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Peter van Buren

What Will Rex Tillerson Inherit at the State Department?

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As Secretary of State, what will Rex Tillerson inherit at the State Department?

The media has been aflame recently trying to stretch the facts — personnel changes and some unhappy employees in the midst of a major governmental transition — to fit the narrative of a State Department on the verge of collapse. But while rumors of the State Department’s demise are largely exaggerated, the organization may yet find itself shunted aside into irrelevance.

There has been a lot of hot-blooded talk about Donald Trump and the federal workforce. The media once claimed Trump would not be able to fill his political appointee positions, and then suggested employees might resign en masse before he even was inaugerated. Another round of stories fanned panic that Trump had dumped his existing ambassadors, when in fact it was only the Obama-appointed ones who tendered resignations by tradition, as happens every four years.

Then only last week the Washington Post published a bombastic story claiming the State Department’s entire senior management team had resigned in protest. The real story, however, was that all/most of the six were de facto fired. Several were connected to the Clinton emails or Clinton’s handling of Benghazi. One of these people, Pat Kennedy, played a significant role in both. These were not protest resignations, they were housecleaning by the new boss in town.

As for plunging the State Department into chaos, the loss of six employees is not going to bring on Armageddon. Reports that these people represent “senior management” at State confuse terms. Because of the odd way State is organized, four of the six work in the Management Bureau, M in State talk. Kennedy was the head of the Bureau. The four play varying roles and collectively are not the senior management of the State Department. Two work in other parts of the Department directly tied to Obama-era policies likely to change under the new administration.
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Those ‘Resignations’: What Really Happened at the State Department

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Yesterday at the State Department five officials resigned or retired. Another one today.

The media has gone near-insane, claiming State is crumbling in protest under the Trump administration. This is not true. What happened at State is very routine.

Leaving the Department are head of the Management Bureau Pat Kennedy, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond, Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions, arms control official Tom Countryman, and Victoria Nuland.

Here’s the story:

— No one at the State Dept resigned in protest.

— No one was formally fired.

— Six people were transferred from or retired from political appointee positions. Technically those who did not retire can be considered to have “resigned,” but that is a routine HR/personnel term used, not some political statement. The six are career Foreign Service career personnel (FSOs) They previously left their FSO job to be appointed into political jobs and now have resigned those (or retired out of the State Department) to return to career FSO jobs. A circle. They are required to submit a letter of resignation as a matter of routine when a new president takes office.
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We’re Still Here, 1/20/17, Consumed Most of All by Our Fears

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One of my favorite quotes includes the lines “I awoke this morning to find that it was not judgment day – only morning. Morning: excellent and fair.” I think that sums up a part of my thinking, but certainly not all.

A nuclear reckoning, war with China, or anything else quite so violently apocalyptic is imminent, or even underway, as far too many of us think. I live in one of those bubbles, the sum of which make up America now. Many of the people I talk to, in person and here online, seem to believe, truly believe, the world is coming to something of an end. These are by and large educated, once-rational people, some of whom have been voices of reason in the past. They are not that way now.

We are however falling, some important threads of our nation being teased apart, and our best days are behind us. But this did not start on November 8, 2016, or January 20, 2017, thoough historians will note those dates as significant milestones (same as September 11, 2001.) But not because of Donald Trump. Because his name just happened to be attached to what has been growing inside us since the end of WWII.
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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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Credibility Tips for Journalists

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The working journalists of America messed the bed with their election coverage this year.

For the most part, the media as a whole fetishized the Clinton candidacy (first woman ever! most experienced candidate ever! dynasty!) and treated Trump as an oaf when they weren’t calling him Hitler and parading any person who wished to accuse him of something before the cameras. That pattern continues now, though the accusations have changed from sexual harassment to near-treason on behalf of Putin.

