35. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State (Bowles) to President Kennedy1
Before leaving Washington, I promised to send you a memorandum with my views on the organizational needs of the Department of State. Such a report can be valuable to you only if it is frank. My frankness, however, should not be interpreted as a criticism, direct or indirect, of any individual.
Nor should it suggest any lack of respect for the career service. Within the ranks of the Foreign Service and the Department are many of the nation’s most able, experienced, and dedicated specialists in foreign policy.
We have extraordinary assets, for instance, in such people as Bob Woodward, Tommy Thompson, Charlie Yost at the United Nations, Fred Reinhardt in Rome, Ellis Briggs in Athens, Tyler Thompson as Director General of the Foreign Service, Ed Martin in the Bureau of Economic Affairs, and many others.
Generally speaking, however, your approach to foreign affairs is inadequately understood by many of the able career officers of the [Page 67] Department who have attained senior rank in the last ten years. It is our task so to organize the various bureaus that the experience and skills of these men can be put to good use through a structure which assures you the kind of policies which you have been advocating for years. The key to such structure, in my opinion, lies in the appointment of bureau heads and deputies who clearly understand your foreign policy objectives, who believe these objectives are right, and who can work effectively as members of a team to achieve them.
Everyone knows that the performance of the Department of State in the first six months of the new Administration has been uneven.
In certain bureaus fresh ideas have begun to flow, morale is high, and there is a clear sense of purpose and direction. In others, there has been resistance to fresh thinking and a continuing attachment to the sterile assumptions and negative policies that we criticized so vigorously when we were out of office.
Let me emphasize that the difference to which I refer does not involve the efficiency of the bureaus’ day-to-day operations, but rather their capacity to bring a fresh perspective to old situations, to sense the weakness or irrelevance of old positions, and to produce—or allow others to produce—the new policies which in some areas are so long overdue.
There are, I believe, two basic and interrelated reasons for the uneven performance of the bureaus: first, differences in leadership, and second, differences in the process of policy formation.
Where fresh blood that is keenly attuned to the New Frontier has been introduced, the performance by and large has been impressive. Where the outlook and personnel of the old Administration still prevail at the top of the bureau, we have been falling down.
Let me be specific.
In the up-graded and reorganized Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, headed by Phil Coombs and two able new assistants, Joe Slater and Max Isenbergh, the substantive improvement since January has been spectacular.
In Protocol we also see a new sense of direction and increased effectiveness under the leadership of Angie Duke. These qualities have already produced concrete results in the life of the African and Asian diplomatic community and elsewhere.
Abe Chayes in the Legal Adviser’s office, with a reinvigorated staff, has introduced a much more affirmative approach to a vitally important and previously negative area of operations.
This pattern has been repeated in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research under Roger Hilsman and Tom Hughes, who are demonstrating how raw intelligence, thoughtfully interpreted, can provide a much more effective tool in our policy making.[Page 68]
At the same time, George McGhee, as Counselor, has transformed the Policy Planning Council from an ineffective and negative instrument into a respected producer of new ideas and perspective.
In the administrative section we see similar changes for the better. Here Roger Jones, with the help of two able career people, Bill Crockett and Herman Pollack (who in recent years had seen their ideas frustrated and bypassed), has vastly improved administrative procedures in regard to our operations in Washington and also in the field.
The Bureau of Public Affairs under Roger Tubby, ably assisted by Carl Rowan, has developed new techniques to further public understanding of foreign policy. For the first time, for instance, local newsmen and radio and television commentators from all over the United States have been invited to Washington for successful briefings in depth.
Under Adlai Stevenson, our operation at the United Nations has also substantially improved. Here the credit belongs not only to Ambassador Stevenson and his able assistants in New York but also to the vigorous support they have received from the reorganized Bureau of International Organization Affairs under the leadership of Harlan Cleveland and Dick Gardner.
We are also making substantial progress in improving the effectiveness of our overseas mission. A letter from you in late May expanded and redefined the role of our ambassadors. This was followed by more specific guidance papers which spelled out ways in which our overseas operations could be strengthened. The success of this effort has been dramatically demonstrated in the meeting which I am now attending in Lagos.
In addition, the overseas service term for career officers is being lengthened, language standards raised, and sixteen Foreign Service Officers of ministerial or ambassadorial rank who in the past Administration would now be heading embassies have been retired so that younger, abler officers could be promoted.
Even the most casual study of State Department operations will, I believe, underscore this central point: Wherever people who understand the Kennedy policies and believe in them have been brought in to head bureaus or to occupy top deputy posts, our performance has been greatly improved. Where we have failed to introduce such individuals, our performance has been less satisfactory.
Let us consider, for instance, the operations of the five geographic bureaus. At present each Assistant Secretary is supported by two Deputy Assistant Secretaries. This means that fifteen top officers are running the core of the Department under the office of the Secretary. Yet only four of these fifteen individuals are Kennedy-oriented men brought in from outside the Department. Two of the four are Assistant Secretaries and two are Deputy Assistant Secretaries.[Page 69]
In the Bureau of European Affairs, Inter-American Affairs, and Far Eastern Affairs, almost no fresh blood has been introduced.
All three of these bureaus are headed by individuals of great integrity and experience. Their staff are experienced, loyal, and efficient on day-to-day operations. But because top leadership in these bureaus in our first six months has been much less sensitive to your views and priorities, there has been a tendency to cling to outworn assumptions, to resist new approaches, and to gloss over setbacks.
The apathy towards the need for a review of old policies and for fresh approaches, which is evident in varying degrees in each of these three bureaus, is dramatized by a comparison with the Bureau of African Affairs under Soapy Williams, with his two able assistants, Wayne Fredericks, and John Abernethy.
