President Donald Trump’s appointments and initial dependence on Steve Bannon for advice on appointments and running the government’s foreign affairs are a recipe for disaster ahead.
As a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service — including four years in Iran and India, and three posts in Africa, plus two years as director of the State Department’s worldwide Crisis Center — I, as many of my former colleagues do, feel it is our duty to speak out: Trump is not just creating bureaucratic problems, but real dangers by his own lack of attention to what he’s doing.
The appointment of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state gives the U.S. a leader who has had minimal contact with foreign affairs and no diplomatic experience, except his tangential connection through his Exxon dealings with Russia.
That, in itself, might not be disqualifying, if his deputy were to be a senior foreign service officer. But the administration has told the top 20 senior Foreign Service officers to resign.
They have done so, and hence, as from Feb. 2, the department is being run by junior deputies who have neither the experience nor clout to manage the country’s affairs.
To top this off, Trump, pushed by Bannon, issued instructions that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of the CIA (both career professionals) were not to be members of he National Security Council, and put Bannon on the council.
The Trump-Bannon combination clearly believes it can run foreign affairs without having these folks on the NSC.
By freezing these people out and crippling the State Department’s organizational structure, we are ripe for disaster. The recent immigration ban is just such a case.
Solid professional advice could have prevented this disaster, which led the German magazine Der Spiegel to feature on its recent cover a picture of Trump holding a knife in one hand and a severed head of the Statue of Liberty in the other.
None of Washington’s top national security officials knew of the ban. U.S. Sen. Angus King called it “the worst foreign policy decision since the U.S. invaded Iraq.” The president of the European Council, on another occasion, questioned whether Trump would maintain the U.S. commitment to European security — a key component of the current peaceful world order.
Unless Trump gets his foreign policy/national security base organized quickly, we will be in deep trouble.
Iran, Syria, Russia and China are waiting in the wings. Moreover, absent a focused, smart national security organization, any small country can create trouble for us and we will truly become a stumbling giant.
As cartoon character Snuffy Smith used to say, “Time’s a’wastin.”
John D. Stempel is senior professor emeritus of international relations at the University of Kentucky Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.