Outgoing U.S. Official Urges Diplomats to ‘Stay’ and Protect Constitution
In a critical speech of Donald Trump's foreign policy, Tom Countryman implored colleagues to protect the U.S. from "all enemies foreign and domestic."
A senior career diplomat delivered a soaring and thinly-veiled critique of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy in a farewell address Tuesday that pleaded with colleagues to stay in their positions and uphold America’s longstanding policies of openness and liberty.
“We still owe something to America,” said Tom Countryman, the outgoing under secretary of state for arms control, at a private goodbye party at the State Department. “A policy without professionals is by definition an amateur policy. You have to help make the choices that bring this country forward.”
The remarks came hours after at least 900 State Department officials defied the White House and delivered a formal dissent memo criticizing the Trump administration’s temporary travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim majority countries. A day earlier, White House spokesman Sean Spicer, responding to early reports of the dissent, had slammed Foggy Bottom’s “career bureaucrats,” opening an early rift with the department’s rank-and-file. “They should either get with the program or they can go,” he said. There were no signs Tuesday of mass defections at the agency, though several officials have retired in recent days, including Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland.
Countryman didn’t name Trump or reference his travel ban directly, but his meaning was clear to listeners in the room. He said the torch carried by the Statue of Liberty “is not only a magnet for immigrants, it is a projector. It shines the promise of democracy around the world.”
“If we wall ourselves off from the world, we will extinguish that projection of liberty just as surely as the Gospel says ‘if you put your lamp under a bushel basket,’” he added.
More than a hundred State Department officials filled the room with cups and flutes of champagne in hand, including the Acting Secretary of State Thomas Shannon. The mood in the room was mostly somber as Countryman delivered his warning to diplomats. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for secretary of state, is expected to win Senate approval this week and promptly replace Shannon.
Several senior career State Department officials were pushed out of their jobs last week, including Countryman who received the news while he was en route to Rome on Wednesday for an international summit on nuclear weapons. He returned to the U.S. immediately in an unceremonious termination after 35 years as a foreign service officer.
“One of you here compared the situation to the scene in Star Wars when Obi-Wan Kenobi is struck down,” he said, referring to his own ouster. “I find that touching.”
“Another compared it to the scene when Princess Leia strangles Jabba the Hutt and I find that confusing,” he added, to thunderous laughter.
In perhaps the most direct criticism of Trump, a former real estate tycoon and author of the Art of the Deal, Countryman said the trade of business and dealmaking does not often translate to diplomacy and governing.
“Business made America great and business leaders are among the key partners of the Department of State,” he said. “But let’s be clear: despite similarities, a dog is not a cat, baseball is not football and diplomacy is not a business. Human rights are not a business and democracy most assuredly is not a business.”
In his remarks, he referenced the Chinese government’s brand of transactional diplomacy that is often criticized for prioritizing the energy demands of its people over human rights and democracy.
“If our interaction with other countries is only a business transaction and not a partnership with allies and friends, we’ll lose that game,” he said. “China practically invented transactional diplomacy. If we choose to play their game, Beijing will run the table.”
He also emphasized that the Russian government, which funds media outlets that advance the Kremlin’s viewpoint around the world, should not be a model for the United States government.
“If our public statements become indistinguishable from disinformation and propaganda we will lose our credibility,” he said. “And if we choose to play our cards that way, we will lose that game — at least to Moscow.”
In his parting remark, he urged his colleagues to remain “tireless” in upholding their oath to the Constitution “against all enemies foreign and domestic.”