TWO CHEERS FOR THE AMERICAN STATE DEPARTMENT
"The State Department’s No. 2 official, James B. Steinberg, is leaving to become dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a letter to her staff Wednesday. President Obama plans to nominate William J. Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, to succeed Mr. Steinberg as deputy secretary.
Mr. Steinberg’s departure is not a big surprise: there had been rumors he wanted to return to academia for some time. He had been dean of the Lyndon Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas before joining the Obama administration in January 2009. He also never became particularly close to Mrs. Clinton, despite having served as deputy national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, her husband....The choice of Mr. Burns is likely to be welcomed by the State Department bureaucracy. The highest-ranking career diplomat in the department, he has won the confidence of the White House and been deeply involved in issues like the showdown with Iran over its nuclear program and the upheaval in the Arab world".
Mark Landler, "No. 2 Official at State Department is leaving," 30 March 2011, in www.nytimes.com
"Embassies do not exist to house the friends of politicians or discards from the home front. They cannot be misused without taking the heart out of great service".
Lord Vansittart, The Mist Procession. 1957. p. 183.
In these challenging times, it is somewhat rare to be able to celebrate something for the better rather than the reverse. In the appointment of Mr. William Burns to the post of Deputy Secretary of State, one has indeed such an instance. A career foreign service officer, Mr. Burns has been for the past three years the number three man in the American State Department. With prior Ambassadorial postings in among other places Russia and Jordan, with a command of French, Russian and Arabic, as well as a erste-klasse book on American policy towards Egypt in the early cold war, it is difficult to imagine a better candidate for the post than Mr. Burns. May one hope that `a la the late Lawrence Eagleburger, that Mr. Burns may someday soon succeed to the top post in the department? While perhaps a bit forlorn, it is useful to remember the mots of the late, great George Frost Kennan, the greatest diplomat produced by the United States in the twentieth century, as they pertain to the present age and its manifold problems of diplomacy and foreign policy. Problems which can only be managed successfully by having a policy determined by those who possess a true command of the subject, based upon both a high intelligence and a long experience dealing with the assorted issues involved:
"As one who has occupied himself professionally with foreign affairs for a quarter of a century, I cannot refrain from saying that I firmly believe that we could make much more effective use of the principal of professionalism in the conduct of foreign policy; that we could, if we wished, develop a corps of professional officers superior to anything that exists or ever has existed in this field; and that by treating these men with respect and drawing on their insight and experience, we could help ourselves considerably." 1
1. George Frost Kennan, American Diplomacy, 1900-1950. (1950), pp. 93-94.