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Peter Van Buren

Dissent and the State Department: What Comes Next?

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Some 1000 employees at the Department of State are said to have signed a formal memo sent through the “Dissent Channel” in late January, opposing President Donald Trump’s Executive Order initially blocking all Syrian refugee admissions indefinitely, delaying other refugees 120 days, prohibiting for 90 days all other travelers (diplomats excluded) from seven Muslim-majority nations, and other immigration-related issues.

What is the Dissent Channel those State employees used? What effect if any will the memo have on policy? What does the memo say to the new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the organization he now heads, and what will he do about it?

What the State Department calls the Dissent Channel is unique inside the American government. Created in 1971 during the Vietnam War, the system allows Foreign Service officers to express their disagreement with U.S. policy directly to senior leaders. The secretary of state is obliged to read and through his staff respond to all Dissent Channel messages, normally within 30-60 days. Persons using the Channel are fully protected against retaliation. Dissent messages are intended to foster internal dialogue within the State Department, and are never intended for the public.

The issues surrounding the most recent dissent memo begin where that previous sentence ends.

What was once understood to be a way to foster internal dialogue is in this case playing out more like an online petition. Multiple versions of the memo circulated within the State Department globally, with persons adding their signatures and making edits as they opened their email. Someone (no one seems to know exactly who) later allegedly melded the multiple versions into the one that was submitted, meaning some signers did not see the final text until it was leaked.
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Symbolic Failure Point: Female Afghan Pilot Wants Asylum In The US

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History loves little markers, tidy packages of symbolism that wrap up a big, complex thing.

You know, the helicopter on the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon standing in for years of failed war, the Berlin Wall being knocked down to visually note the end the Cold War, that sort of thing.

Well, the never-ending-gobsmacker of the Afghan War may have gotten its iconic moment.

Crash and Burn

Afghanistan’s first female pilot, Captain Niloofar Rahmani, above, has applied for asylum in the US, citing worsening security conditions, and harassment by male colleagues. Rahmani says her family faces serious death threats from the Taliban and her father has had to go into hiding to avoid being killed. The Afghan government even stopped paying Rahmani’s salary, despite earmarks from the US government for funding.
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You Opened the Box…

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Once you let the genie out of the bottle, you can’t stuff him back in.

Attempts to overturn the results of our election, or to delegitimize a president before he even takes office, are attempts to overturn the system of transfer of power that has served America since its earliest days. There is no measure of exaggeration here; Americans are questioning the results of the election because roughly half don’t like the guy who won.

Somehow thing are… special this year. In most elections, a good-sized group of us see our candidate lose, grumble, and move on to some degree. I don’t think Trump will be a good president, but I also do not think he will burn civil rights to the ground, destroy life on the planet, sell Alaska back to Russia, or invade China with Omarosa some drunk weekend.

In what in another era would be left for conspiracy theorists to contemplate, for the first time in our nation’s history powerful mainstream forces are trying to change the results of an election. Shocked by Trump’s victory, and fearing his presidency, they want to stop him from entering the White House. The belief seems to be that he is such a threat that it is necessary to destroy a part of democracy in America to save it.

Some efforts are silly, online petitions demanding, somehow, Clinton become president (here’s one asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the election,) or bleating that her popular vote victory matters somehow within the existing electoral process. Others call for a magic do-over, a new election.
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