Deconstructing Diplomacy: Career Diplomats Mourn 'End Of America'
March 2, 2017

If you wondered what Trump's first order of business would be in the event of an international conflict, wonder no more. He'd go straight for military options, mostly because he is in the process of gutting the wheels of diplomacy.

Julia Ioffe's article about what it's like to be at State right now is horrifying. I'm particularly horrified, because I am related to a retired (now deceased) career diplomat who spent his entire career working for peace, not war in the world.

With the State Department demonstratively shut out of meetings with foreign leaders, key State posts left unfilled, and the White House not soliciting many department staffers for their policy advice, there is little left to do. “If I left before 10 p.m., that was a good day,” said the State staffer of the old days, which used to start at 6:30 in the morning. “Now, I come in at 9, 9:15, and leave by 5:30.” The seeming hostility from the White House, the decades of American foreign-policy tradition being turned on its head, and the days of listlessness are taking a toll on people who are used to channeling their ambition and idealism into the detail-oriented, highly regimented busywork that greases the infinite wheels of a massive bureaucracy. Without it, anxiety has spiked. People aren’t sleeping well.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, really. Sure, they're used to having more to do. Sure, they're used to being part of policymaking. But this is more than just meetings -- it's actually doing the work of building relationships abroad that enhance our national security. Apparently President Bannon doesn't see this as a necessity any longer.

One career staffer mourned its passing.

“I used to love my job,” she said. “Now, it feels like coming to the hospital to take care of a terminally ill family member. You come in every day, you bring flowers, you brush their hair, paint their nails, even though you know there’s no point. But you do it out of love.”

Remember, diplomats are quite familiar with how third-rate banana republic governments are run. Consider that when you think about what this career diplomat said:

“They really want to blow this place up,” said the mid-level State Department officer. “I don’t think this administration thinks the State Department needs to exist. They think Jared [Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law] can do everything. It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.”

And that's just in Washington, D.C.. Public cables available from Wikileaks are useful for understanding how embassies and missions interact on a daily basis on matters trivial and large. From issues on trade to lost Americans in foreign countries, State Department personnel are mission-critical. But they're being cut out of the loop, too.

“Meetings are happening,” said one American diplomat stationed abroad, “but it is noticeable that we’re not having press briefings, which makes it hard for ambassadors waiting to take cues. We’re able to echo what Mattis, Tillerson, Pence say. But we’re still not there in aggressively promoting president’s agenda.” Other American diplomats, especially those in geopolitically sensitive posts, find themselves going on old, Obama-era guidance because no new guidance has been issued. But “the diplomacy goes on,” said another American diplomat abroad. “People notice every little change in our position,” the diplomat said. “And we don’t always know where the administration is or is going to be, so you operate on old guidance until Washington takes a new position. We’re largely taking our cues from the president, vice president, and Secretary Tillerson’s remarks and from reading the Spicer briefings,” referring to the daily briefings of White House press secretary Sean Spicer. “We are watching the news and seeing how quickly we can get our fingers on the [Spicer] transcripts,” the diplomat said.

Jeebus! These agencies exist for a reason, and there is no damned excuse for not looping them in, leaving them hanging out there in the middle of Africa, Iraq, Indonesia or Afghanistan holding on for a nationally televised briefing transcript!

Lest you think this is incompetence, rest assured, it's not. This is a feature, not a bug of the current administration. They really do believe they can run everything with just a handful of folks in charge, even the Department of State.

That is because they don't really want a Department of State. They do, however, want a robust Department of War, and a huge military to use for authoritarian purposes. To Trump, our military is just cannon fodder to toss out whenever he feels like it. If some soldiers die, no problem, it's either their fault or the generals'. Never his.

The saddest, and likely most accurate quote of all comes at the end of the article. “This is probably what it felt like to be a British foreign service officer after World War II, when you realize, no, the sun actually does set on your empire,” a mid-level officer told Ioffe. “America is over. And being part of that, when it’s happening for no reason, is traumatic.”

I'm afraid the trauma is just beginning. Even if we survive this for four years somehow, it will take decades to undo the damage. Decades. I didn't actually think things could get worse than they were under George W. Bush. I was wrong.

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