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Hullabaloo


Friday, November 10, 2017

 

So long, it's been #MAGA to know ya

by Tom Sullivan


U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid via Creative Commons.

Their first posting was Botswana. Field work for the State Department is not unlike the military. You go where they send you. Annette and her husband had jobs at the embassy and now had to get used to life in the Foreign Service.

Leaving their house one morning, they noticed a man hanging around the gate at the end of their drive. When they returned in the evening, he was still standing there. He smiled, opened the gate, and closed it behind the car. The next morning he was there again to open the gate. They put him on their "payroll." Soon they would have a maid, too. As middle class Americans, this was not the way they were accustomed to living, but as representatives of the United States of America in an impoverished nation, they were expected to contribute to the local economy.

I lost track of them after Costa Rica.

Cindy and Robert let me crash on their couch outside Brussels when I was touring Europe after college. A few decades later, I read Robert was doing dangerous work for the department in Afghanistan.

The picture of the president hanging on embassy walls changes every four or eight years, but the people who dedicate their lives to public service as the faces, eyes and ears of the United States don't serve because of whose photo is hanging there. They certainly don't do it for the money. They do it because it matters, and because they get to represent their country's interests around the planet and do a little good in this troubled world.

So long to all that.

In a rare statement from a top U.S. diplomat, Barbara Stephenson raised the alarm this week about the decimation in the department's ranks under the president whose picture is supposed to be hanging on office walls around the world.

Foreign Policy reports:

“Our leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed,” Barbara Stephenson, a former U.S. ambassador to Panama and current president of the American Foreign Service Association, the union for foreign service officers, wrote in a letter for the December 2017 issue of the Foreign Service Journal.

Scores of senior diplomats, including 60 percent of career ambassadors, have left the department since the beginning of the year, when President Donald Trump took office, according to the letter. There are 74 top posts at State that remain vacant with no announced nominee.

“Were the U.S. military to face such a decapitation of its leadership ranks, I would expect a public outcry,” Stephenson wrote.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin celebrated the president's choice of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State last December, only to sour on him recently, so one wonders whether or not Putin got the outcome he desired. But a weakened Unted States can't be keeping him up at night.

Stephenson goes on in her letter titled "Time to Ask Why":
Meanwhile, the self-imposed hiring freeze is taking its toll at the entry level. Intake into the Foreign Service at State will drop from 366 in 2016 to around 100 new entry-level officers joining A100 in 2018 (including 60 Pickering and Rangel Fellows).

Not surprisingly, given the blocked entry path, interest in joining the Foreign Service is plummeting. I wrote with pride in my March 2016 column that “more than 17,000 people applied to take the Foreign Service Officer Test last year,” citing interest in joining the Foreign Service as a key indicator of the health of the institution. What does it tell us, then, that we are on track to have fewer than half as many people take the Foreign Service Officer Test this year?

As the shape and extent of the staffing cuts to the Foreign Service at State become clearer, I believe we must shine a light on these disturbing trends and ask “why?” and “to what end?”
The Senate called proposed cuts a “doctrine of retreat,” she writes, and ordered funding at 2016 levels. So, she asks:
Why such a focus on slashing staffing at State? Why such a focus on decapitating leadership? How do these actions serve the stated agenda of making the State Department stronger?
“Quite frankly, this administration is categorically destroying the Department of State and devaluing diplomacy as something important in this world,” Wendy Sherman told Foreign Policy‘s Diplomat of the Year event in Washington. Sherman is former undersecretary of state for political affairs under President Barack Obama.

The State Department denies this, even as morale collapses. Tillerson has placed a hiring freeze until the end of the year, yet plans to "double or perhaps triple" the size of his personal staff, Foreign Policy reported in July. Staffers believe Tillerson is constructing a "parallel department." that shuts out veteran foreign policy hands.

If the sitting president's interview last week with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham is any indication, this new direction comes from the top:
Trump: Let me tell you, the one that matters is me. I'm the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that's what the policy is going to be. You've seen that, you've seen it strongly.
Stephenson asks, "Where then, does the impetus come from to weaken the American Foreign Service? Where is the mandate to pull the Foreign Service team from the field and forfeit the game to our adversaries?"

How many guesses do we get? If the face in the pictures were a Democrat's, how many would Alex Jones need?

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