The U.S. Foreign Service is an incomparable instrument honed by lifetimes of dedicated service. Like every elite service, it does not avoid a certain clannishness. The views of those who did not rise through its ranks are not always taken seriously enough, perhaps on the theory that they could not have passed the Foreign Service exam. Secretaries of state have been frustrated by its complex internal clearances, and presidents have complained in their memoirs about how slowly it reacts.
In its daily business, the State Department is in effect a big cable machine responding to thousands of reports from posts all over the world. In the vast majority of cases, these deal with the immediate; there is no institutional filter on behalf of the long-range. Processed through the various assistant secretaries for formal action, only a small percentage of these cables ever reach the secretary, and even fewer make it to the White House. Geopolitical and strategic considerations have no organic constituency. Though a Policy Planning Council exists, its activities are often shunted off into non-operational, semi-academic sideshows or, most frequently, into speechwriting.
Henry A. Kissinger WaPo, Friday, December 5, 2008; Page A25 The writer was national security adviser to President Richard M. Nixon and secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Gerald R. Ford