Everyone agrees. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has come on the scene at Foggy Bottom like a rock star, enthusiastically greeted by hundreds of staffers on her first day at work.
Aside from the personal popularity of HRC, at least part of the excitement over the new SecState is about the end of the politicization of the civil service and closing the books on the absurd politics of stupid, blind loyalty that became the norm during the Bush years.
One small example of this detrimental trend in the State Department was the kerfuffle at the Office of the Historian that broke out last fall.
First, a little background, as I understand that the State Department’s Office of the Historian is a little corner of the US federal government probably unknown to most regular folk. The main duty of the Office is the production of the on-going series Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), a publicly-available compendium of important memoranda, cables, reports and speeches that documents major and minor developments in US foreign policy. These collections are a mainstay of the field of diplomatic history, the starting point for most research on American foreign affairs.
So when two members of the Historical Advisory Committee (charged with independent evaluation of the Office's work) quit last year over concerns of mismanagement, intimidation and incompetence on the part of Historian Marc Susser, even I (someone who works at the very margins of diplomatic history) took note. Especially when the sordid details of the hubbub were described:
Some of the gripes sound like generic faculty-room politics: the Historian, the historians groused, played favorites, doling out perks to those who were deferential. As one staff member put it, “It’s like junior high. I was going to say high school, but it’s more juvenile than that.” In a memo to committee members, Craig Daigle, a historian who worked in the office, claimed Susser warned him that if he “committed any mistake, had any problems with security issues, or created any dissension within the office, he would ‘cut my fucking heart out.’ ”
The allegations shocked the chairman of the advisory committee, Wm. Roger Louis, of the University of Texas at Austin. “Even by Texas standards, it was a level of vulgarity and crudeness that we found hard to believe,” Louis said. Most troubling to Louis was Susser’s apparent intolerance of any dissent. “We began to discover that it is the equivalent of a petty dictatorship in the Historian’s Office,” he said.
What became clear over the course of a number of meetings and published statements was that Historian Susser (right) was pushing out all staff who disagreed with him, losing 20% of his employees in 2008 alone. And because of this politicization, FRUS was at risk of losing its reputation as an impartial record while at the same time falling alarming behind schedule. Former SecState Rice called for an inquiry into the matter before her departure, but the current fate of the Office remains unclear; the new website makes no indication as to its staff.
Surely the State Department has many blunders to undo that are far more important than righting the little old Office of the Historian. But, as a historian, I can't help but hope that somewhere on that to-do list that HRC's advisors have drawn up, there's a little bulletpoint with the following note: "Deal with that dude who threatened to cut the heart out of a colleague who disagreed with him."