You know there's no point, but you do it out of love
March 1, 2017 8:07 PM   Subscribe

The state of the State Department The once bustling halls of the U.S. State Department are now quiet, as staff find themselves cut out of the loop and without direction.
posted by bitmage (31 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read this a few hours ago. Heartbreaking isn't quite the right word, but it's in the general area.
posted by figurant at 8:18 PM on March 1 [3 favorites]


Back in 2006 I interned with the State Department and was really close to taking my Foreign Service Exam to sign up for a career. Feels like a lot of people who have dedicated their lives to the cause of America abroad are getting washed out and I think back to possibly having to decide about throwing 10 years away. I can't imagine what these people are having to go through.
posted by msbutah at 8:27 PM on March 1 [10 favorites]


I have a friend in this situation. It's brutal.
posted by praemunire at 8:31 PM on March 1 [6 favorites]


It's interesting. It's worse than I would have thought, but also worse in a different way.

I would have expected the leaderlessness and cut out of the loop stuff, but at the same time for a lot of the routine business to be bustling along. This of course lets you, the political leaders, still benefit from the professionalism for a while when you need it.

With the remodel and new "nerve center" someone in the new administration clearly has a positive vision for what they think the department should like like. Someone with no clue, I'm sure, what the day to day functions actually are.

msbutah or anyone else, how protected are the career civil servants in the department? I thought they were pretty protected and not easy to turn over.
posted by mark k at 8:33 PM on March 1 [6 favorites]


Even Cosmopolitan is sitting up and taking note that "People at the State Department Are Anxious AF". (which I discovered because an editor/writer for The Awl did a "Guess The Media Outlet By Its Tweet" post)
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:37 PM on March 1 [7 favorites]


"Tillerson’s chief of staff is not his own, but is, according to the Washington Post, a Trump transition alum named Margaret Peterlin. [...] State public affairs senior advisor R.C. Hammond clarified that the malpractice attorney was the White House liaison to State"

I guess she must be the "Shadow Cabinet" representative I read about two months ago. First time I've seen mention of that actually being a thing.
posted by Theiform at 8:40 PM on March 1 [1 favorite]


I don't get the point of the shadow cabinet. I mean, I understand perfectly why that odious man wants hardcore loyalists snitching on everyone in the agency, but why not just make them the actual cabinet? The GOP Congress obviously isn't going to stop him from nominating any unqualified asshole he wants.
posted by echo target at 8:45 PM on March 1 [7 favorites]


“America is over. And being part of that, when it’s happening for no reason, is traumatic.”

That about sums up the national mood, doesn't it?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:33 PM on March 1 [69 favorites]


God, so sad.
posted by potrzebie at 9:34 PM on March 1


This sounds like exactly the sort of thing that happens when your big foreign policy move--if you want to call it that--is building a huge wall around your country, and you boost defense spending while insisting that you're against robust intervention abroad. The "nerve center" will probably have thousands of tiny screens showing the view from the cameras on the wall, although whether they'll be pointing outward or inward remains to be seen.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:37 PM on March 1 [1 favorite]


The person I wonder about in all this is Tillerson. Did he know going in that he wasn't getting any support or guidance and that significant parts of his job would be taken over by the president's son-in-law? Even if he didn't, why is he still stumbling along with this? It's not like he needs the job. Does he just have no self-respect?

That said, if his main complaint so far is that they didn't let him have Elliott Abrams, well, boo fucking hoo. If you need someone who understands the State Department bureaucracy, maybe find one of the thousands of former officials who hasn't been convicted of withholding evidence from Congress. Not that that was Trump's reason, but I'll take what I can get.
posted by Copronymus at 9:42 PM on March 1 [13 favorites]


I think the lesson of the Yemen raid is twofold: Trump is starting over as much as possible; and "succeed or be blamed." What I think the shock of Trump Way might do is force people to push responsibility upward, but I think the entire government is going to kick down until that starts happening. Trump is perfectly happy to leave people behind, Tillerson or SEAL.
posted by rhizome at 9:53 PM on March 1 [1 favorite]


After thinking about it for the last couple days, I'm not so sure Tillerson's at odds with this 'state of the State.' A recent departee said today on Pod Save the World that Tillerson didn't bother to drop in before his swearing in, just to see what condition his condition was in.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:22 PM on March 1 [2 favorites]


And the dissent cable on the Immigration EO was signed by ~1K foreign service people. Previously, fifteen signatures was a lot.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:23 PM on March 1 [5 favorites]


I understand perfectly why that odious man wants hardcore loyalists snitching on everyone in the agency, but why not just make them the actual cabinet?

The actual cabinet members have administrative responsibilities. If you want to spend all day speaking flattering words to power it may make more sense to have that be your only responsibility.

I am glibly oversimplifying but this is still the real reason. You can often be more influential not in the cabinet. Even in a competent administration.
posted by mark k at 10:47 PM on March 1 [1 favorite]


The person I wonder about in all this is Tillerson. Did he know going in that he wasn't getting any support or guidance and that significant parts of his job would be taken over by the president's son-in-law? Even if he didn't, why is he still stumbling along with this? It's not like he needs the job. Does he just have no self-respect?
Tillerson is there to get the Exxon deal done.
That's it.

Any other grift they can manage or favours for friends is a bonus but it's get the oil money flowing and wait for the end.

There is no 12 dimensional chess, there is no angle, this is a heist.
posted by fullerine at 11:37 PM on March 1 [62 favorites]


Scary article.

