Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Trump's war on the foreign service - Always Trumpers and the cost of consular cronyism

Max Boot, in the Washington Post, asks Will the GOP’s born-again Trumpers ever pay the price for selling out?.

I … am soul-weary and incredulous that so many Republicans who are “in many ways good people” could become imitators and enablers of the most dishonest and corrupt president in U.S. history. I’m not talking about crazy conspiracy-mongers like Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) or Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Given their intellect and character, you can’t expect anything better from them. I’m not even thinking of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who is smarter but just as unprincipled. What I find crushing is how many normal, mainstream Republicans who know better have sold out to President Trump.

Here’s a quick rundown.

The paradigmatic case is, of course, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R.-S.C.), who once upon a time accurately denounced Trump as a “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.” Now “Lickspittle Lindsey” will not even look at the copious evidence against Trump because he claims the impeachment process is “a bunch of B.S.” Another notorious example is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who warned that Trump would turn out to be an authoritarian leader. Now he will not even protect State Department employees from character assassination by Trump’s henchmen. I met both Graham and Pompeo in the pre-Trump era (which now seems as distant as the Paleozoic era) and I am still shellshocked by their transformation. It’s as if their brains have been scooped out and replaced with Trumpian mush.

I must be an awful judge of character because there’s a whole lot else I didn’t see coming. I didn’t anticipate Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a scion of the Republican establishment, referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) by the same racist slur that Trump uses. Obviously Trumpism is contagious. Cheney doesn’t seem to care that Trump is unwinding the internationalist foreign policy that she and her father always championed — at least not enough to stop making excuses for him. She somehow manages to blame his betrayal of the Kurds on … the Democrats for daring to impeach him!

Nor did I anticipate the transformation of Woody Johnson, the New York Jets owner who first supported Jeb Bush in the Republican primary. Last year, as Trump’s ambassador to Britain, Johnson fired the well-respected deputy chief of mission for daring to mention President Barack Obama in a speech, Julia Ioffe reports in GQ. Yet another example of how Trump’s courtiers come to resemble their master.

Let’s stop there and use the last example as a segue into Ioffe’s scarier than scary report on what Trump and his minions have done to our foreign service.

Writing in GQ, Julia Ioffe describes how Trump Is Waging War on America’s Diplomats. And the impeachment inquiry is only making things worse. With new figures and fresh horror stories, Julia Ioffe reports on how the president is politicizing our embassies, alienating our allies, and decimating the ranks of the foreign service.

Last year, just before Halloween, Lewis Lukens, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in London, visited a pair of English universities where he spoke about the importance of international cooperation, beseeching students not to “swipe left” on the historic “special relationship” between the U.K. and America. The speeches were—according to a copy of the remarks that Lukens provided to GQ—fairly anodyne, reprising all the things Americans and Brits had learned from each other, all the ways we’ve helped each other over the years, disagreements notwithstanding. At the time, things between the two countries had been strained—in part because President Trump had attacked British leaders, including Prime Minister Theresa May and London Mayor Sadiq Khan—but Lukens, the second-most-senior American diplomat to the United Kingdom, had a request for the students who had gathered to see him: “Don’t write off the special relationship.”

A week later, Lukens says, his boss, the U.S. ambassador Woody Johnson, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune and a Trump political appointee, told him that he was done, firing Lukens from his post seven months ahead of when he was scheduled to leave for a new assignment. After nearly 30 years as a foreign service officer, his State Department career was over. The reason? Lukens says he had unwittingly committed a fatal error in his speech: He had mentioned former president Barack Obama.

There’s lots here to talk about. Some of it you probably already know. For example, the horror show put on by Rex Tillerson when he took over as SoS and started hollowing out the State Department with budget cuts and hiring freezes. Then there’s Mike Pompeo who is snarled up in the Ukraine scandal, so much so that he would not defend the well respected Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Louise “Masha” Yovanovitch, who was recalled by Trump to make way for the Giuliani “talk to Rudy” show.

I’m going to focus on how Trump’s war on our own foreign service officers is decreasing our diplomatic clout in the world. First, here are some alarming trends.

Previously unpublished data from the AFSA [American Foreign Service Association] shows that the foreign service is losing people at an alarming clip. In the first two years of Trump’s presidency, nearly half of the State Department’s Career Ministers retired or were pushed out. Another 20 percent of its Minister Counselors, one rank level down, also left.

… recruitment has already fallen off dramatically. Ten years ago, in 2009, about 21,000 people took the test to join the American foreign service. Today, according to AFSA’s analysis of internal State Department data, that number is just over 9,000—less than half. …

… All of this has created alarming gaps all over the world. Trump was slow to fill diplomatic appointments, and with time a clear preference has emerged for “acting” secretaries and ambassadors who are accountable not to the Senate but to him.

Meanwhile, China continues staffing up across the world, including in Africa, where the U.S. has an especially high number of unfilled jobs. According to Australia’s Lowy Institute, which issues an annual Diplomacy Index, China just surpassed the United States in diplomatic muscle. The United States, which for decades after World War II had the highest number of embassies and consulates, has been outpaced by a rising adversary.

Previously I had blogged about the ascendancy of Chinese influence in Africa as the U. S. proved to African officials to be an unreliable economic partner. China with a vision is Africa’s all weather friend.

Back to Ioffe …

American diplomatic strength, foreign service veterans say, is further undercut by the high number of political appointees Trump has named to ambassadorships. While many political appointees are quick studies and do a good job of representing American interests abroad—career FSOs point to Kay Bailey Hutchison, Trump’s ambassador to NATO, as an example of excellence—many others are woefully unprepared for the job. Unlike career foreign service officers who are often experts in the country in which they are stationed, political nominees are usually top campaign donors and lack the knowledge of either the country to which they’re posted or the diplomatic protocols on which host countries insist. One foreign service officer described a politically appointed ambassador inquiring about the difference between the NSA and CIA.

… these political appointees, who are often diplomatic novices, are usually facing off against highly trained, disciplined, professional diplomats from countries like Russia and China, which don’t have any politically appointed ambassadors. “China has only professional, not political appointees, and our ambassadors are not always taken seriously,” says one current foreign service official. “We are very often outmatched and outgunned and frequently outmaneuvered these days.”

More and more, American diplomats abroad find themselves cleaning up the fallout from the president’s tweets or off-the-cuff remarks. When Trump said he didn’t want any immigrants from “shithole countries,” several ambassadors in Africa were called in by their host countries’ foreign ministries and asked for an official explanation.

As Trump acts in his own political and financial interests, those of the nation are in decline. To paraphrase Max Boot’s opener, it is indeed soul wearying to witness the population of our government with incompetent individuals who are selected for their loyalty to an American despot.

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