As House Democrats invited Ivy League shrews to publicly grind their Trump-hating axe during Wednesday’s disastrous impeachment charade, President Trump returned home after confronting our allies again about their lagging financial support of NATO. The stale pact turns 70 this year and like too many Boomers these days, NATO is out of fresh ideas and still listening to worn tracks of “Back in the U.S.S.R.” while the rest of the world is listening to Drake.
Also, like so many Boomers, NATO members have made financial promises they won’t keep, stacking up IOUs for someone else to pay and hoping no one notices. But Trump, a Boomer himself, is having none of it.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struggled to explain his country’s failure to fulfill the alliance’s agreement to earmark two percent of gross domestic product for defense spending—according to a NATO report, Canada only spent 1.2 percent of its GDP on defense in 2018: The United States spent nearly triple that amount. (While dismal, Canada’s expenditure last year is an improvement over 2014 when it only spent 1 percent.)
So Trump used a press conference to challenge Trudeau. “We’ll put Canada on a payment plan, I’m sure the prime minister would love that,” Trump jabbed when asked by a reporter about Canada’s reneging on their NATO pledge.
After Trump pressed for a percentage—Trudeau had to refer to an aide for the exact number—the Canadians claimed they were at 1.4 percent. “They’ll get there. They know it’s important,” the president added.
New Defense Priorities, Old Interests
Since 2016, delinquent NATO allies have coughed up an additional $130 billion in new defense spending. Trump also is redirecting NATO’s focus away from Russia and insisting the alliance address more serious threats such as cybersecurity, Syria, terrorism, and China.
But it’s not supposed to happen this way. Any progress with America’s allies—or enemies—only can be achieved, we are cautioned, through proper channels of carefully constructed diplomatic finesse.
Very important people with very important advanced degrees from very important universities must be involved at every step. Coaxing American allies to stop welching on their debt requires many white papers and think tank conferences and pricey parties at well-appointed embassies.
Before the president speaks with another head of state, polite talking points must be drafted and edited and redrafted and approved by dozens of people with lengthy titles who occupy offices situated along the Potomac River decorated with many impressive diplomas and commendations.
So it’s understandable why people who have been groomed their entire lives to one day serve as the deputy director assistant undersecretary of East Samoan Affairs are a little huffy at the Trump Administration. During her opening statement before the House Intelligence Committee, ousted Ukrainian ambassador Marie Yovanovitch warned Congress about a “crisis” at the State Department. No, the crisis isn’t about rising tensions in Iran or the ongoing instability in the Middle East or desperate Venezuelans fleeing to neighboring countries.
The crisis, Yovanovitch emotionally explained, is empty corner office suites and silent cell phones and bruised egos. “Leadership vacancies go unfilled and senior and mid-level officers ponder an uncertain future. The State Department is being hollowed from within in a competitive and complex time on the world stage. This is not a time to undercut our diplomats.” Morale, she warned, is low.
Trump’s “War” on Diplomats
But Yovanovitch only told a portion of the harrowing situation besieging Foggy Bottom. There are more “horror stories,” according to GQ reporter Julia Ioffe. No, not horror stories about child trafficking or forced starvation or mass slaughter around the world. Ioffe tells the terrifying account of how one American diplomat in the U.K. got his walking papers from Trump’s appointed ambassador to that country. Trump, Ioffe fumed, is waging war on America’s diplomats!
Lewis Lukens, the deputy chief of mission (yes, his actual title) in London, got the boot after he offered effusive praise of Barack Obama in two speeches last year. In addition to raving about the previous president, Lukens gave Trump a few shots, asking Brits not to give up on the “special relationship” between the two countries.
Lukens was referring to Trump’s criticism of both former British Prime Minister Theresa May and London Mayor Sadiq Khan. In fact, Lukens tweeted his support for Khan a few hours after Trump ridiculed the London mayor for his response to a deadly terror attack in June 2017. Lukens also asked the Trump White House to stop criticizing May. It’s interesting how the diplomatic graces of these self-important envoys don’t ever apply to their American boss.
So Lukens, who worked for Hillary Clinton and helped set up her illicit email system when she was head of Obama’s State Department, got the ax about two years later than he should have. But rather than presenting Lukens’ ouster as a cautionary tale of how a disloyal political hack finally got his comeuppance, Ioffe instead claims his sob story is a “grim illustration of how the administration—through three years of attempted budget cuts, hiring freezes, and grotesquely personal attacks—has eviscerated the country’s diplomatic corps.”
Ambassadorships remain unfilled as are one-third of foreign service positions overseas, according to Ioffe. Recruitment in the foreign service is way down.
“Many of Trump’s political ambassadors have an unfounded belief that government bureaucrats are overwhelmingly Democrats and liberals and working against Trump’s agenda, and that’s just not the case,” Lukens, the Obama appointee, said—presumably with a straight face.
But it’s not just Obama/Clinton loyalists who are living a nightmare. Nicholas Burns, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO under George W. Bush and a frequent Trump critic, cringed at the president’s performance in London this week.
“When interacting with allied leaders, Trump’s predecessors have generally followed a golden rule: Disagreements with friends are okay—but only behind the scenes, not in public,” Burns sniffed. “Trump, in contrast, seems to relish going after the Europeans in full view of the rest of the world.” Burns was aghast at Trump’s “testy” exchange with French President Emmanuel Macron. (In an April op-ed for the Washington Post, Burns called Trump “NATO’s most urgent and difficult problem.”)
Wrong Then, Wrong Now
But the real crisis for former State Department bureaucrats and their colleagues who have been recycled back to the Ivy League campuses whence they came is not that Trump poses an existential threat to national security; it’s that he poses a legitimate threat to their professional sinecures. If indeed the State Department is being “hollowed out,” no one outside the Beltway or the Kennedy School of Government has noticed.
Trump, almost single-handedly, is addressing the international fiascos left behind by Barack Obama including North Korea, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and China to name a few. He’s pushing our allies to get on board while pulling out of poorly-enforced and outdated international pacts that handicap Americans.
Meanwhile, the global chaos that the diplomatic class predicted under a Trump presidency hasn’t come to pass: “Donald J. Trump is entirely unqualified to serve as President and Commander-in-Chief. He is ignorant of the complex nature of the challenges facing our country, from Russia to China to ISIS to nuclear proliferation to refugees to drugs, but he has expressed no interest in being educated. We fear the damage that such ineptitude could cause in our closest relationships as well as the succor it might offer our enemies.”
That passage was part of a letter signed in September 2016 by 75 “former career ambassadors and senior state department officials,” as they humbly described themselves.
They were wrong then, and they’re wrong now. And there’s no strategic plan or multilateral talks that can save them from their transparent career angst. As Harry Truman observed in his memoirs about the challenges he encountered in recognizing Israel, “the foreign service officer has no authority to make policy. They act only as servants of the government, and therefore they must remain in line with the government policy that is established by those who have been chosen by the people to set that policy.”
Folks like Lukens and Yovanovitch and Burns might not like that reality. But it is they, not Trump, who are the problem.