Amazing how things change, though. I remember when the state department were 'pathetic mammon worshipping apparatchiks', US diplomats were 'mincing, insincere, manipulative' and their reports contained only 'obvious information you can get reading newspapers and magazines and watching the Daily Show.' (Of course, that was also when Julian Assange was 'a radical, which means he gets at the root of a problem' and Hillary Clinton was responsible for theft and blackmail.)

Of course, those were not unanimous or even majority views, but it's instructive to see the amount of contempt for the state department in that thread.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 3:04 AM on March 2 [4 favorites]


It's time to start reading Kafka, isn't it.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:37 AM on March 2 [3 favorites]


It's almost as if different people commented in the two threads. Bizarre!
posted by thelonius at 3:37 AM on March 2 [5 favorites]


And even if they were the same people, just because we (for some value of we) criticized the state department in the past doesn't mean that we (see above) wanted to dismantle it. There is a difference between the childish libertarian logic of the only way to save the system is to destroy the system and a more nuanced adult opinion that something isn't working and should be repaired.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:48 AM on March 2 [25 favorites]


It's almost as if different people commented in the two threads.

I would be astonished if that were not the case, given the natural userbase churn over 7 years. However, it's hard to deny that certain opinions are more or less widely-expressed here over time and I find those changes interesting simply as a barometer, not a gotcha. I'd also note that when conversation on Metafilter shifts in an unambiguously positive direction e.g. moving away from boyzone and casual transphobia, that change is never dismissed as just being different users commenting in different threads, but instead (rightly) celebrated as a change in site culture.

There is a difference between the childish libertarian logic of the only way to save the system is to destroy the system and a more nuanced adult opinion that something isn't working and should be repaired.

Agreed, and I don't think anything I wrote suggested that criticism of institutions necessitates holding an abolitionist position - there was certainly nuanced adult opinion in the linked thread, alongside the sort of vilification I quoted. What's interesting about the article in The Atlantic is reading how the administration's neglect is affecting different sections and levels of the department and trying to project that forward into both a future active culling and a foreign relations vacuum which other actors will be eager to fill.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 5:10 AM on March 2 [9 favorites]


Funny, the people I respect in that thread were expressing the same opinions they hold now. It's almost like people with an ideological opposition to government express it differently in different circumstances.
posted by winna at 6:00 AM on March 2 [1 favorite]


This is such a crazy era. Have any other hegemonies in history just sort of... quit without notice?
posted by BS Artisan at 6:33 AM on March 2 [1 favorite]


Theiform: "Tillerson’s chief of staff is not his own, but is, according to the Washington Post, a Trump transition alum named Margaret Peterlin. [...] State public affairs senior advisor R.C. Hammond clarified that the malpractice attorney was the White House liaison to State"

I guess she must be the "Shadow Cabinet" representative I read about two months ago. First time I've seen mention of that actually being a thing.


The lines following your quote are scarier:
“Tillerson is surrounded by a bunch of rather mysterious Trumpistas,” said the senior State official who recently left. “How the hell is he supposed to do his job when even his right hand is not his own person?” One State Department employee told me that Peterlin has instructed staff that all communications with Tillerson have to go through her, and even scolded someone for answering a question Tillerson asked directly, in a meeting.
I heard from a friend who works in another department that this is the bigger, unreported issue - people are being put into positions of significant power, positions that don't need any special, public review, who are worse than the people we see in the news.

This is not how government works, but how government changes for the worse, from people who generally want to do the right thing, to people who want to promote agendas while their guy is in power, at any cost. Yes, let's end bureaucracy and replace it with a kleptocracy.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:09 AM on March 2 [6 favorites]


My friends at the EPA are in full disaster mode right now. Nothing is happening. Everyone is.... Being cautious.

It's a strange flip. We're trying to give them the same comfort and support they so kindly gave us 5 years ago.
posted by bonehead at 7:15 AM on March 2 [1 favorite]


Is there some way we can reach out to the now-unbusy staff at the various agencies and get them involved with progressive/left/whateveryacallit resistance and advocacy groups, even if it's just information sharing? I understand that everyone's being careful now, but there must be at least a few disaffected enough to want to *do something* (plus "being careful" isn't going to save a job the President has already called unnecessary).
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 7:33 AM on March 2 [1 favorite]


Well, for my part, my boss was just mentioning the other day how proud she was to be a civil servant... because we on the inside are the only ones who can stop this shitshow, largely though letting institutional inertia work on our behalf - and selectively ignoring commands from on high until and unless we have specifically been told by a superior that X must be done. And even then, we look for loopholes.

We're saviors, apparently. It made my day.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:02 PM on March 2 [17 favorites]


It's time to start reading Kafka, isn't it.

WHO IS KAFKA? TELL ME!

posted by snuffleupagus at 12:10 PM on March 2


The Future That Liberals Want meme explained.

For those of you who don't exist in the Twitterverse, you're welcome.
posted by Talez at 12:55 PM on March 2 [7 favorites]


Tillerson is there to get the Exxon deal done.
That's it.


It will be very interesting if any investigation into Trump's Russian connections (and Flynn's, and Session's, etc) trips up actual proof of this. I'm gonna need more popcorn.
posted by Ber at 2:31 PM on March 2


Rosneft 19.5%. Tillerson already did the deal. Flynn, Sessions, and Trump profited bigly.
posted by SakuraK at 1:49 AM on March 3


« Older Conan Without Borders: Made In Mexico   |   Simplified and refreshed clusterfuck-in-lipstick Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.