diplomacy

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 today....zero”

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.”

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Unhinged (Failure)

#failure | #WhatTheyVotedFor

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reacts to a speech by President Donald Trump at the United Nations in New York, 19 September 2017. (Photos via Associated Press)

“Today, our president made his first speech before the UN General Assembly; he called Kim Jong Un, ‘Rocket Man’. He threatened to, quote, ‘totally destroy’, North Korea, and he said big portions of the world are, in his words, ‘going to hell’. He also bragged about his election victory, and the stock market. The president’s chief of staff did not appear to enjoy it, and just in case you thought that was just one bad picture, here’s another one.”

Rachel Maddow

Also of note is a particular question of implications, if the Trump administration is “failing to create diplomatic capacity, or is this them destroying American diplomatic capacity, on purpose, for some other reason”. And while Andrea Mitchell responds by reaffirming the mystery of the question, neither is a reporter of her station supposed to come right out and say it: “I don’t know the reason,” she replied, “other than Rex Tillerson did come in with a mandate to cut fat, and there is fat and bloat anywhere, but this is a rounding error”. The translation, of course, being that this is not how one trims fat or cures bloat. Meanwhile, for news consumers, the point might well have something to do with unfortunate tacitry giving way to the seemingly obvious, such that the question finds explicit voice among the talking hosts and heads we consume.

This is just one of those things that would seem significant of something, somewhere, in some context that really ought to be relevant to us. The hardest question to figure in virtually any context, though, is why the Trump administration would deliberately assail American prestige. And while the #trumpswindle will as the #trumpswindle does, it should seem absurd to wonder if this is really #WhatTheyVotedFor.

Then again, it should have seemed absurd to wonder about the white nationalism, too, and look what that got us.

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Image note:White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reacts to a speech by President Donald Trump at the United Nations in New York, 19 September 2017. (Photos via Associated Press)

Maddow, Rachel. “Trump joins history’s list of unhinged speakers at UN”. The Rachel Maddow Show. msnbc. 19 September 2017.

Just Another One of Those Things No Republican Has the Courage to Answer For

#WhatTheyComplainedAbout | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President Donald Trump dances with a sword as he arrives to a welcome ceremony by Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at Al Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. (Photo: Thomson/Reuters)

“The announcement that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will donate money to her fund was a ‘pay to play’ far more blatant than anything Hillary Clinton ever dreamed of.”

Anne Applebaum

The lack of complaint from Republicans and Trump supporters about the sort of thing they usually complain about is, historically speaking, precisely unsurprising.

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Image note: U.S. President Donald Trump dances with a sword as he arrives to a welcome ceremony by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at Al Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 20 May 2017. (Photo: Thomson/Reuters)

Appelbaum, Anne. “Trump’s bizarre and un-American visit to Saudi Arabia”. The Washington Post. 21 May 2017.

#DimensionTrump (#SpiceWorld)

#SpiceWorld | #WhatTheyVotedFor

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaks to the media during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., 14 February 2017. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Two observations on Sean Spicer’s press briefing today:

• There is an interesting circle in the logic: Flynn did nothing illegal. In fact, he was doing his job. Uh-huh. Yeah. The job he didn’t have. Which, sure, makes it illegal. But it was his job, so it’s not illegal. He just lied about it, or forgot, or didn’t realize, or something like that. But it wasn’t illegal. It was his job. Which he didn’t have. No, really, I’m pretty certain that’s the pitch.

• Convincing … er … ah … somebody?anybody? … that President Trump makes his own decisions is really on the White House’s mind.

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Dissent

#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.

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A Little Light Reading

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, 12 January 2016.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci/Pool)

A’ight, that’s it.

More constructively, Josh Lederman and Kathleen Hennessey of Associated Press have filed a story that counts well among the things that make you go, Hmm....

President Barack Obama called off a planned meeting Tuesday with new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, seeking distance from a U.S. ally’s leader during a diplomatic tour that’s put Obama in close quarters with a cast of contentious world figures.

It’s unusual for one president to tell another what to say or not say, and much rarer to call the other a “son of a bitch.” Duterte managed to do both just before flying to Laos for a regional summit, warning Obama not to challenge him over extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

That would be part one, but the original URL for the story is a serial number and the phrase “obama-putin-agree-continue-seeking-deal-syria”. The first ten paragraphs go to the “bizarre rift” Rodrigo Duterte has apparently invoked ‘twixt himself and Barack Obama.

