The U.S. Foreign Service doesn’t have many fans in the United States -- after all, it has the word “foreign” right in its name. Most Americans have never met a diplomat, yet many often deride diplomats as wimpy bureaucrats who may not be defending U.S. interests wholeheartedly.
In reality, America’s career diplomats are among the most fearless patriots — not because they so proclaim, but because they prove it every day just by going to work in facilities that are prime terrorist targets. I know personally more than 1,000 Foreign Service officers. I have spent more than a decade studying, observing, listening and talking to them at over 80 embassies and consulates around the world during the research of my books “America’s Other Army” and “Diplomats in the Trenches.”
The Foreign Service not only directly contributes to the security and prosperity of the American people; it serves both Republican and Democratic presidents equally well. U.S. diplomats are experts not only on foreign policy but at setting their personal views and feelings aside for the good of the country. Many Republicans will no doubt dispute this. All I can say to them is: Talk to George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, James Baker and George Shultz.
As most civil servants in the U.S. government, our diplomats were willing to give Donald Trump a chance after his election victory, even if some of them didn’t vote for him. They anticipated many challenges in their work — after all, they joined the Foreign Service because they believe America’s global leadership role and its broad and deep international engagement are much more beneficial for the United States than retreating and going it alone; their new president believes exactly the opposite. Still, they decided to soldier on and trust that the democratic institutions of the U.S. government are strong enough to withstand blatant political interference and authoritarian tendencies.
Trump’s January 27 immigration executive oder, however, has shaken the Foreign Service to its core. Our diplomats feel betrayed, heartbroken, angry and ashamed. Reports have just surfaced that hundreds of them are considering signing a dissent channel cable opposing the executive order. The draft is very well written and has nothing political or partisan in it.
By deliberately leaving the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and other implementation agencies out of the lightening-speed process of preparing his order, and by dismissing some of our most senior career diplomats from top State Department positions without notice and before replacements have been selected, Trump has demonstrated disrespect for our democratic institutions that, while not always as effective and efficient as they should be, have served the country very well overall.
He has also shown disdain for diplomacy and has set out to destroy the very system he will need to implement his foreign policy. In a telling move soon after Trump’s inauguration, his team posted a page on foreign policy on the White House website. After its emphasis on military power, it added: “Finally, in pursuing a foreign policy based on American interests, we will embrace diplomacy.”
Diplomacy should always come first. The military should be used only when all diplomatic options have been exhausted. This is not only the right thing to do — diplomacy saves lives and treasure.
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