Although the personnel in the African Bureau is younger and by and large less experienced, morale is probably higher there than in any other part of the State Department. Moreover, there is a clear understanding within the bureau of the principles which were laid down in your campaign, in The Strategy of Peace, and in the Democratic platform.
This brings me to a second and closely related point: Where we have Assistant Secretaries and Deputy Assistant Secretaries who understand and believe in your views on foreign policy, guidance is easily applied from the top. Communications are natural and uninhibited. Fresh ideas and criticism are welcome. There is an atmosphere of purpose and dedication.
Where a new Kennedy-oriented leadership has been lacking, such top-side guidance is resisted and policy tends to flow from the bottom up. The papers start from the country desks and then move gradually up through the various interested bureaus and levels of authority. Where disagreements arise, meetings are held, compromises are struck, and the papers then continue on their way.
When they finally reach the Secretary and the Under Secretary, the ideas are often fully crystallized, and the entire apparatus which is responsible for their development goes all out in their defense.
As a result, the top officers who are responsible for the final decisions have little knowledge of the compromises which have been built into these papers on their way up through the bureaucratic machinery; nor are they necessarily in tune with these compromises; nor are they adequately aware of the possible alternatives which for reasons good or bad may have been discarded.
By the day the paper is finally presented, time is likely to be short, pressures against changes are well developed not only in the State Department but throughout the government, and an NSC meeting may be just around the corner.[Page 70]
In these circumstances the Secretary and Under Secretary have no alternative but to accept the paper largely unchanged or send it back and start all over.
Such a procedure would be workable only if the lower and middle levels of the Department were infused with the foreign policy views which you outlined in your book and in your speeches. With due credit to the scores of able and dedicated professionals who hold these positions, such understanding is now the exception rather than the rule.
A single example will emphasize the essential point. Early last February it was clearly apparent that Berlin and Germany would erupt as a major issue during the spring. This called for an urgent review of our situation in that area, an assessment of the new forces, and the creation of a new position which would enable the new President to move from the negative posture of the previous Administration and seize the initiative with the Soviets and with world opinion generally.
Yet our efforts to stimulate this review were hampered by the convictions of many key professionals within the Bureau that our old position was adequate and that no further action was needed.
Let me say with the greatest emphasis that these remarks are not intended as a personal criticism of any individual. The Bureau of European Affairs which I have used to illustrate my point is, in my opinion, the best administered bureau of the Department.
However, like the Inter-American and Far Eastern Bureaus, it has clung to old positions and resisted fresh approaches because its principal architects of policy and operations have not been emotionally and intellectually attuned to your criticism of old Eisenhower positions and to the new approaches which you had consistently advocated.
Although this situation is difficult and frustrating, it is not, in my opinion, difficult to correct. A few new people properly placed and vigorously supported in a relatively brief period introduce new depth, understanding, and vigor into U.S. foreign policy where it is needed most. In cooperation with the Secretary, Adlai Stevenson, and me, they could enable us to reverse the present policy-making procedure which in certain key areas now operates largely from the bottom up rather than from clearly established guidelines at the top.
When an old policy seems to be losing its relevance or when an emergency situation arises, the first discussions, I believe, should involve the Secretary, Adlai Stevenson, and myself, and the Assistant Secretary for the geographic bureau, in addition perhaps to Harlan Cleveland, Abe Chayes, and, in some cases, George McGhee and George Ball.
From such a discussion, alternative approaches are almost certain to emerge. The further development of one of them could be assigned [Page 71] to the geographic bureau, another to the Policy Planning Council, and a third perhaps to some outside group headed by Harlan Cleveland or Abe Chayes.
But this procedure should go beyond emergencies. Right now, for instance, there is urgent need for policy review in all the geographic bureaus and particularly in Europe, the Far East, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. I believe that we need to create new NSC papers for at least a dozen geographic areas.
The guidelines of these papers should be outlined in advance by the Secretary, Stevenson, myself, and others who know what you want and would be in a position to contribute directly at the early stages of the full development process.
One final point which I have recently come to believe is of primary importance: The top officials of the Department can take control of policy formation only if they have able staff assistants with a “passion for anonymity” to help them.
These assistants should be in on the earliest policy discussions. They should then keep in close touch with the various task forces on a day-to-day basis so that they can inform the Secretary of progress on policy-making along the lines which have been agreed to.
Only in this way can the Secretary and Under Secretary be well and consistently aware that their ideas and your ideas are being developed as intended and also warned of emphasis change or deadlock or imperfections in the original proposals.
In no sense should this mechanism be viewed as a substitute for the Secretariat, which is an essential operation under the very able direction of Luke Battle, but rather as a supplementary operation which should also be directed by Luke. The Secretariat, as presently organized, lacks the personnel and authority to follow through on the policy-making process.
Most emphatically, I am not suggesting a reorganization but rather a revitalization of certain key bureaus of the Department. Although these bureaus are reasonably efficient in day-to-day operation, they are in large measure still emotionally tied to old policies which run counter to the commitments of the new Administration.
Instead of undermining the morale of the Department of State, the changes which I suggest will, I believe, give the Department a spirit and confidence which in some areas is now largely lacking.
- Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, State Department, 7/21/61–7/27/61. Confidential. In a letter of July 23 to Adlai Stevenson, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Bowles set forth a long and more personal discussion of much the same subject. (Princeton University, Seeley G. Mudd Library, Stevenson Papers, Public Policy Papers, Box 341, File 4)↩