State Department

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.”

(more…)

Advertisements

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.

____________________

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.

The Futility of Disbelief (One Hundred Days and Nights of Donald)

#wellduh | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump): "No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!" [via Twitter, 21 April 2017]

Perhaps Pramuk and Schoen come across as, well, disbelieving and perhaps a bit tacit:

Donald Trump just called using his first 100 days in office to judge him a “ridiculous standard,” but he repeatedly boasted about what he would achieve in that exact time frame before he took office.

And, no, that isn’t so much, but that’s also just the lede. The remaining five paragraphs seem to presume something everybody ought to be in on, some vital tacitry. And this is President Donald Trump, so, yes, yes there is indeed some vital tacitry afoot.

(more…)

Rather Quite Obvious (Priorities)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Mexico City on 22 February 2017. The visit is the second foreign trip of Tillerson’s tenure at the State Department. (Carlos Jasso/Reuters)

The lede from Reuters:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip an April 5-6 meeting of NATO foreign ministers for a U.S. visit by the Chinese president and will travel to Russia later in the month, U.S. officials said on Monday, a step allies may see as putting Moscow’s concerns ahead of theirs.

And a bit of the detail:

State Department spokesman Mark Toner had no immediate comment on whether Tillerson would skip the NATO meeting or visit Russia. Two U.S. officials said Tillerson planned to visit Moscow on April 12.

“It feeds this narrative that somehow the Trump administration is playing footsy with Russia,” said one former U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“You don’t want to do your early business with the world’s great autocrats. You want to start with the great democracies, and NATO is the security instrument of the transatlantic group of great democracies,” he added.

(more…)

Waning Tacitry

#AmericanPrestige | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President-elect Donald Trump delivers his first official news conference since winning the November election, 11 January 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Via msnbc:

Ordinarily, a half-way competent president would manage to avoid quite so many international incidents, but Trump has managed to create these problems after just two months—in many cases, for reasons that are only obvious to him.

Remember, as we discussed a month ago, Republicans spent years investing enormous energy into the idea that President Obama hurt the United States’ international standing. The opposite was true, but GOP officials nevertheless argued, with unnerving vigor, that America had forfeited the admiration of the world.

During the Republican presidential primaries, for example, Jeb Bush insisted that during the Obama era, “We have lost the trust and confidence of our friends.” Around the same time, Scott Walker and Donald Trump had a chat about “how poorly” the United States is now “perceived throughout the world.” Mitt Romney added, “It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office.”

The point is pretty much the same, whoever makes it: For all Republicans complained about American prestige during the Obama presidency, it seems, like so many of their other complaints, precisely strange that they should have backed President Donald Trump. Then again, perhaps we should consider what that really means.

(more…)

The Donald Trump Show (Swedish Go Fish)

#fakenews | #WhatTheyVotedFor

This is the beginning of the 2020 presidential contest:

President Donald Trump smiles as he prepares to speak at his "Make America Great Again Rally" at Orlando-Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, Saturday, 18 February 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)During a rally in Florida on Saturday, Trump said “look what’s happening last night in Sweden” as he alluded to past terror attacks in Europe. It wasn’t clear what he was referring to and there were no high-profile situations reported in Sweden on Friday night ....

.... Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Catarina Axelsson said that the government wasn’t aware of any “terror-linked major incidents.” Sweden’s Security Police said it had no reason to change the terror threat level.

“Nothing has occurred which would cause us to raise that level,” agency spokesman Karl Melin said.

Axelsson told The Associated Press that the Swedish Embassy in Washington contacted the State Department on Sunday to request clarification of Trump’s remarks and was waiting for an answer.

Former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted, “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.”

Huuhtanen

(more…)

Your National Security Council (Flynntastic | Great)

#downhill | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Retired Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump's incoming National Security Adviser, listens during the presidential inaugural Chairman's Global Dinner, Tuesday, 17 January 2017, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo)

There is a moment in the New York Times’ account of “Turmoil at the National Security Council” in which the Trump administration pitches apparent incompetence as an asset:

In a telephone conversation on Sunday afternoon, K. T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser, said that early meetings of the council were brisker, tighter and more decisive than in the past, but she acknowledged that career officials were on edge. “Not only is this a new administration, but it is a different party, and Donald Trump was elected by people who wanted the status quo thrown out,” said Ms. McFarland, a veteran of the Reagan administration who most recently worked for Fox News. “I think it would be a mistake if we didn’t have consternation about the changes―most of the cabinet haven’t even been in government before.”

It remains uncertain just how that should make anyone feel any better, but at least we know why McFarland is there.

(more…)

A Note on Temperament and Character

#trumpswindle | #GOP

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the Central Intelligence Agency, 21 January 2016, in Langley, Virginia. (Photo: Olivier Doulier/Pool/Getty Images)

This is a bit worrisome:

I am not surprised by President Donald Trump’s antics this week. Not by the big splashy pronouncements such as announcing a wall that he would force Mexico to pay for, even as the Mexican foreign minister held talks with American officials in Washington. Not by the quiet, but no less dangerous bureaucratic orders, such as kicking the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff out of meetings of the Principals’ Committee, the senior foreign-policy decision-making group below the president, while inserting his chief ideologist, Steve Bannon, into them. Many conservative foreign-policy and national-security experts saw the dangers last spring and summer, which is why we signed letters denouncing not Trump’s policies but his temperament; not his program but his character.

We were right. And friends who urged us to tone it down, to make our peace with him, to stop saying as loudly as we could ‘this is abnormal,’ to accommodate him, to show loyalty to the Republican Party, to think that he and his advisers could be tamed, were wrong. In an epic week beginning with a dark and divisive inaugural speech, extraordinary attacks on a free press, a visit to the CIA that dishonored a monument to anonymous heroes who paid the ultimate price, and now an attempt to ban selected groups of Muslims (including interpreters who served with our forces in Iraq and those with green cards, though not those from countries with Trump hotels, or from really indispensable states like Saudi Arabia), he has lived down to expectations.

Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity—substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have.

Eliot A. Cohen is a former Bush administration lawyer under Condoleezza Rice at the State Department. By no means should we disregard his analysis, but it is from the outset nearly stereotypical in its partisan and personal interest: Good for him, you know, because he is not surprised. And, hey, pat him and his friends on the back, because they were right: The problem is not President Trump’s policies, but his temperament, as his policies demonstrate. It is not his program, but his character, as his program makes clear.

(more…)

What Newt Said (Rude Boy Mitty-Mitt Mix)

Detail of frame from Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor, episode 6, "An Aroma Sweet, a Heart Bitter...".

This is what it is, which in turn is the lede from Mark Hensch of The Hill:

Newt Gingrich says former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) is a better choice to be President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of State than 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

There is and will be a lot to keep our eyes and ears toward; basic details sometimes get overlooked. This is the condition of the policy discourse in the inchoate and ascending Trump administration.

____________________

Hensch, Mark. “Gingrich: Giuliani ‘better’ than Romney for State”. The Hill. 21 November 2016.