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What Does It Mean When Pompeo Says The State Department's 'Swagger' Will Return?


OK, let's stay with this notion of bringing swagger back to the State Department. And we're going to turn now to Daniel Fried who spent four decades in the foreign service, including a stint as ambassador to Poland and serving in senior posts under presidents from Jimmy Carter all the way through the early days of the Trump administration. Welcome to the program.

DANIEL FRIED: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: So bringing swagger back - it's a catchy catchphrase that he's clearly adopting for these first few days, at least, in his job of secretary of state, but what does it mean? What do you envision it would look like for Mike Pompeo to bring the State Department swagger back?

FRIED: Swagger. I didn't know that foreign service officers swagger.

KELLY: You're still working on your swagger, it sounds like.

FRIED: Well, yeah.

KELLY: (Laughter).

FRIED: It's a work in progress. But when the foreign service has its grip on a policy and is working with the secretary of state and working for the president, and that policy is moving forward, then there's a confidence - a tightness of drafting. The foreign service leans forward and can help its political masters move ahead and press for the agreed goals. That's the closest thing I can think of as swagger, and I've seen it work.

KELLY: Before we move on, it sounds like you buy, by the way, that this is - at least in theory - a necessary mission. You believe that the State Department was demoralized and sidelined by the Trump administration.

FRIED: Well, first of all, the Trump administration sidelined the national security system altogether - this weird cultural war with the experts, which is not new to the Trump administration. It goes back to the McCarthy period and really, you know, has been around for decades. But it was worse because Tillerson did his best to add to that general disdain that the Trump administration had and piled on. But that means that Mike Pompeo can come in and work to revive morale, and that's not going to be hard. The hard part is going to be the policies.

KELLY: How much power does a secretary of state have to, say, bring swagger back to his department or to bring American diplomacy back into full bloom, as he might see it?

FRIED: There are two parts to answering that question. The first is how Pompeo leads his building. The second part is whether he can effectively lead that building in the policy process in Washington. Secretary Powell, first-term George W. Bush, was beloved in the State Department, but he played mostly a defensive game - batting back ideas he thought were wrong. So the building loved him, but it was not as effective. The second-term Bush, Condi Rice, who had the ear of the president, really accomplished a great deal. She was beloved by the State Department, and she did a lot in policy terms.

KELLY: Daniel Fried, what are the risks to swagger diplomacy?

FRIED: Well, look, people are going to say swagger means arrogance. I get that, but I'm not going to fault Mike Pompeo for trying to reverse morale which was in the - you know, right on the floor.

KELLY: But are there risks of - I mean, he comes to this post as a known hawk.

FRIED: The problem is figuring out the difference between what you want to do and what you have to do to achieve your objectives, and those are different things. The Trump administration may want to pick fights with a whole lot of people - the Europeans on trade and defense spending, the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Iranians, the Russians. But you have to decide where you're going to put your weight and where you will spend your political capital. You can't simply go after anybody you want because, on a given day, you're irritated. That's the downside of swagger diplomacy. But if swagger diplomacy is disciplined where we pick our battles - we know what we want - then it can work.

KELLY: Mr. Fried, thanks very much.

FRIED: My pleasure.

KELLY: Former Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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