Alongside this circus were scum stories on all facets of the campaign attributed to… no one. “Sources close to the campaign said,” or “Officials who could not be identified” and so forth. It almost gave the impression reporters were just making stuff up. Alongside that were many media outlets that simply reprinted others’ stories, so that a piece of journalistic garbage flew around the Internet without anyone asking any questions or verifying the contents.

It was sad. The result was the media at large has little credibility left with the public. When people have a hard time figuring out whether or not you’re reporting fake news, you have a problem.
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Freedom’s Just Another Word

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Here’s what’s left of democracy in America.

We had an election, and the candidate favored by Washington, media, and many business elites did not win. Here’s what happened next.

— CIA unambiguously but without documentation or evidence presented says, via anonymous leaks, that Russia interceded in the election to help elect Donald Trump.

— Democratic Congresspeople, alongside several media outlets, have called for investigations into whether or not Trump colluded with the Russians to influence the election. That would be an impeachable offense, a criminal offense, treason.

— The underlying message is that the Russians believe Trump as president will so favor them (for some reason) that they risk war, or a cyber version of war, to see him in power. Trump’s legitimacy is now undermined, and his every action toward the Soviet Union Russia will be tainted.

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Requiem for the Obama Administration, Trump Edition

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The problems many are now predicting under the Trump administration did not start on November 8. The near-unrestrained executive power claimed by the Obama administration will be transferred to the president-elect. Here’s what that means.

Torture

Obama did not prosecute, fire, or discipline anyone for torturing people on behalf of the people of the United States. He did not hold any truth commissions, and ensured almost all of the government documents on the torture program remain classified. He did not prosecute the CIA official who willfully destroyed video tapes of the torture scenes. He has not specifically disavowed secret prisons and renditions,just suspended their use.

As with the continued hunting down of Nazis some 70 years after their evil acts, the message that individual responsibility exists must stalk those who would do evil on behalf of a government. “I was only following orders” is not a defense against inhuman acts. The purpose of tracking down the guilty is less to punish and more to discourage the next person from doing evil; the purpose is to morally immunize a nation-state.
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Help Wanted, Apply Now!

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You may have seen the stories last week — President-elect Donald Trump was shocked to learn he needs to hire over 4,000 political appointees by January 20, or that people in Washington may refuse to work in a Trump administration, or that Trump, as a newcomer to politics, may not know enough people to get down to the business of hiring. I doubt any of those statements are true, and the task is easier than you think.

Trump was well aware if he won he would need to do some hiring, and if he was not keeping lists of potential candidates, you can be sure others around him were. Far from some kind of chore, political organizations stretching back to Tammany Hall if not ancient Rome live for this task — handing out jobs is one of the prizes the election winner takes home. And as a businessperson, Trump himself is no stranger to the concept of hiring. The standing bureaucracy Washington oversees these transitions every four to eight years, as do the national party offices. Trump, though he is new to government, is not beginning from a cold start.

But when it gets down to the actual work of filling positions, exactly how will Trump do it? I worked in a non-politically appointed position for the State Department for 24 years worth of transitions. Trump will fill positions pretty much the same way as every other modern president before him has.
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Those Damn Emails

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In the end, the emails mattered. How much they mattered — how many votes went to Trump, how many would be-Clinton supporters stayed home, how many voted third party — we’ll never know.

Clinton supporters were surprised the emails mattered at all, because they had been fed a regular and often fully-factually wrong diet by the majority of the media. There was some good reporting on what the emails meant, and how classification works, but it was almost all on right-of-center websites Clinton people did not read, and blithely dismissed as biased when the sites were brought to their attention. And yeah, sometimes things got a bit too partisan in tone, but the facts were also there.

After holding a security clearance for some 23 years, I tried, for some 18 months, to write as intelligently as I could about the damn emails. I tried to explain, in detail, what the whole thing meant, and that it was a significant problem for Clinton. Not bragging, just telling. If you’d like to read back through what I’ve had to say and judge yourself, here it is.
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