Dangerous Diplomacy

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This is a partial transcript from Hannity & Colmes, September 29, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Is the U.S. State Department (search) working against U.S. interests?

A new book alleges that the State Department spent so much time cozying up to foreign unsavory leaders that it put our country risk.

Joining us now is the author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security, Joel Mowbray. And in Washington, Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary of defense and senior fellow at the Center for American progress.

Good to see you, Mr. Korb.

Joel, congratulations on the book. Thank you very much for being here.


COLMES: You say in the book the State Department puts America at risk, we appease regimes that sponsor terrorists. We coddle brutal dictators. We cover up holes in our safety net by doing this.

Isn't it the administration, isn't it the president that dictates this policy. Doesn't the State Department do the bidding of the president? So why blame the State Department?

MOWBRAY: You would think, Alan. You know, the State Department really is the fourth branch of government.

One of the things I found when researching for Dangerous Diplomacy was looking back at the State Departments of Jimmy Carter (search), the Ronald Reagan (search), Bush one, Clinton and now Bush two, and what you find is remarkable consistency. In some sense you want consistency in foreign policy, except when the consistency is a bad consistency.

COLMES: Do they operate without the White House approval. Do they just make relationships with these brutal dictators without the White House being in the loop?

MOWBRAY: Remember, the White House, you know, you have a small staff there compared to this massive bureaucracy in Foggy Bottom. You have, you know, 47,000 people who work for the State Department and a tiny fraction of that number of people who are working in the White House and many of those people are working on other things besides foreign policy.

Enforcement is like possession. It's 9/10 of the law. So if you're the one enforcing the law, you're the one who's pretty much setting the law. And that's what you have with the State Department, is they act pretty much independent of the White House. They get guidance. But on specific areas, they do undermine.

COLMES: Let me go to you, Mr. Korb here. I mean, if you look at Joel's book, it's you know, chapter after chapter, often indicting the State Department for its behavior, for its policies.

Is that a fair assessment? Is he right that they often operate, because of the number of personnel versus the numbers in the White House, that they do a lot of things policy-wise on their own and really help set policy?

LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: First of all, the State Department is much smaller than the Pentagon and has a smaller budget. So if you're worried about relative size the Pentagon has a much bigger size.

But the most important thing to keep in mind is, he accuses the State Department of wanting stability. Well, there's nothing wrong with wanting stability.

And the idea that sometimes we cozy up to dictators, there's no doubt about it. The president, you know, has received people Musharraf here in this country. We made deals with Uzbekistan, for example, to get our forces in there to fight in Afghanistan. In World War II, we aligned ourselves with the Soviet Union to fight Hitler. So that's nothing new.

But the worst thing about, I think, what he says in the book and in his columns, he attacks Rich Armitage, for example, for not thinking that Mr. Chalabi was right. Well, Rich Armitage was, you know, very loyal to the president. In fact, he was on Sean's radio program last Friday, and Sean was calling him a great America. But yet he's attacked for not, you know, cozying up to the Iraqi National Congress for his statements on Iran.

SEAN HANNITY CO-HOST: And thanks for listening. These hours a day is all we ask on the radio there, Lawrence. Thank you.

Joel, but there are some very chilling revelations in this book. You were the one that broke the whole, visa express program for Saudi Arabia. When you look at how our children are captured by foreign nationals and we do nothing, because we don't want to rock the boat, we don't want to upset some of these countries.


HANNITY: And then on some of the broader issues of national defense, it's scary.


HANNITY: But why don't you explain some of these?

MOWBRAY: Mr. Korb says that there's nothing wrong with wanting stability. And if the world looked like the United States he'd be right, but the world doesn't look like the United States. Not everyone has it as we have it.

When you look at the draconian despotism that you find in the Middle East (search), do you want stability there? No.

Do you want a country like Iran, which you were talking about earlier, to remain as it is with the mullahs in charge? The State Department does. Right now in Iran you have essentially a cold civil war. You don't have active conflict but if you could choose...

