The Foreign Service Journal, March 2021

24 MARCH 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Leadership in the interagency starts with sending leaders there to do State’s business. There is a risk in allowing for the strong wills that make the sixth floor nervous, but there may be an even greater risk in crushing those strong wills in the first place. 3. Get tough. One of the stranger moments on the road to my State Department career was when I was mentored on the Foreign Service oral assessment. “When you get to the group exercise, just remember you are not there to win, but to be collegial. They will reward you for giving up your position to someone else to show that you are a team player,” I was told. And we wonder why we are often excluded from high-level negotiations. I worked closely with one of the more effective interagency players in the department several decades ago; he was also among the toughest. He entered the interagency process detached from personal interest and ego, concerned solely with getting to the right place for the country and its interests, and allowing no one to bully him in the pursuit of that goal. Beyond good preparation and leadership, sometimes it just takes getting tough. 4. Master the budget and strategy cycles. One of my very early mentors in the interagency process was the late Ambas- sador Mike Sheehan, and one of his early mentors was former Assistant Secretary Richard Clarke. Sheehan explained to me once that Clarke’s strength in the interagency came from a studied and unusual understanding of the budget process— where the money was and how to get to it. Real dominance in the agency process belongs to those who can articulate clearly where the money will come from for an initiative and to proposals for which funding is clearly spelled out. State might not always have money, but it can still benefit from knowing who does. Running parallel to the budget cycle is the development of country strategies. As with the budget process, a better under- standing and some real training on strategy development (the kind the Army spends months learning at Fort Leavenworth) would go a long way to establishing a cadre of officers who dominate the interagency development of strategic policy. From my experience most other agencies would welcome, not resist, State expertise in this area. 5. Strengthen relations with the military. The “militariza- tion of foreign policy” is a common refrain these days because of the larger resource base of the Defense Department and its often more extensive presence overseas. While there is undoubtedly some truth to this claim, one former ambassa- dor who oversaw U.S. policy during five conflicts thinks it is overblown. The Pentagon, he believes, will defer to the State Department on most issues of policy, except in rare instances when State believes Defense should involve itself in something the Pentagon opposes. While the alphabet soup of agencies participating in the interagency may now make the larger meeting rooms at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building a hot commodity, the State-Pentagon relationship is in a category all its own. The big issues, those that will define a presidency, are of war and peace; by assiduously nurturing a close relationship on policy with the Defense Department, State will add weight to its own position, and its influence will rise. 6. Unleash the bold ideas. Kopp and Naland believe that “a Service that favors errorless consistency over risk-taking leads presidents and secretaries of state to go outside for creative policy advice.” I heard recently from a midlevel colleague who was working on one of the thorniest issues in the department, a seemingly intractable problem, which a team of extremely talented officers had been galvanized to solve. He expressed frustration that while they were outwardly encouraged to think outside the box and given some outlets for such thinking, the team’s limits were quickly established when someone was accused of leaking. At a certain point in the process, they were told to stop spending so much time on new ideas and get back to executing the current policy. New policy approaches come with risks—the risk of appearing unsupportive, the risk of “leaking” and, to many leaders, the simple risk of unwanted attention. But without risk, there won’t be any new policies. The recent Belfer Center report, “A Diplomatic Service for the 21st Century, ” cited calls for “transforming the internal culture by incentivizing greater innovation, smarter risk taking … and visionary leadership.” Getting to a place of more creative policies at State is itself something that will require creative thinking. Ambassador (ret.) Marc Grossman once said that the strength of diplomats is that they are optimists who “believe in the power of ideas.” Real dominance in the agency process belongs to those who can articulate clearly where the money will come from for an initiative.