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State Department and the Peter Principle

Posted by Steve Markowitz on November 14, 2013

According to Wikipedia the Peter Principle “is a proposition that states that the members of an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability”.  This principle is often as “people within an organization tend to rise to their level of incompetence”.  While many organizations are guilty of perpetuating the Peter Principle, bureaucratic governments tend to take it to heightened levels.

Wall Street Journal writer Bret Stephens published an op-ed titled “Axis of Fantasy vs. Axis of Reality” that focuses on the US State Department’s current naïve stance concerning negotiations with Iran on its nuclear weapons.  Stephens also shares a glaring example of the Peter Principle in action within the government with the following history of State Department employee Wendy Sherman.

  • Prior to entering government service/politics Sherman was a social worker.
  • In 1988 Sherman managed Mike Dukakis’s Washington office during his failed presidential run.  She also worked at the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
  • During the mid-1990s Sherman was the CEO of the Fannie Mae Foundation.  While classified as a charity, it was ultimately shut down for inappropriately using its tax-exempt status.
  • Sherman joined the State Department and was a key person in our negotiations with North Korea over its illicit nuclear weapons program.  She later held other positions at the State Department.

Okay, so Sherman was involved with Dukakis’s failed run for the presidency, she held political positions in the DNC, and was heavily involved with the US’s failed negotiations with North Korea over nuclear weapons.  While this record of failures should have relegated Sherman to at best a low level desk job, instead she has since been appointed the US’s chief negotiator with Iran over to nuclear weapons program.

Sherman has a history of failure, but has been promoted due to political patronage.  Expecting a positive outcome from her negotiations’ efforts with Iran borders is not rational.

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