American Greatness managing editor, Ben Boychuk, joined editor and publisher, Chris Buskirk, on the Seth and Chris Show to discuss their recent piece at AG, “How the State Department is Undermining Trump’s Agenda.” You can listen to the audio below or read the transcript that follows.
Chris Buskirk: I am Chris Buskirk. He is Seth Leibsohn and this is the Seth and Chris Show. I, as promised … I know this is what everybody’s been waiting for. I am joined by my friend, my colleague, the managing editor of American Greatness, the one, the only, Ben Boychuk. How are you, Ben?
Ben Boychuk: I am actually fantastically well. How about you?
Chris Buskirk: Hey, I’m good. Are you one of those dolts over at American Greatness, or is that a separate group?
Ben Boychuk: I am one of the dolts.
Chris Buskirk: I think you’re speaking … Either I are one or I be one.
Ben Boychuk: Yeah, I might-
Chris Buskirk: I is one?
Ben Boychuk: Yeah. I can’t talk so good, being a dolt and all. Yeah. Thank you, John.
Chris Buskirk: Tell us more I have not discussed this yet I just saw this.
Ben Boychuk: Yeah, our friend John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary and film critic extraordinaire called us out as dolts on Twitter just now. Which just goes to show Twitter …
Chris Buskirk: For what?
Ben Boychuk: I’m sorry?
Chris Buskirk: Tell the story.
Ben Boychuk: Well, everybody who is listening to this show by now of course should know to visit regularly www.amgreatness.com American Greatness.
Chris Buskirk: Well they better know by now or I’m not doing my job, but what do we say? Repetition is the art of pedagogy. I guess that’s a pedagogy.
Ben Boychuk: By now they should have the URL tattooed on their brains if not on their arms.
So we had a kind of a fun piece last week that sort of took shots at Podhoretz as a film critic it was called “Pod Person: Invading a Theater Near You.” It was kind of a … To tell you the truth, it was only written for one person and one reason, and that was to goad Podhoretz into a response. Like the one we got.
Chris Buskirk: It’s almost too easy isn’t it?
Ben Boychuk: Yeah, it wasn’t exactly the most high-minded piece we’ve ever published. But I had fun with it. We have friends and we have adversaries in this great land of ours where we get to have arguments about important things like the Greatness Agenda. From time to time we get to have a little fun too. So we’re dolts now, so it’s great, I love it.
Chris Buskirk: We’ve been dolts for a long time. We’re not just dolts now. I had to laugh at this, I liked the piece. For people who want to see it go to American Greatness and find it, it’s called “Pod Person: Invading a Theater Near You.” It’s a fun piece, he obviously did not see the fun in it.
Ben Boychuk: Well, no. Essentially the esoteric message of it is that he’s …
Chris Buskirk: Not that fun?
Ben Boychuk: Not that fun or very good. So!
Chris Buskirk: But that is not why you’re here today. Talked about it a little bit but only a little bit just to tease you coming on the show Ben. We’ve got this piece running that you and I worked on together called “How the State Department is Undermining Trump’s Agenda.” This is something that we were working on last week, published it on Saturday, to quite a bit of attention over the weekend and then today. I’ve gotten a lot of emails from people mostly commending it. Why don’t you tell the story, what it is we’re reporting on here, and then we can dig a little deeper into it.
Ben Boychuk: Let’s set the stage a little bit for folks, because why is American Greatness interested in what’s happening at the State Department. Well part of our editorial mission, just to give people some idea, is there are three areas–parts of what we’ve been calling the Greatness Agenda. One of them has to do with strong borders, border security, immigration, and citizenship. Number two is fairness and trade, sort of rethinking the free trade orthodoxy that has dominated the Republican side of things and really the Republicans and Democrats tend to be globalists and sort of interested in free trade that really isn’t free trade. It’s kind of rigged in favor of large corporations and foreign companies at the expense of the United States and the American middle-class. The third component, and this is where this story comes in, the third component is an American First foreign policy. So President Trump ran on that agenda and he made a point throughout the campaign of talking about having a foreign policy that is first and foremost acting in the interests of the United States. Well. So he won, he gets inaugurated . . .
Chris Buskirk: Ben, can I interject, can I interject one thing here?
Ben Boychuk: Yeah.
