Politico has an interview with former State Department Spokesman Phillip Crowley in which he explains his reasons for going on the record with remarks that he knew would infuriate the Pentagon and the White House. Basically, he believed it was his job to advance a 'strategic narrative' on U.S. policy, rather than merely to answer questions from the press.
When [Philippa Thomas, a BBC reporter on leave as a Nieman fellow at Harvard University] reported Crowley’s statement [characterizing Wikileaks suspect Bradley Manning’s treatment by the Pentagon as “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid”], some of his friends thought he’d acted on the flack’s equivalent of a Freudian death wish, spontaneously combusting in the lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His critics in government, who’d long regarded him as too aggressive, even undisciplined, to speak from the State Department podium, viewed the statement as his latest gaffe.
[TSB note: From the Dictionary of Government Jargon: Definition of gaffe (\ˈgaf\), noun, the act of blurting out the truth.]
To Crowley, it was neither. It was just the latest step in his characteristically low-key decision to go just a little bit rogue, the latest step in a career spokesman’s realization that words can have real power.
“When I paused and then agreed to have the remark on the record, I knew there was a dart that I was sending to the Pentagon,” he said in a recent interview in the deserted bar of a Washington hotel.
-- snip --
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought Crowley, 59, to the State Department in part because he was viewed as someone who was virtually certain to make none of those mistakes. Crowley had always seemed the soul of discretion, a spokesman so wedded to the daily guidance during the Clinton White House years that reporters joked that he might go on background if asked what the next day’s weather forecast looked like.
But unbeknown to his new colleagues at State - and many of his old friends across Washington - Crowley arrived at State after an evolution of sorts. The career Air Force officer, who had entered a military establishment still scarred by the Vietnam War and still deeply hostile to the press, spent his years in civilian life at the Center for American Progress, thinking about strategy. There, some colleagues were surprised to find that his politics seemed to have been shaped more, as one put it, by his native Massachusetts than the Air Force. He settled on the idea of “strategic narrative,” a concept that has made its way into national security jargon from business theory, and one he included in a report he wrote for CAP.
At the State Department podium, Crowley seemed to find his voice and to also realize that his voice could shape policy.
-- snip --
Behind the scenes at the State Department, he’d often argued for blunter, less diplomatic talk. And he’d at times angered the White House and his colleagues by straying dramatically from his official guidance, and positioning himself not just as a staid briefer but as a combatant on the global stage.
-- snip --
To the Obama Administration’s careful national security team, these and other Crowley comments were sloppy and infuriating. To Crowley, it was deliberate strategy in a job that has, as he sees it, an institutional role beyond the demands of day-to-day politics.
“I view myself as a strategic thinker and always tried to put what I was saying at the podium in a broader context and trying to always assess, will my words be credible?” he said.
Read the whole thing here.