The State of the Department (Quack)

#AmericanPrestige | #WhatTheyVotedFor

With apologies: Altered detail from cartoon by Jen Sorensen, 17 April 2018.

“guess how many people are working on Iranian nuclear proliferation at the State Department? as of”

Anne Applebaum

We should be clear that by today, the columnist means Friday last, when she posted the tweet, which refers, in turn, to a report from Foreign Policy:

One of the State Department’s top experts on nuclear proliferation resigned this week after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, in what officials and analysts say is part of a worrying brain drain from public service generally over the past 18 months.

Richard Johnson, a career civil servant who served as acting assistant coordinator in State’s Office of Iran Nuclear Implementation, had been involved in talks with countries that sought to salvage the deal in recent weeks, including Britain, France, and Germany — an effort that ultimately failed.

Johnson’s departure leaves a growing void in the State Department’s stable of experts on Iran’s nuclear program and highlights a broader problem of high-level departures from government.

Officials say the trend is particularly evident at the State Department, where Trump sidelined career diplomats and morale plummeted under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The office Johnson led has gone from seven full-time staffers to none since Trump’s inauguration.

Today is Tuesday, and elsewhere in the commentariat Steve Benen notes, “The article didn’t explicitly say that Johnson resigned in protest, but there doesn’t appear to be much of a mystery about what happened here.”

We might also take a moment for more particular details, though, as the msnbc blogger treads uncertain ground fraught in specific ways. He bookends his consideration thus:

Since Donald Trump took office, the State Department has been marginalized and ignored in ways without modern precedent, and many prominent officials have parted ways with the diplomatic agency. Foreign Policy, however, reported the other day on an especially notable departure.

So to recap, Trump rejected an international agreement that was working, despite not fully understanding what the policy was or what it did. He replaced the deal with nothing, And in case that weren’t quite enough, the president has no plan for what comes next, and a hollowed out team responsible for working on the underlying issue.

This, according to the White House and its allies, is evidence of a great Trump accomplishment.

This is important. There is a question whether reporters and, if we are familiar with the notion, serious participants in serious discourse should ever come right out and say it, but that is the thing about the state of the Department, that we might dismiss conspiratorial notions and hew to reality, whatever that actually turns out to mean in the context of serious discussion and consideration, but tacitry eventually fails, and for quite a while it really has seemed rather quite obvious what is going on, that the Trump presidency is devastating American prestige, and we are well within the right of serious consideration to wonder if perhaps that is the point. To wit, if Mohamed Yehia reports that President Rouhani responded to Trump’s dereliction of the nuclear agreement by announcing that, “Iran will be conferring with the world’s two super powers, Russia and China”, we need not flip a coin ‘twixt grinning quietly into our coffee at the scorch, or reminding ourselves who benefits from all this and wondering quite grimly if perhaps that is the point, because we can do both, and simultaneously.

Nor does that actually change anything, but still. It is easy enough to recite stale aphorisms—(Looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck; can’t be a duck, because that would be dehumanizing)—if they might even be called that, but the principle remains, so, no, Donald Trump is not really dismantling American foreign policy institutions that he might create a power vacuum for, say, Russia to fill. We bear witness, instead, to some other manner of quackery.


Image note: With apologies — Altered detail from cartoon by Jen Sorensen, 17 April 2018.

@anneapplebaum. “guess how many people are working on Iranian nuclear proliferation at the State Department? as of”. Twitter. 11 May 2018.

@yehia. “Iranian president Rouhani: ‘Iran will be conferring with the world’s two super powers, Russia and China'”. Twitter. 8 May 2018.

Benen, Steve. “Who’s working on Iranian nuclear proliferation in the Trump administration?” msnbc. 15 May 2018.

Lynch, Colum and Robbie Gramer. “Top State Department Nuclear Expert Announces Resignation After Trump Iran Deal Exit”. Foreign Policy. 11 May 2018.

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