Flashy international summits and armed conflicts make the headlines, but most foreign policy is conducted at the staff level and flies way under the public’s radar. Traditionally, it has been far less partisan than domestic politics, and career experts with deep knowledge of the issues and regions they manage have performed the lion’s share of work in this area under presidents of both parties.
When Donald Trump won the Electoral College, it was widely assumed that there would be changes to America’s more high-profile, public-facing foreign relations, but the anonymous experts who handle the routine tasks of navigating a super-power on the world stage would continue to perform their duties largely unmolested.
Was that assumption ever wrong.
Trump’s paranoia, obsessive need for loyalty and hyper-partisan approach to everything he sees has quietly ripped America’s foreign policy establishment apart. And that’s significantly diminished our influence and almost certainly contributed to a lot of chaos around the world. When you’re a super-power, not having a steady hand at the helm can result in significant impacts.
Consider a few stories from just this week.
“Kimberly Breier, the top U.S. diplomat for the Western Hemisphere, is stepping down, she confirmed Thursday, leaving a critical State Department position vacant at a time of high tension in the region,” according to NBC News. Breier had served under both Republican and Democratic presidents in the CIA and the State Department.
Chuck Park, another career State Department official, explained in The Washington Post why it took him so long to resign despite being appalled by Trump’s mismanagement.
The country’s second-highest intelligence official was humiliated last week when she showed up at the White House to brief the president* only to learn that he refused to be briefed by her. Susan Gordon was in line to become the interim Director of National Intelligence, but Trump wanted someone else in that position and according to CNN, “her boss — outgoing spy chief Dan Coats — interrupted a meeting she was holding on election security and asked his deputy to submit her letter of resignation.” Gordon had three decades of experienced and was widely respected on both sides of the aisle.
Politico reports that “many in the State Department are increasingly exasperated that they have yet to see the results of an investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s political appointees mistreated career staffers…”
Trump’s mismanagement is resulting in some serious consequences. “A scathing new Pentagon report blames Trump for the return of ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” reported Business Insider. “Trump is harsh on China, except when it comes to democracy,” wrote Nahal Toosi for Politico this week. “The president regularly thrashes China over trade policy but has been mostly silent on the growing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.”
Aliana Johnson wrote that despite Trump’s (unearned) reputation as a great deal-maker, he’s only managed to sow chaos.
Trump had a meltdown this week when French President Emmanuel Macron tried to broker talks between the regime and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. After pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, the culmination of years of delicate diplomacy and multilateral pressure on Iran, Trump seems surprised that our allies aren’t backing him in his new saber-rattling.
Meanwhile, “North Korea has resumed short-range missile tests, conducting four launches over the past two weeks, while the Trump administration’s trade war with China escalated this week from a tariff fight to a broader dispute over currency, spooking financial markets.”
It’s all going to shit, is what we’re trying to say.