After eliminating half its special envoys to world hot spots, the Bush administration has quietly designated a super-diplomat to be in charge of Northern Ireland, as well as being the chief point man on Iraq policy, one of two officials in charge of the Middle East peace process--and a speech writer.
Richard Haass, 49, the new director of policy planning at the State Department, is emerging as one of the most influential figures on President Bush's foreign policy team. In addition to his assignments over Northern Ireland, Iraq and Mideast policy, he is crafting the new administration's policy on sanctions worldwide and may eventually take on other unspecified portfolios, according to U.S. officials. He also will write speeches for the department.
The move is part of an effort by the administration to streamline U.S. diplomacy. In a little-noticed move last week, the White House issued "National Security Presidential Directive-1," which Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said will "reduce layers of bureaucracy and clarify lines of authority."
A total of 23 positions have been cut. Among the casualties are the special Middle East coordinator and special envoys to Haiti, Cyprus, the Balkans, the Americas and Africa's troubled Great Lakes region. The positions of special advisors on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, human rights in Africa, children's issues and the promotion of democracy also have been eliminated.
Six other positions--including special envoy on Iraq, newly independent states, women and international labor--are scheduled for review in six months. Among those spared are seven posts mandated by Congress.
The cuts have sparked some controversy. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday that he is particularly worried about cutting envoys for Korean peace talks and Cyprus.
"I understand Powell's desire to reduce the number of special envoys in order to clarify lines of authority and thereby help us execute our foreign policy more effectively," Biden said. "But I am concerned that in some of the more sensitive areas there may be a downgrading on the emphasis and attention necessary to pursue important U.S. interests."
State Department officials say the functions of the eliminated jobs will be incorporated into the operations of existing bureaus.
"With people working largely out of regional bureaus, you get a more integrated policy or regional policy that is worked in conjunction with other policy and not as separate endeavors," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
Powell repeatedly has pledged to make greater use of his staff, particularly the assistant secretaries of State, rather than bring in outsiders to take on special assignments. The last special envoy to Northern Ireland was former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine).
"I've got to empower you to do the people's work," Powell told a State Department gathering Jan. 22, his first day of work. "We're coming in with a few political appointees. But we're taking over a great group--and what I have to do is put you in the best possible position to be empowered to do what you know to do for the service of the nation."
Some former special envoys and State Department officials worry that Haass' appointment means too much responsibility may be concentrated in too few individuals to be fully effective.
"Haass is a very talented person, but this is a large set of responsibilities even for a very talented person," said a former senior State Department official in the Clinton administration who asked not to be named. "It remains to be seen whether streamlining will increase the authority of the State Department staff and improve American diplomacy or whether it will make it impossible to do the in-depth work on issues of major concern."
Other former officials support the strengthening of the policy planning post.
"It's a good idea," said Morton H. Halperin, who was head of policy planning during the last two years of the Clinton administration. "Many of the special envoys don't make sense. To the degree possible, key assignments should be given to top diplomats in the department. It's also perfectly appropriate for the head of policy planning to take on two or three specific projects."
But one danger, he added, is that any escalation in the Middle East conflict might make it difficult to give adequate attention to the other roles. "When the Mideast gets hot, it's a full-time job, and we need a policy planning staff that can do other things," Halperin said.
Haass also served in the administration of Bush's father and was widely viewed then as a whiz kid in charge of the Middle East and South Asia at the National Security Council. He was one of the chief strategists of U.S. policy during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the U.S. efforts that eventually drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in 1991. A former Rhodes scholar, Haass was director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington during the Clinton presidency.