The U.S. State Department: Roadkill of American Politics By James Bruno

The U.S. State Department: Roadkill of American Politics By James Bruno

I spent some time this weekend catching up on obits in State Magazine, the in-house employees' publication of the U.S. State Department. I always have found the obituaries the most interesting section of this journal. In very short sound bites, they tell the stories of truly remarkable people. Take for example:

Christian Addison Chapman, 95, of the District of Columbia, died Nov. 27. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Princeton University in 1949 and joined the Free French Air Force, flying missions over France, including the Normandy landing on D-Day. He joined the Foreign Service in 1950 and was posted in Casablanca, eventually serving in posts in Beirut, Saigon and Tehran. During his career, he was detailed to the National War College, appointed NATO’s deputy secretary general for political affairs, directed the office of regional affairs for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and was DCM in Vientiane and in Paris. After retirement, he returned to the Department to serve on special missions to Bosnia and Cyprus.

Perry (Pete) Peterson, 94, died March 6. He entered the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 and became a B-26 bombardier/navigator. During World War II he earned the Silver Star, the Air Medal, the Bronze Star with multiple oak leaf clusters and two Purple Heart medals before being shot down over France in 1944 and taken prisoner by the Germans. After the war, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Omaha and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Peterson joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1950 and served in Germany, Ghana, Liberia, South Africa and India. In 1980, Peterson retired to his ranch in Oregon where he dabbled in local politics and pursued his love of family and golf. He is survived by Ann, his wife of 72 years.

Douglas K. Ramsey, 83, died Feb. 23, in Boulder City, Nev. Ramsey graduated
summa cum laude from Occidental College and was a Rhodes Scholar. Following a year of graduate work at Harvard University, he fulfilled his U.S. Air Force ROTC commitment, serving in Japan. Ramsey entered the Foreign Service in June 1956. After initial research assignments in Washington, D.C., and Honolulu, he served in Vietnam. After three years in Vietnam, in 1966, he was captured and became a Vietnam prisoner of war for seven years. After his release, Ramsey served in Taipei, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and Manila. He retired in 1988. Ramsey is predeceased by his parents and is survived by a number of cousins and numerous friends. A member of DACOR, his ashes will be interred in the DACOR section of Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

I knew Doug Ramsey. He never fully recovered from his seven-year ordeal as a captive of the Viet Cong. While he got over beri-beri, scurvy and malnutrition, he still suffered from malaria attacks later in life and never quite got his head back together.

See a consistent pattern here? Service to country. Patriotism. Selflessness and sacrifice. Curiosity. Adventure. I had written about the obits and their special people in an earlier post. I noted:

"The ranks of these retired octo- and nonagenarians are fast dwindling and their fascinating lives will soon all fade into history.  It is especially sad because they were of an idealistic generation.  Graduates of America's best universities, they forewent big-salaried private sector jobs for government careers to promote American ideals and objectives in a world war and the bitter cold war that followed."

 Photo of Arnold Raphel

Photo of Arnold Raphel

During my 23 years in the Foreign Service, 78 diplomats were killed in the line of duty, including Ambassador Arnold Raphel, who had recruited me to work on Afghanistan. I had the honor of knowing a number of the Iran hostages, some of whom had been tortured by the Ayatollah's goons. In a single day in 2000, we lost seven military service members in our POW/MIA accounting office in a helicopter crash in Vietnam. Our Baghdad embassy personnel risked their lives getting all American citizens evacuated from Iraq following Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. I could go on and on with tales of heroism and courage on the part of dedicated public servants who stay out of the lime light, as can any former or active duty colleagues.

So, why then is the Department of State too often the target of political purges, budget slashes and dismissiveness and contempt?

There was Senator Joseph McCarthy and his bogus charges in the 1950s of communists in the Department's ranks, resulting in Soviet-style purges of some of the nation's most talented diplomats. Senator Jesse Helms inherited some of this animus. Viewing State as a nest of effete liberals, he did his best to undercut it on resources and policy. Nixon completely sidelined  State, concentrating policy in Kissinger's NSC. Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama used their nation's foreign ministry as a dumping ground for political hacks and cronies. And President Trump's barely concealed contempt for State can be seen in his attempt to cripple the department with deep budget cuts and refusal to fill senior domestic jobs and ambassadorships.

 Photo of Joseph McCarthy

Photo of Joseph McCarthy

Republican administrations, in particular, regard the State Department as hostile to their conservative principles and, in their fetishizing of the military, overfund the Pentagon at the expense of State's soft power, while also shifting foreign policy decisionmaking to the White House and DoD. But JFK called State "a bowl of jelly" and Obama was often dismissive of the agency.

These days, the intelligence community, FBI, Department of Justice and much of the rest of the government have joined State in the political dog house. The far-right conspiracists who dominate the current administration rail against a fictional "deep state" - conniving bureaucrats who plot to undermine President Trump. Two former Trump campaign aides, Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, have come out with their latest screed against the so-called deep state: “Trump’s Enemies: How the Deep State Is Undermining the Presidency.” They assert, "There are far too many people in the deep reaches of the federal government who harbor as deep a hatred of Trump as does anyone from the Clinton/Obama cabal. The thing is, they get away with it when no one is looking.”

So, here we go again. Senators Joe and Jesse are applauding from Hades while GOP witch hunters in the administration and Congress thump their feet as fantasy enemies dance before their star crossed eyes. Vietnam War grunts used to refer to peanut gallery pundits like Lewandowski and Bossie (not to mention draft-dodging National Security Advisor John Bolton) as "REMF's" - Rear Echelon Muther-f***ers.

Our diplomats have flown close-in air support on D-Day, won Silver and Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts and survived enemy captivity in service to their country.

What have they done?



James Bruno (@JamesLBruno) served as a diplomat with the U.S. State Department for 23 years and is currently a member of the Diplomatic Readiness Reserve. An author and journalist, Bruno has been featured on CNN, NBC’s Today Show, Fox News, Sirius XM Radio, The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, and other national and international media.  

 

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