Last week I told you about the Mass exodus at the State Department.
Career foreign service officers who remain at State this week expressed their opposition to President Trump’s executive order for a Muslim travel ban and a religious test for entry into the United States.
Nancy LeTourneau at the Political Animal blog reports, Foreign Service Officers Join the Dissent:
According to the folks at Lawfare, opposition to that order has now been joined by hundreds of foreign service officers and diplomats at the State Department. They’re using the State Department’s Dissent Channel, which was created in 1971 in response to concerns within the Department over the government’s handling of the Vietnam War.
Employees have drafted a dissent memo (which you can read at the Lawfare link above) stating their opposition to the president’s executive order, saying that “the ban” will not achieve its ends, is likely to be counterproductive, and it even offers a more pragmatic way forward. It ends with this:
We do not need to place a blanket ban that keeps 220 million people – men, women and children – from entering the United States to protect our homeland. We do not need to alienate entire societies to stay safe. And we do not need to sacrifice our reputation as a nation which is open and welcoming to protect our families. It is well within our reach to create a visa process which is more secure, which affects our American values, and which would make the Department proud.
According to Dissent Channel protocols, authors of a memo must not be subject to penalty or disciplinary action and the department must acknowledge receipt of this memo within two working days, distribute it to leadership in the State Department and issue a substantive response within 30-60 working days.
Given the lengths to which the Trump administration has been willing to go in order to silence dissent within the federal bureaucracy, I suspect that the authors/signers have taken a major risk in order to state their objections and that these protocols are not likely to hold. With that in mind, it is important to acknowledge what they have done and let the American people know about the courageous stand they are taking.
In fact, when asked about the dissent channel memo, “Baghdad Sean” Spicer issued a veiled threat against the foreign service officers. White House to State Department Dissenters: Quit:
The rules for using the channel included protections against “any penalty, reprisal, or recrimination.” Over the years, State’s culture of dissent, while still seen by some foreign-service officers as a career risk, has become so ingrained that the department hosts an annual Dissent Awards to honor officials who have constructively used the channel.
It’s unlikely that Donald Trump will be showing up for this year’s ceremony. Ten days into his Administration, Trump has returned the White House to a Nixonian hostility toward opposing views. The State Department, which has to implement many of the new rules relating to the President’s executive order temporarily banning all refugees and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries, has become a locus of opposition. A draft of a Dissent Channel letter circulating inside the department has reportedly attracted the interest of perhaps hundreds of foreign-service officers and other State Department employees.
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Asked about the document yesterday, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, dismissed his fellow government officials as “career bureaucrats,” and told them to resign. “I think that they should either get with the program or they can go,” he said.
That smells like a reprisal and recrimination to me. Time to lawyer up.
[T]he White House encouraging dissenting officials to leave the government has accompanied the worst mistakes, especially in foreign policy, in recent history. The efforts of Lyndon Johnson and Nixon to silence internal critics fuelled the excesses of the Vietnam War. George W. Bush’s intolerance for criticism, including dissenting views about the intelligence concerning Iraq’s weapons programs, helped lead to the spectacular failure of the Iraq War.
I asked Brady Kiesling, a State Department official who resigned in protest on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, what he thought of the standoff between Trump and the State Department. “A large percentage of those foreign-service professionals were appalled by Trump’s executive order, because it was ignorant, counterproductive, and crudely unjust to everyone caught up in the existing system,” he told me. He added a hint of encouragement about the early and widespread opposition at the State Department, saying, “I regret to say that many colleagues more qualified than I to speak on Middle East issues failed to sound the warning they should have before the 2003 Iraq War.”
P. J. Crowley, a former State Department spokesman, said that he was similarly concerned about the threats emanating from the White House. “The press secretary’s ‘Trump’s way or the highway’ response, together with the firing of the acting Attorney General and the Pentagon’s angst regarding the impact on the battle against the Islamic State, was unnecessarily combative,” he told me. “We’re only in Trump’s second week, and the walls are already going up around the White House. It’s not a healthy dynamic.”
Kiesling was more alarmed and despairing. “Where will this lead?” he asked. “Ultimately, if Trump is not reined in by Congress, we will see a collapse of the post-Second World War international order, and massive bloodshed.”
P.J. Crowley’s comment that “the walls are already going up around the White House” reminded me of the classic Doonesbury comic strip about Nixon’s “stonewall” comment during the Watergate scandal, from August 12, 1974.