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Something About Progress (Something About Pride)

Detail of photo by Carlos Barria/AP Photo

This seems important:

A Russian ship left Iran on Monday carrying almost all of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium, fulfilling a major step in the nuclear deal struck last summer and, for the first time in nearly a decade, apparently leaving Iran with too little fuel to manufacture a nuclear weapon.

(Sanger and Kramer)

This is what the #GOP47 wanted to prevent.

You know. Just something to keep in mind.

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Image note: P5+1 negotiating partners gathered in the United Nations Office at Vienna, Austria, 14 July 2015. (Detail of photo by Carlos Barria/AP Photo)

Sanger, David E. and Andrew E. Kramer. “Iran Hands Over Stockpile of Enriched Uranium to Russia”. The New York Times. 28 December 2015.

The Rick Santorum Show (Spatters of State)

"It's like, if all the tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Every problem that the State Department has, the answer is diplomacy. Why? Because if it's not diplomacy, they don't have a job." (Rick Santorum)

“It’s like, if all the tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Every problem that the State Department has, the answer is diplomacy. Why? Because if it’s not diplomacy, they don’t have a job.”

Rick Santorum

This is, perhaps after all these years, the most insanely stupid thing former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) ever said:

Rick Santorum said Thursday that, as president, he would abolish the State Department.

Santorum made the comment in an interview with radio host Glenn Beck, who told the former senator from Pennsylvania that he was hoping to hear the party’s 2016 contenders call for everyone at the State Department to be fired.

“I have said that,” Santorum replied. “I said that when I ran four years ago — the first thing I’d do is abolish the State Department and start all over” ....

.... Pressed by Beck about the practicalities of firing the entire State Department, Santorum responded with a critique of the department’s single-minded focus on international diplomacy.

“It’s like, if all the tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” Santorum said. “Every problem that the State Department has, the answer is diplomacy. Why? Because if it’s not diplomacy, they don’t have a job.

(Ben-Meir)

Of all the sputtering spatter we’ve heard from Santorum over the years, this is not so much offensive as it is among the most idiotic things ever said by a presidential candidate.

No, really, would anyone like a shot at trying to explain how this one works?

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Image note: Source photo by Eric Gay.

Ben-Meir, Ilan. “Rick Santorum Says He Would Abolish The State Department And Start All Over”. BuzzFeed. 18 September 2015.

The Senate GOP in Crisis

Mitch McConnell

“It is a useful thing when a political party reveals itself as utterly unsuited for national leadership.”

Fred Kaplan

In a way, everyone else is taking it well. That is to say, even the Iranians are trying very hard to enjoy themselves in the moment, and why not? It is not every day the United States Senate goes out of its way to afford a foreign nation the opportunity to school it on American constitutional issues. Or, as Akbar Shahid Ahmed explains, for Huffington Post:

After sparking a furor in Washington Monday with a letter signed by fellow Republican senators warning Iran against nuclear diplomacy with the Obama administration, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) went to the extra trouble of having his message translated into Farsi for Iranian leaders. Among his targets: foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Cotton needn’t have bothered with the translation. Zarif is more than capable of reading the Republicans’ letter in English. He attended prep school in San Francisco, San Francisco State University, Columbia University, and the University of Denver’s School of International Studies (where, Zarif told The New Yorker’s Robin Wright, a professor who had taught GOP foreign policy icon Condoleezza Rice once quipped to the young Iranian, “In Denver, we produce liberals like Javad Zarif, not conservatives like Condi Rice.”)

Zarif, leading his nation’s negotiations with the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China, put that education to use in his response Monday to the Republican message, which suggested that Iran’s leaders “may not fully understand our constitutional system.”

Zarif answered that it was Cotton and the 46 other Republican senators who signed his letter who suffered from a lack of “understanding.”

“The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations,” Zarif said, according to Iran’s government-controlled Tasnim News Agency.

He suggested that the Republican warning that a successor to President Barack Obama could undo any agreement with Iran was baseless. Zarif said the “change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor.”

Yeah. See, it’s one thing to say there is a problem in that Mr. Zarif has a point. But the problem isn’t that an Iranian foreign minister has a point, rather that he needs to make it at all.

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