The Destruction of the State Department Continues

One of the hallmarks of the Trump administration so far is the wholesale destruction of entire federal agencies. The EPA has been the most obvious, where Scott Pruitt is dismantling it completely, but the State Department is being taken apart as well.

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In particular, they have hired virtually no one after cleaning house and forcing the resignation of the most senior-ranking diplomats in the department. And there was a big clash over who should be hired. Tillerson wanted conventional Republican foreign policy people but Trump refused to hire anyone who had criticized him during the campaign; Steve Bannon, on the other hand, wanted a bunch of unqualified bombthrowers like Sebastian Gorka, the kind Tillerson refused to hire.

In a few short months, Tillerson had rid the State Department of much of its last several decades of diplomatic experience, though it was not really clear to what end. The new secretary of state, it soon became evident, had an easier time firing people than hiring them — a consequence of the election that delivered him to Foggy Bottom.

During the campaign, the “Never Trump” movement gathered many of its most devoted adherents from Republican foreign-policy circles, with scores of G.O.P. national-security professionals signing open letters declaring their opposition to the eventual Republican nominee. Although internecine foreign-policy squabbles were hardly unusual, they typically ended when the primaries did, with the losers rallying around the victor. But in 2016, representatives of all the various factions of the Republican foreign-policy world — realists and neoconservatives, hawks and isolationists — were united in their opposition to Trump, not only on ideological grounds but because they viewed him as personally unfit for office. And, given the personal nature of the criticism, Trump and those around him didn’t forgive it.

That was actually a good thing in one case. Tillerson’s choice to be his chief deputy was Elliot Abrams, a name you may remember from the Iran/Contra scandal. He is a staggeringly arrogant neo-con who never saw a country he didn’t want to invade. But it also meant they couldn’t hire virtually anyone with any diplomatic experience. And then there were the type of people Bannon wanted:

In the early days of the administration, according to State Department officials, White House officials, especially Bannon, sent over many names for State Department posts. But Tillerson, after looking at their résumés and in some cases conducting interviews, felt he had no choice but to reject them. “They didn’t meet the qualifications for the actual jobs,” another senior administration official says…

In the past few months, the pace of nominations for the State Department has picked up. But even so, few of the nominees have qualifications that match those of their predecessors. For instance, Tillerson’s nominee for under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs — a post that was held by the former White House senior adviser Karen Hughes during George W. Bush’s administration and the former Time editor Richard Stengel during Obama’s — is a New York City marketing executive named Irwin Steven Goldstein who once worked at the same company as Peterlin’s husband…

With so many crucial assistant-secretary positions — including some responsible for Asia, the Middle East, and South America — still either vacant or filled with acting officials, Hook has had to pick up the slack. “He’s trying to do the job of 30 people,” a 25-year veteran Foreign Service officer says. “He’s just knee-walking.” Worse, the office of policy planning, which has traditionally functioned as the secretary of state’s in-house think tank, is now tasked with handling day-to-day operations at the expense of formulating long-term strategy. “The problem is there’s no conceptual motor at all,” says Cohen, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies who served as counselor of the department under Rice. “It’s the random thoughts of Donald J. Trump and a very weak State Department and a secretary of state who hasn’t thought deeply about these things.”

And therein lies the problem. We have a department that requires specialized knowledge and a set of skills that isn’t part of the toolbox for just any random person off the street, but those jobs are now being done by amateurs with zero experience diplomacy and international relations. This has been standard operation procedure for Trump, putting people in charge of agencies whose entire raison d’etre they are opposed to, firing everyone under them and not replacing them. This is a perfect blueprint for destroying those agencies entirely.

Pruitt is doing it at the EPA. Perry is doing it at the Department of Energy. Carson is doing it at Housing and Urban Development. I don’t know whether to chalk it up to incompetence, malice or both. I suspect both is the right answer.

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