Chris Buskirk: Just cause you were talking about this free trade orthodoxy, and even though I know what you’re … This is a sidebar, but I think it’s one worth repeating, it’s something I learned over the weekend when I was speaking for our friends at the Ashbrook Center. Because even when we say … I almost feel weird criticizing free trade, right, because we believe in free trade, meaning free people exchanging goods and services without government interference yeah we believe in that. But the objection is that we have all these agreements with other countries that are free trade agreements, but they’re not really free.
Here’s a real life example that I thought was worth a thousand words. I was told about this over the weekend by the people at the Ashbrook Center. The largest gluten manufacturer in the world is located in this country. I did not know this, but okay. Or I guess I should call them the formerly largest gluten manufacturer in the world. Because in our free trade agreement with the EU, the United States agreed that this manufacturer would not be allowed to export any gluten to the EU as a trade-off so that our sugar farmers could export sugar to the EU. That’s free trade.
Ben Boychuk: Yeah.
Chris Buskirk: So these guys they ultimately went out of business.
Ben Boychuk: Ugh.
Chris Buskirk: Right? This is the type of stuff that gets rammed into these agreements that then get trotted out as free trade agreements and then when we criticize them it’s like “Oh, you’re not for free trade.” Well no, not if that’s what you’re talking about, which it is, no I’m not for that.
Ben Boychuk: Right. No that’s right.
Chris Buskirk: Anyway I thought that was an object lesson that I thought was worth sharing, I actually wanted to dig into that more. But anyway your point about our story, How the State Department is Undermining Trump’s Agenda, is similar in the sense that Donald Trump ran on a specific agenda, an America First foreign policy, and yet?
Ben Boychuk: And yet—
Chris Buskirk: Drum roll please.
Ben Boychuk: Right, and so his choice for Secretary of State was Rex Tillerson who is the former CEO of Exxon-Mobil. His experience in foreign policy was negotiating deals, for example, with the Russians and other countries for oil exploration for Exxon-Mobil. And so the idea was that Tillerson was supposed to bring a kind of international business management experience to the job, and he was going to have a kind of outsider’s point of view. Well what often happens and what seems to have happened with Tillerson is that outsiders can be very quickly co-opted by the establishment and the bureaucracy. So Tillerson has been on the job since February, he has as his chief of staff a woman by the name of Margaret Peterlin. They’ve not been able to fill hundreds of jobs. This has been a big problem for U.S. diplomacy because there are lots of pro-Trump people, America First people, who could fill those jobs and because of certain lack of experience and a certain … As we reported at America Greatness, a certain kind of agenda, an anti-Trump agenda …
Chris Buskirk: Ben we gotta pause there, we’re gonna go to a break, let’s pick up on this on the other side of this break. I’m Chris Buskirk and I’m talking with Ben Boychuk, we’ll be right back with more of the Seth and Chris Show.
I am Chris Buskirk, he is Seth Leibsohn, this is the Seth and Chris Show. Ben Boychuk is my guest, he is the managing editor of American Greatness, and he and I worked on this story “How the State Department is Undermining Trump’s Agenda.” Ben I’ll let you pick up where you left off.
Ben Boychuk: Alright, so here’s the situation. We’ve got a massively important department, one of the first departments to ever be set up in the United States. It’s the State Department. This is the department that handles ALL of the United States’ global diplomacy, right? We have a Secretary of State who came from corporate America, his name is Rex Tillerson, and we have hundreds of empty desks. In vital positions, we’ve got a whole bunch of ambassadorships that are empty, we’ve got senior positions that haven’t been filled they need to go through Senate confirmation, and there’s this incredible bottleneck that’s right at the Secretary’s office. Apparently as we reported at American Greatness over the weekend, it has to do with a couple of people, but mainly his chief of staff Margaret Peterlin.
So what has happened as we reported is that Tillerson’s chief of staff is sitting on, literally sitting on stacks of resumes. People who supported the president during the campaign, people who worked for him, campaigned for him, volunteered for him. National Security experts, people who have pedigrees going back to the Reagan administration. People who know what they’re talking about. And their appointments are not moving, people are maybe getting interviews and never hearing back, stuff is not happening. And again these are vital positions, these aren’t mere bureaucratic desk jockeys. We’re talking about for example ambassadors to France, Germany, Australia, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. We’re talking about high positions in the department, vitally important to the interests of the United States and it’s moving at a snail’s pace.
Chris Buskirk: We’re nine months in.
Ben Boychuk: That’s right! Now this has been a problem sort of administration wide, but this is vitally important with the Department of State. What seems to be happening is where essentially Trump loyalists, people who are down with America First, the idea that the president campaigned on the idea that the United States should act in its own interests first and foremost.
