The State Department is in disarray

GDPR

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“If you wanted to actually set out to break American diplomacy, this is how you’d do it,” - Reuben Brigety.

The State Department is in very, very bad shape. Since Trump's inauguration things have gone from bad to worse. There are many, many problems. One such problem is the administration's persistent failure to nominate and have confirmed political appointees for key positions. At the moment, not a single undersecretary has been confirmed (and but a single one has been nominated, but not yet confirmed), but a single assistant secretary has been confirmed whereas two others have been nominated (there are around 20 assistant secretary positions in total). Much the same goes for other senate-confirmed positions in the State Department.

Admittedly, ambassadorial posts appear to be doing somewhat better. However, here too problems persist. For example, there has been no nomination for an ambassador to South Korea. While there are now senate-confirmed ambassadors in Japan and China, this leaves a crucial ally without an ambassador. This is even more damning considering the current tensions with North Korea and the lack of a political appointee to hold the relevant assistant secretary position tasked with overseeing that region. It hobbles American diplomacy at a crucial time in a crucial region.

Currently, many of these unfilled positions are being filled by career diplomats, but as Foreign Policy (FP) reports that is no solution:

Career officials are stretched thin covering the positions as acting assistant secretaries in the interim but confide to colleagues that they don’t have the clout of political appointees — from inside the department or outside of it. The lack of senior leaders has ground the gears in decision-making and further damaged morale, career diplomats said.
This brings us to two different problems. Firstly, under Tillerson decision-making has ground to a halt. As FP reports, this is related to the lack of senior leadership.

One example officials pointed to was Tillerson’s front office sitting on memos that would unlock $79 million for the department’s Global Engagement Center to counter Islamic State messaging and narrative. Bureaucratic rules required that Tillerson simply write and sign two memos — one for $19 million from Congress and one for $60 million through the Defense Department — saying State needed the funds. But he hasn’t, leaving some career officials at a loss.

“The memos have been written and rewritten ad nauseum, sometimes with conflicting guidance from the seventh floor,” one official briefed on the program vented to FP, referring to the department floor Tillerson and his staff occupy. “And it just sits there.”

And that is just one example, officials say.

(...)

“Last I checked, there are over 150 action memos stuck in the secretary’s office,” a mid-level official told FP. Decisions that otherwise would take hours to process are “just languishing,” said the official.

“Because no one’s been empowered to make decisions, there’s no longer a back-and-forth exchange of information in a routine way,” another recently departed official said.
The second problem is that morale is at historically low levels. The reasons for this are manifold. The White House is perceived as hostile towards the State Department (and how can it not be perceived as such, given the budget it proposed?), Tillerson is regarded as detached from his department, in January senior career diplomats were sacked without successors being named, this sent a chill through the department. State department employees "say President Donald Trump and his administration dismiss, undermine, or don’t bother to understand the work they perform and that the legacy of decades of American diplomacy is at risk."

“Morale has never been lower,” said Tom Countryman, who retired in January after a diplomatic career serving under six presidents.
“There’s no one protecting the institution of the State Department,” vented one foreign service officer. “They don’t give a shit about what’s happening to us.”
This problem may, in part, explain another problem: There is an exodus of experienced career officials. Recently it was reported that Tom Buchwald was leaving State. He's been described by a former State Department official as possibly the best lawyer in the State Department right now and certainly one of the most senior. Earlier in August, the envoy responsible for overseeing US policy at the UN and other international organizations stepped down. So too did the assistant secretary of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (not nominated by Trump) and another of State's most senior officials. The top official for European affairs was driven from his job a week earlier.

“Dissatisfaction is a big factor” for a surge in early retirements, said one State Department official who has decided to take early retirement. “Certainly a big one for me.”
Tillerson himself hasn't been a good Secretary of State at all. Many of these issues can be attributed to him. Ultimately, however, the rot is at the top of the administration as well and this does not make Tillerson's job any easier. The administration is not good at a unified messaging strategy. Sometimes secretary's contradict the president, other times the president contradicts a secretary. So too has the president undermined the State Department and Tillerson in public. Take, for example, Qatar:

Tillerson then embarked on a week of frenzied shuttle diplomacy around the Gulf in July to defuse tensions. But while he tried to walk the political tightrope of fraught Gulf relations, the president slammed Qatar on Twitter, appearing to take sides with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners.

