There Will Be a Post-Trump State Department. Who Will Staff It?

This Foreign Policy piece on the gutting of the U.S. State Department under Secretary Tillerson is depressing.

Veterans of the U.S. diplomatic corps say the expanding front office is part of an unprecedented assault on the State Department: A hostile White House is slashing its budget, the rank and file are cut off from a detached leader, and morale has plunged to historic lows. They say President Donald Trump and his administration dismiss, undermine, or don’t bother to understand the work they perform and that the legacy of decades of American diplomacy is at risk.

By failing to fill numerous senior positions across the State Department, promulgating often incoherent policies, and systematically shutting out career foreign service officers from decision-making, the Trump administration is undercutting U.S. diplomacy and jeopardizing America’s leadership role in the world, according to more than three dozen current and former diplomats interviewed by FP.

There is probably not much that can be done about such developments in the short term. However, there will be a post-Trump State Department. With the absence of foreign policy leadership in Washington right now, it is time to start thinking ahead for how to rebuild American foreign policy when that time comes.

The single greatest challenge facing the post-Trump foreign policy community will be in reclaiming understanding and expertise after an administration that does not care about the details, about history, or about the nuance of bilateral relations and regional dynamics. With the U.S. diplomatic corps hobbled, other reserves of foreign policy and area expertise will need to contribute. Universities and colleges have a critical role to play here. Political scientists and country- and regional-specialists should be thinking now about how they might contribute: writing for the policy community about how U.S. interests interface with local political dynamics, training students to value both critical inquiry and public service, and—yes—volunteering to serve themselves.

My advice to those in DC in the position to shape U.S. foreign policy after Trump is this: take advantage of this reservoir of foreign policy expertise. It will be especially important to have a grounded sense of the damage that the Trump administration has done to relationships with allies and partners. Make opportunities available for faculty and graduate students to contribute to this effort, and they will do so.

You may read some of my thoughts about the relationships between U.S. foreign policy, area studies, and political science here, here, and here.

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