Chris Buskirk: Oh we can’t have that, that’s not our values Ben.
Ben Boychuk: These people are being boxed out and instead the State Department is hiring folks like David Feith who is a former editorial writer at the Wall Street Journal who is openly and brazenly anti-Trump during the campaign. Even the spokesman for the department, R.C. Hammond was an outspoken NeverTrumper before the election.
By the way on David Feith, one of the problems that is also sort of occurring is these names, they have to be vetted by the White House personnel office. Feith was rejected by the White House. White House didn’t want Feith to be hired by the State Department but they hired him anyway. Same with R.C. Hammond who’s the State Department spokesman. Outspokenly NeverTrump before the election, sort of backed off after Trump got the nomination but he would frequently, Twitter being the coin of the realm now, he would frequently tweet sort of jibes and barbs at Trump when he was a candidate. You get these clearly anti-Trump folks in there who look down their noses at this kind of old idea of what foreign policy should be, kind of a realist idea of what foreign policy should be, and they’re sort of taking on the Neo Conservative line which is the United States should spread democracy around the world whether other nations like it or not. That we should assert our interests and butt-in in places where we don’t belong.
This is a conflict that ultimately threatens a key part of the agenda on which Donald Trump ran and won. Ultimately there’s been rumors for months and months and months that Tillerson is in conflict with Trump and the White House and that his days there may be numbered. Which we don’t know one way or the other about that. But our point in this story at American Greatness is that regardless of who is riding that desk in the Secretary’s office at Foggy Bottom whether it’s Tillerson, or one of the names that’s been floated is Mike Pompeo who’s director of the CIA right now, or whoever it happens to be. When you have a State Department full of people who are opposed to the agenda of the president that’s ultimately going to be the downfall of the agenda. Because the adage is true “personnel is policy” and so you’ve got to have people in there who support the president who support the agenda that the man ran on and won with. If you don’t, the foreign policy side is going to fail.
Chris Buskirk: The reporting here is that Peterlin, this is Rex Tillerson’s chief of staff, that Peterlin is going out of her way in order not to allow the White House’s chosen people into the positions they were selected for in the State Department. Basically is sandbagging them and then after months go by and the White House calls and complains and say “you know why isn’t anybody in jobs X, Y, and Z?” They say “you know we don’t have anybody, but you know I’ve got David Feith, we’ve got these NeverTrump people” and so the back and forth it goes and she winds up getting her friends in who oppose the president. There’s something that just isn’t right there.
Ben Boychuk: No, it’s not right. What I think you’ll be seeing from American Greatness in the coming days and weeks … We’re doing a lot more reporting on this, we’ll be fleshing out the details of this as time goes on. Of course as you know Chris what happens when stories like this appear is people see them and they say “Yeah, and let me tell you what happened to me!”
Chris Buskirk: Right, that’s right. And that’s what I was saying, we’ve gotten a lot of inbound commentary emails and whatnot from people, and it’s exactly what’s happening. People come out of the woodwork and say “You know what I was there, and I’ve heard this I’ve seen this happening.” This is original reporting people saying I was in the State Department or I was interviewed by the State Department, I was sent over by the White House. All these different scenarios and saying yeah what you’re reporting is exactly right, let me tell you how.
Ben Boychuk: Apparently this is even affecting interns. Interns, these are not even high level positions. These are usually young folks, often if they happen to have on their resume they volunteered on the campaign it goes straight into the rubbish bin.
Chris Buskirk: It’s just amazing isn’t it? This is something that needs exposure, it’s one of these things that the White House, they need to get a handle on. I think that what’s gonna happen is that Tillerson is going to go. I don’t think it’s this week, or next week, my understanding is it is probably after tax reform gets done. But just because he’s gone doesn’t mean the problem goes away.
Ben Boychuk: That’s right.
Chris Buskirk: So the people around him who are causing the problem need to go and by the way we need to have light shined on this so that whoever comes in afterwards gets better people in there. Gets better people in these senior positions. Ben thanks so much for the time, thanks for the reporting, appreciate it. As these stories come out you going to come back?
Ben Boychuk: Absolutely.
Chris Buskirk: Very good . . . what’s that?
Ben Boychuk: Drain the swamp!
Chris Buskirk: Drain the swamp. Ben Boychuk, managing editor of American Greatness, you can find his writing at www.amgreatness.com we’ll be right back.