The State Department is weak and getting weaker. That puts us all at risk.Roundup
tags: national security, State Department, diplomatic history, international affairs
Mark Edwards is an associate professor of U.S. history and politics at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. His book on the Council on Foreign Relations, "Faith and Foreign Affairs in the American Century", is forthcoming later this year.
The federal bureaucracy has been rocked in recent months by an unusual amount of turmoil. The abnormal is the new normal: numerous firings and resignations; “acting” administrators; policies, programs and raids that were announced and then never started or were stopped by the courts. In the midst of this chaos and confusion, the oldest and, arguably, most important of U.S. foreign policy sectors, the State Department, is being dismantled.
This continued diminution of the State Department makes the country less safe because it makes peaceful resolution of diplomatic issues less likely with reverberations ranging from increased likelihood of armed conflict to imperiling the world’s economy and America’s ability to lead.
This is a far cry from the vigorous department envisioned by the Founders.
The Founders saw the State Department as essential to American peace and prosperity. The people who first occupied the secretary of state post, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams, used the office as a steppingstone to the presidency. They also used diplomacy to extend U.S. power, procuring what Jefferson called an “Empire for Liberty” typified by territorial expansion in North America (thanks to diplomatic agreements like the Louisiana Purchase and the Adams-Onís Treaty) and seamless commercial extension abroad.
But the State Department languished for much of the 19th century because of domestic conflict about the role of slavery in the expanding United States and subsequently owing to a lack of vision for the department.
Even when John Hay assumed leadership of the department in 1898, with a far more energetic vision, his diplomacy was quickly eclipsed as the country embarked upon imperial adventures in the Pacific. A new cadre of colonial administrators like Elihu Root went about acquiring Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and thousands of other islands through military intervention. Empowered by Root and others, President Theodore Roosevelt espoused a vision of righteous territorial conquest that quickly trumped Hay’s hopes for global free trade disarming imperial rivalries.