Our diplomatic service has served presidents of both parties loyally and effectively, and continues to stand ready to provide experience, expertise, energy and insights to help the Trump administration succeed.
IN his hourlong speech to Congress on Feb. 28, President Donald Trump slowly and emphatically pronounced the words “radical Islamic terrorism.” Use of this term, according to the president’s own national-security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, complicates our relationship with Muslim allies, including those on the battlefield in Iraq, who view ISIS and terrorism as “un-Islamic.”
President Trump’s tacit rebuke of McMaster raises larger concerns about the president’s regard for the expertise of foreign-affairs professionals and indeed for a thoughtful policymaking process. While we recognize that these are early days for President Trump, we also know that this is a critical time — when key appointments are made and habits and patterns of policymaking are established. Crucially, it is a time when the new administration is being sized up by our friends and foes from around the world.
America’s position of leadership in the world rests on a perception that our government is not only powerful and a force for good, but competent. And competence requires a process for making foreign policy that involves the participation of multiple stakeholders. It also requires experience and expertise to inform policymaking and a corps of professionals to implement policies in an efficient manner.
Unfortunately, we have seen little evidence that President Trump is putting in place a process to ensure that the United States maintains its leadership position. A case in point is the first executive order to temporarily bar citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. Without commenting on the merits of the executive order, it is obvious that essential and time-honored procedures for developing such a far-reaching and novel policy were not followed.
Policymaking in the area of immigration requires a deliberative process involving at a minimum the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State, and, when the stated purpose of a policy is “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States,” also the Department of Justice, Department of Defense and our intelligence agencies. Yet it appears that the executive order was drafted by an inner circle of White House political operatives without meaningful input from any of these departments or agencies. The president’s revised measure is scarcely less haphazard or less immune to legal challenge than was the original.
We would suggest that briefings by experts, coordination between departments, and periods of review and comment are necessary elements of policymaking and good governance. When an orderly process is not followed, as in the travel restrictions, avoidable mistakes are made — mistakes that are costly both for the people directly affected and in terms of U.S. prestige and status in the world. To lead we must be seen as competent.
Diplomacy and international development assistance, and not only the military, are critical tools for projecting U.S. influence and power worldwide. It is therefore imperative to maintain adequate funding levels for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development; funding cuts now being contemplated would be counterproductive and would jeopardize America’s security and prosperity.
As we write, there is no deputy secretary of state and only one of the six under secretaries of state is in place. To have a coherent and effective foreign policy, senior positions, including assistant secretaries and ambassadors, should be filled as soon as possible. Appointees should be selected on the basis of their qualifications, not their political connections.
Equally important is staffing below the senior level. A hiring freeze followed by downsizing through attrition is a crude tool that distorts the personnel system and will harm the foreign affairs apparatus for years to come. Rarely does a freeze of this sort result in permanent savings, but rather a necessary surge in hiring later on.
Lastly, we want to stress that our diplomatic service has served presidents of both parties loyally and effectively, and continues to stand ready to provide experience, expertise, energy and insights to help the Trump administration succeed. After all, we Americans share the same goal — a more peaceful, just and prosperous world for the benefit of our citizens and people everywhere.