“The White House has done everything to undermine him,” another senior State Department official told FP. “The president undermines him. Qatar was seven days of work only to fall apart with a single tweet by the president.”
The undermining and lack of importance of the State Department has not been lost on foreign states either:

Yet foreign embassies have also taken notice of the leadership vacuum. More than a dozen foreign diplomats told FP that they often do not know whom they should speak to in the administration to convey messages from their governments.

Some ambassadors found their phone calls to Tillerson’s front office never returned, while diplomats have sought to bypass the tottering State Department, instead delivering messages to the White House or Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, or daughter Ivanka.

One European diplomat said his “embassy has had limited contacts with the [State Department] leadership in general since Trump took office, because Tillerson does not seem very involved and because we don't feel State is where policy is really decided.”
One can go on pointing out these glaring issues for quite some time. One can point to the apparent "Praetorian Guard" Tillerson has surrounded himself with in isolation from the department, one can point to the difficulty of recruiting, one can point to the derision Tillerson's hamfisted attempt at reorganization is creating in the Department.

One can go on and on, but in the end one cannot but come to the conclusion that (to borrow the word's of one of the sources for this post) that the Trump administration has broken the State Department. It needs to be fixed. A good start would be to show Tillerson the door.

Sources:

With Departure of Top Lawyer, State Department Exodus Continues | Foreign Policy
How the Trump Administration Broke the State Department | Foreign Policy
Top State Department Officials Step Down in “Black Friday” Exodus | Foreign Policy
https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trump-administration-appointee-tracker/database/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/07/20/why-is-rex-tillerson-running-the-state-department/?utm_term=.e90f532f9162
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/08/31/why-secretary-of-state-rex-tillerson-should-resign/?utm_term=.37bd2702fb1f
 
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Dame_Enda

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The Dem obstructionism of appointees is partly to blame, as is the Senate blocking recess appointments.
 

GDPR

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The Dem obstructionism of appointees is partly to blame, as is the Senate blocking recess appointments.
There are 141 positions in the State Department. 24 positions of those have seen a nominee confirmed. A single nomination has failed. 21 individuals have been nominated to positions requiring Senate approval (17 of which are for ambassadorial positions). This leaves 95 (!) positions that the Trump administration has failed to provide a nominee for.

The blame cannot really be attributed to the Senate or the Democrats, it must be attributed to the Trump administration. It has failed to nominate individuals for 68% of the positions at State (including the failed nomination for the ambassador to Belgium). The most important position that Trump did manage to nominate (and then eventually see confirmed) someone for has been a dismal failure: Tillerson.
 
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Bill

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Isn't the issue of no nominees being put forward a problem across a number of departments not just state?

Also 'The State department is in a state' would have been a better title
 

Dame_Enda

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There are 141 positions in the State Department. 24 positions of those have seen a nominee confirmed. A single nomination has failed. 21 individuals have been nominated to positions requiring Senate approval (17 of which are for ambassadorial positions). This leaves 95 (!) positions that the Trump administration has failed to provide a nominee for.

The blame cannot really be attributed to the Senate or the Democrats, it must be attributed to the Trump administration. It has failed to nominate individuals for 68% of the positions at State (including the failed nomination for the ambassador to Belgium). The most important position that Trump did manage to nominate (and then eventually see confirmed) someone for has been a dismal failure: Tillerson.
They didnt even confirm the nominee for Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra. :roll:
 

showbandmanager

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“If you wanted to actually set out to break American diplomacy, this is how you’d do it,” - Reuben Brigety.

The State Department is in very, very bad shape. Since Trump's inauguration things have gone from bad to worse. There are many, many problems. One such problem is the administration's persistent failure to nominate and have confirmed political appointees for key positions. At the moment, not a single undersecretary has been confirmed (and but a single one has been nominated, but not yet confirmed), but a single assistant secretary has been confirmed whereas two others have been nominated (there are around 20 assistant secretary positions in total). Much the same goes for other senate-confirmed positions in the State Department.

