Foreign Service officers advance their own agendas.
According to a 2015 essay in Foreign Policy, at least some presidential administrations have reasons to mistrust Foreign Service officers. “Republican administrations,” journalist Nicholas Kralev wrote, “. . . tend to view the diplomatic service as liberally inclined and excessively internationalist.” Indeed, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) suggested in Foreign Policy in 2003 that President George W. Bush’s State Department was purposefully undermining his objectives abroad. But this mistrust mistakes specialized knowledge, which may not reflect what administrations believe, with rogue agendas.
Like military officers, Foreign Service officers have commissions from the president and take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. We serve the president elected by the people of the United States, as well as the officials appointed and confirmed to help formulate and execute our country’s foreign policy and international relations.
We also, however, are responsible for advising the secretary of state or the president when we believe differently than they do, especially when it comes to advancing the nation’s best interests. After 266 Foreign Service officers resigned in 1968 over the Vietnam War, the State Department in 1971 established a formal “Dissent Channel” to be used for transmitting recommendations that disagree with official policy. Such messages might say that some of our “friends” are politically corrupt, bleeding their countries dry through bribery or payoffs, or telling us what we want to hear about political democracy while jailing those seeking a modicum of political space. This is not disloyalty but frank and very helpful advice — from the perspective of on-theground observers.