Posted by Curt on 27 January, 2017 at 10:47 am. 30 comments already!


Luke Thompson:

Josh Rogin, a foreign-policy and national-security correspondent for the Washington Post, briefly set the political Internet abuzz when he fretted, Chicken Little–style, that the senior leadership of the State Department had resigned en masse. Rex Tillerson’s confirmation as secretary of state had, he suggested, caused an exodus of diligent, talented, indispensable civil servants.

Professional #Resistance members dutifully took up Rogin’s hue and cry, gnashing teeth and rending garments because the bureaucratic eschaton had become immanent. Conservative commentators pointed out that the departing civil servants had not exactly distinguished themselves for competency or impartiality during their long careers. Matt Lee, the Associated Press’s diligent and pathologically underappreciated diplomatic writer, sighed that the whole thing was a non-story. The AP, after all, had written up the whole thing a full day before Rogin decided to immolate his hair.

The truth is a bit more complicated than first meets the eye. In general, Lee is right: This is not a real story. Whether they were forced out, as reported, or not, is immaterial. Wholesale turnover at the top of the State Department is perfectly normal, and actually began in November, immediately after it became clear that Hillary Clinton would not be the next president.

The new administration has not filled the personnel gaps at Foggy Bottom with celerity. Indeed, in addition to the just-departed leadership, the following 15 offices appear to have their leadership posts occupied by placeholders in an “acting” capacity:

Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy

Office of the Legal Adviser

Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

Bureau of Counterterrorism

Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs

Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs

Bureau of Political Military Affairs

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs

Bureau of International Organization Affairs

Bureau of International Information Programs

Bureau of Public Affairs

Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance

Bureau of Legislative Affairs

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

That’s a lot of empty chairs, and they need to get filled sooner rather than later. However, a slow transition does not mean that indispensable leaders are drifting away. This is a normal function of the transition from one administration to the next. When the sheriff rides off into the sunset, the deputies keep the peace.

Nonetheless, the departing personnel are not, in one important way, just run-of-the-mill civil servants. Under Hillary Clinton, and then John Kerry, the State Department became an intractably politicized department from top to bottom. The people who decamped en masse yesterday were instrumental in helping that process happen. Indeed, their collective decision to resign bespeaks their earlier role in helping turn the State Department into an ideological hothouse rather than a diplomatic engine in pursuit of American interests.

Patrick Kennedy, the most conspicuous member of the pack, has made himself an institution at State, and more to the bad. For the last decade, Kennedy has been under secretary for management, or “M” in the parlance of the diplomatic corps. His office oversees the vital functions of the department, including administration of the department, diplomatic security, personnel, budgeting, staffing, information resources, management policy, and a host of other matters.

Thus it is Patrick Kennedy who was ultimately responsible for the signal failures of the State Department over the last eight years.

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