Friday 9 May 2003

Diplomats on the Defensive

State Dept. loyalists say the Pentagon is usurping foreign policy and undermining Powell. Conservatives say 9/11 has changed the rules.

Diplomats are paid to have cool minds and even cooler temperaments, but inside the State Department, plenty of America's elite diplomats are privately seething.

They are up in arms over what they see as the hijacking of foreign policymaking by the Pentagon and efforts to undercut their boss, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

"I just wake up in the morning and tell myself, 'There's been a military coup,' and then it all makes sense," said one veteran foreign service officer.

The first two years of the Bush administration have seen what the diplomat called a "tectonic shift" of decision-making power on foreign policy from State to the Defense Department, one that has seen the Pentagon become the dominant player on such key issues as Iraq, North Korea and Afghanistan.

"Why aren't eyebrows raised all over the United States that the secretary of Defense is pontificating about Syria?" the official, who declined to be identified, said, fuming.

"Can you imagine the Defense secretary after World War II telling the world how he was going to run Europe?" he added, noting it was Secretary of State George C. Marshall who delivered that seminal speech in 1947.

Leading conservatives and Pentagon officials say such comments show the State Department's failure to grasp how profoundly global politics and U.S. foreign policy interests have been redefined, especially in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

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