Admittedly, ambassadorial posts appear to be doing somewhat better. However, here too problems persist. For example, there has been no nomination for an ambassador to South Korea. While there are now senate-confirmed ambassadors in Japan and China, this leaves a crucial ally without an ambassador. This is even more damning considering the current tensions with North Korea and the lack of a political appointee to hold the relevant assistant secretary position tasked with overseeing that region. It hobbles American diplomacy at a crucial time in a crucial region.

Currently, many of these unfilled positions are being filled by career diplomats, but as Foreign Policy (FP) reports that is no solution:



This brings us to two different problems. Firstly, under Tillerson decision-making has ground to a halt. As FP reports, this is related to the lack of senior leadership.



The second problem is that morale is at historically low levels. The reasons for this are manifold. The White House is perceived as hostile towards the State Department (and how can it not be perceived as such, given the budget it proposed?), Tillerson is regarded as detached from his department, in January senior career diplomats were sacked without successors being named, this sent a chill through the department. State department employees "say President Donald Trump and his administration dismiss, undermine, or don’t bother to understand the work they perform and that the legacy of decades of American diplomacy is at risk."





This problem may, in part, explain another problem: There is an exodus of experienced career officials. Recently it was reported that Tom Buchwald was leaving State. He's been described by a former State Department official as possibly the best lawyer in the State Department right now and certainly one of the most senior. Earlier in August, the envoy responsible for overseeing US policy at the UN and other international organizations stepped down. So too did the assistant secretary of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (not nominated by Trump) and another of State's most senior officials. The top official for European affairs was driven from his job a week earlier.



Tillerson himself hasn't been a good Secretary of State at all. Many of these issues can be attributed to him. Ultimately, however, the rot is at the top of the administration as well and this does not make Tillerson's job any easier. The administration is not good at a unified messaging strategy. Sometimes secretary's contradict the president, other times the president contradicts a secretary. So too has the president undermined the State Department and Tillerson in public. Take, for example, Qatar:



The undermining and lack of importance of the State Department has not been lost on foreign states either:



One can go on pointing out these glaring issues for quite some time. One can point to the apparent "Praetorian Guard" Tillerson has surrounded himself with in isolation from the department, one can point to the difficulty of recruiting, one can point to the derision Tillerson's hamfisted attempt at reorganization is creating in the Department.

One can go on and on, but in the end one cannot but come to the conclusion that (to borrow the word's of one of the sources for this post) that the Trump administration has broken the State Department. It needs to be fixed. A good start would be to show Tillerson the door.

Sources:

With Departure of Top Lawyer, State Department Exodus Continues | Foreign Policy
How the Trump Administration Broke the State Department | Foreign Policy
Top State Department Officials Step Down in “Black Friday” Exodus | Foreign Policy
https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trump-administration-appointee-tracker/database/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/07/20/why-is-rex-tillerson-running-the-state-department/?utm_term=.e90f532f9162
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/08/31/why-secretary-of-state-rex-tillerson-should-resign/?utm_term=.37bd2702fb1f
Deconstruction of the Administrative State i believe it's called .

I love all the crying about ANTIFA on here when an anarchist like Bannon was let loose in the White House
 

showbandmanager

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The Dem obstructionism of appointees is partly to blame, as is the Senate blocking recess appointments.
Blocking of recess appointments is nothing new , it was used to stop Obama filling the vacant Supreme Court seat , so that's not an excuse .
 

Dame_Enda

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Blocking of recess appointments is nothing new , it was used to stop Obama filling the vacant Supreme Court seat , so that's not an excuse .
Yes but Clinton got to make 170 of them and Bush 80. Even Obama got to make 20.
 

gerhard dengler

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The State Department was broken during Barack Hussein Obama's presidency.
And arguably was too during the G W Bush presidency.
 

