, he is probably not as boring and sanctimonious as he is reported to be, and one assumes that his skill is better than his grades at Yale---surprisingly even lower than George W. Bush's---would predict. But he wants this assignment, and he will get it, and he should dedicate himself now to fixing the Department and making it a shining example for the other rotten bureaucracies in Washington, perhaps in the process proving that he actually can lead and not just posture.