HANNITY: We need to have a distinction here. We can't say it's entirely Colin Powell's fault. Alan's right, because the president lays out policy.

But we do have a bunch of tenured bureaucrats that are there through every administration, and the idea of State is to get along. That's why you always have this conflict wean the State Department and the Defense Department.

MOWBRAY: They see their job as getting along with people. That's how you can have Madeleine Albright (search) breaking bread with Kim Jong-Il and even taking a spin on the dance floor with him.

But it's not Colin Powell. In fact, these problems predate him by at least several decades. So this is something; you can't put the blame on Colin Powell. And the only problem that he has is that he's not trying to reform the place. And he's not owning up to the past mistakes of the State Department.

You know, when he went Halabja, he had some wonderful remarks, talked about the tragedy that occurred there. That's where 5,000 Kurds die in one day from Saddam Hussein's gas attack. What he didn't talk about was the fact that the State Department actually forged a closer alliance with Saddam after the end of the Iran-Iraq war and after the gassing of the Kurds. And as perverse as this sounds, because of the gassing of the Kurds...we now have a closer relationship.

HANNITY: We were talking a little bit about visa express. Why don't you explain what it is, that you broke that story, what you found?

MOWBRAY: What I found was that in the country that sent us 15 of 19 September 11 terrorists, a program that had let in three of the 9/11 terrorists, known as visa express, whereby all Saudi residents went to private Saudi travel agents to turn in their visa applications.

That this program that let in three terrorists in the three months it was open before September 11 was still open 10 months after the worst terrorist attack in our history.

HANNITY: And Lawrence, this is the type of thing, I mean…I mean, on so many different levels, and I think we can add immigration and border control to this debate, too, that if we don't close up these holes, I mean, we just continue to remain vulnerable and susceptible to our enemies.

KORB: Well, there's no doubt about the people in the State Department like any other government agency, make mistakes. But if we had listened to the State Department we wouldn't be in this mess that we're in Iraq.

HANNITY: Oh, stop it. Colin Powell laid out the case.

KORB: Wait, no, wait a second. Let me finish. Let me finish. Let me finish, now, OK? You asked me a question, I'm going to answer you.

We wouldn't be in this mess. It was Jerry Bremer, a career foreign service officer who took over and got this thing on track after the Pentagon had put a general in there. So don't be blaming the State Department for all of our problems.

It was also the State Department the bureau of intelligence and research, that said to the president and put a footnote in there, don't be saying this thing about Saddam getting the uranium from Nigeria. So let's not trash the State Department there. Nobody said any agency is perfect.

COLMES: I'll ask Joel on this question, Lawrence. This idea that the State Department, you know, Madeleine Albright dancing with a dictator. Look, isn't the role of the State Department to do just what it says in the second word of your title, diplomacy. That's what the State Department does. You want them to have conversations and dialogue, yes, with our enemies. That's why it's the State Department, correct?

MOWBRAY: We want them to be realistic and know who they're dealing with and stick firm to your values. One of the things with visa express and one of the new bombshells in the book, you know what they did? One of the travel agencies they contracted with was owned by a suspected financier of terrorism.

COLMES: Right.

MOWBRAY: You have to remember that you have to only work with countries that stand for American values.

COLMES: I just want to get Lawrence's reaction to that. Is the State Department falling down on the job, as Joel suggests? Did he just have a good point, that they have to know who they're dealing with?

KORB: Well, of course they do. But no, the State Department's job is to make sure that we understand where other nations are coming from and the policy deliberations. They don't make the final decision. The president makes the final decision.

HANNITY: All right. We've got some bureaucratic problems.

Anyway, a very well researched book and it's a great read. And a lot of scary information in there.

Good to see you, Joel. Congratulations on the book, Dangerous Diplomacy, now in bookstores everywhere.

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