Jim Car

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There are 141 positions in the State Department. 24 positions of those have seen a nominee confirmed. A single nomination has failed. 21 individuals have been nominated to positions requiring Senate approval (17 of which are for ambassadorial positions). This leaves 95 (!) positions that the Trump administration has failed to provide a nominee for.

The blame cannot really be attributed to the Senate or the Democrats, it must be attributed to the Trump administration. It has failed to nominate individuals for 68% of the positions at State (including the failed nomination for the ambassador to Belgium). The most important position that Trump did manage to nominate (and then eventually see confirmed) someone for has been a dismal failure: Tillerson.
It needs direction from the white house which has been having its own troubles when it comes to chaos. That said with John Kelly in position and the process of filling in key white house positions, I imagine he will sooner rather then later start addressing the issue of political appointments in areas outside the white house.
 

showbandmanager

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So that's twenty in 8 years for Obama , who knows maybe Donny will get to make a few next time when he's not planning on replacing the Attorney General and shutting down the Mueller investigation
 

GDPR

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They didnt even confirm the nominee for Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra. :roll:
He was nominated on July 24 2017. On July 27 2017 he was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Senate went into recess in August as it normally does. It currently takes 54 days on average for a nominee to be confirmed under Trump. The lowest average waiting time for a nominee to be confirmed was 30 days under Clinton.

There was simply no way that Hoekstra would have been confirmed before the Senate went into recess. The Trump administration knows the political calendar. He should have made the appointment earlier if Hoekstra were to be confirmed before September at the very least.
 

GDPR

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It needs direction from the white house which has been having its own troubles when it comes to chaos. That said with John Kelly in position and the process of filling in key white house positions, I imagine he will sooner rather then later start addressing the issue of political appointments in areas outside the white house.
Perhaps, perhaps not. We do know that a conscious decision has been made on the part of the administration not to nominate individuals for certain positions. Trump admitted that himself. It'd be surprising if that decision did not affect the State Department.
 

Dame_Enda

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He was nominated on July 24 2017. On July 27 2017 he was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Senate went into recess in August as it normally does. It currently takes 54 days on average for a nominee to be confirmed under Trump. The lowest average waiting time for a nominee to be confirmed was 30 days under Clinton.

There was simply no way that Hoekstra would have been confirmed before the Senate went into recess. The Trump administration knows the political calendar. He should have made the appointment earlier if Hoekstra were to be confirmed before September at the very least.
Technically the Senate is not in recess because they have set up "pro forma sessions" (where a token number of Senators turns up every 3 days) to block recess appointments because the SC has ruled the Senate is not in recess unless its been away for more than 3 days.
 

GDPR

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Technically the Senate is not in recess because they have set up "pro forma sessions" (where a token number of Senators turns up every 3 days) to block recess appointments because the SC has ruled the Senate is not in recess unless its been away for more than 3 days.
Fair enough, I was wrong to state that the Senate was in recess. The broader point regarding the political calendar still stands though given the fact that de facto the situation is the same. The Trump administration was aware of the political calendar. The appointment should have been made earlier if Hoekstra were to be confirmed before September at the very least. That is the mistake of the Trump administration.
 

GDPR

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Daniel Larison gives a rather concise, but good, explanation of what the long-term consequences of Trump and Tillerson's damage to the State Department might very well entail:

It has been clear for a long time that Trump has no respect for diplomacy or its results, but even so the determined effort to wreck the State Department is remarkably foolish. Trump and Tillerson are not only hamstringing this administration’s foreign policy in another example of self-sabotage, but they are ensuring that future administrations will inherit a diminished, dysfunctional department. They are going to make it harder to secure U.S. interests abroad in the near term, and they are practically guaranteeing the erosion of U.S. influence everywhere. Insofar as the State Department is the chief institution responsible for American “soft” power, weakening the institution simply makes it easier for an already intervention-prone Washington to rely on “hard” power to respond to crises and conflicts. That means more unnecessary wars, at least some of which might have otherwise been avoided.
Mattis already noted once that a less-funded State Department means that the Defense Department would have to buy more ammunition. The same holds true for a dysfunctional and diminished State Department.

Why the Wrecking of the State Department Matters | The American Conservative
 


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