#dissent | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

“Policy dissent is in our culture. We even have awards for it.”

Unnamed U.S. diplomat serving in Africa

Speaking of movements, what apparently started on home shores, a State Department dissent cable, has gathered some serious moss. Support. Serious support. To wit, the New York Times reports:

Seal of the U.S. Department of StateWithin hours, a State Department dissent cable, asserting that President Trump’s executive order to temporarily bar citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries would not make the nation safer, traveled like a chain letter―or a viral video.

The cable wended its way through dozens of American embassies around the world, quickly emerging as one of the broadest protests by American officials against their president’s policies. And it is not over yet.

By 4 p.m. on Tuesday, the letter had attracted around 1,000 signatures, State Department officials said, far more than any dissent cable in recent years. It was being delivered to management, and department officials said more diplomats wanted to add their names to it.

The State Department has 7,600 Foreign Service officers and 11,000 civil servants.

The thing about diplomats and the Foreign Service is, well, that they are diplomats and the Foreign Service; that its particular authorship and distribution agency were unclear certainly did not stop personnel from doing what they do best, which was quibble over wording and cite union rules that provide for dissent on company time. And one particular diplomat working in Africa, “who did not”, according to Jeffrey Gettleman of the Times, “want to speak publicly before the letter was released”. The situation is complicated; the mysterious provenance is likely stifling the already impressive assembly of signatures:

Most people in the State Department have never seen anything like this, the diplomat said. He said dissent memos were reserved for major policy issues, not for little grumbles like bad food in the embassy cafeteria.

That diplomat also requested anonymity, saying that Foreign Service officers were not supposed to criticize American policy publicly and that he did not want to open himself up to accusations that he had violated the rules. That could threaten his job, he said, especially in such a polarized environment.

This is exactly what the dissent channel, as it is called, was intended for.

Starting in 1971 during the Vietnam War, the channel encourages department officials to voice their criticisms internally through a process of sending a memo or a cable to the secretary of state expressing their concerns and suggesting solutions.

This is our American Foreign Service. They’re still hard at work for us; let us bear a measure of kindness in our hearts unto them in this most extraordinary time, and in these days and months and years to come.


Image note: Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP Photo.

Gettleman, Jeffrey. “State Dept. Dissent Cable on Trump’s Ban Draws 1,000 Signatures”. The New York Times. 31 January 2017.

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