Home/Daniel Larison/Why the Wrecking of the State Department Matters

Why the Wrecking of the State Department Matters

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a meeting for the Global Coalition on the Defeat of ISIS at the State Department in Washington, D.C., March 22, 2017. (DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)

Trump’s disdain and Tillerson’s mismanagement are doing lasting damage to the State Department:

While the State Department hemorrhages its own talent, it has also cut itself off from new talent by ending several distinguished fellowship programs to recruit top university graduates during its redesign.

The cumulative effect of a marginalized State Department, coupled with a freeze on hiring and budget pressures, could mean the next generation of diplomats will wither on the vine, current and former officials warn.

It has been clear for a long time that Trump has no respect for diplomacy or its results, but even so the determined effort to wreck the State Department is remarkably foolish. Trump and Tillerson are not only hamstringing this administration’s foreign policy in another example of self-sabotage, but they are ensuring that future administrations will inherit a diminished, dysfunctional department. They are going to make it harder to secure U.S. interests abroad in the near term, and they are practically guaranteeing the erosion of U.S. influence everywhere. Insofar as the State Department is the chief institution responsible for American “soft” power, weakening the institution simply makes it easier for an already intervention-prone Washington to rely on “hard” power to respond to crises and conflicts. That means more unnecessary wars, at least some of which might have otherwise been avoided.

It is not as if the U.S. has spent the last twenty-five years placing too much emphasis on diplomacy and international cooperation. On the contrary, these have already been neglected when the department was functioning reasonably well, and they will be neglected even more after Trump and Tillerson have finished with their demolition work. This is a part of our foreign policy that has already been overshadowed by increasing militarization and distorted by the demands of constant warfare, and it is the part that costs the U.S. the least while nonetheless yielding significant benefits.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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