WASHINGTON — About 900 State Department officials have reportedly signed on to a memo disagreeing with the Trump administration’s refugee ban and block of people entering the country from a handful of Muslim-majority nations despite White House warnings that they should fall in line.
A draft dissent memo that began circulating after President Trump’s Friday executive order notes the “near-absence” of terror attacks committed by those entering the country on a visa from the targeted countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — and emphasizes the “isolated incidents of foreign nationals entering the U.S. on a visa to commit acts of terror,” from countries not listed in the executive order.
The memo argues that the order will sour relations with Muslim-majority countries, increase anti-American sentiment and possibly be “a tipping point towards radicalization,” and will “impose terrible humanitarian burdens” as well as hurt the U.S. economy.
“The end result of this ban will not be a drop in terror attacks in the United States; rather, it will be a drop in international good will towards Americans and a threat towards our economy,” it adds. “Looking beyond its effectiveness, this ban stands in opposition to the core American and constitutional values that we, as federal employees, took an oath to uphold.”
Reuters reported that the memo has now been submitted through the proper management channels.
State Department employees using the Dissent Channel, which dates back to the Vietnam War era as an outlet for foreign service officers and other employees to express their views, are protected from retribution. Cables drafted within the Dissent Channel work their way up to the secretary of State, where a response is required within 1-2 months. NPR reports that the State Department usually sees a handful of dissent cables each year, such as one last year from about 50 FSOs dressing down the Obama administration for not doing more to protect Syrian civilians.
“The Dissent Channel was created to allow its users the opportunity to bring dissenting or alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues, when such views cannot be communicated in a full and timely manner through regular operating channels or procedures, to the attention of the Secretary of State and other senior State Department officials in a manner which protects the author from any penalty, reprisal, or recrimination,” reads the department policy.
“Freedom from reprisal for Dissent Channel users is strictly enforced; officers or employees found to have engaged in retaliation or reprisal against Dissent Channel users, or to have divulged to unauthorized personnel the source or contents of Dissent Channel messages, will be subject to disciplinary action. Dissent Channel messages, including the identity of the authors, are a most sensitive element in the internal deliberative process and are to be protected accordingly.”
At Monday’s White House briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged the “department’s way of letting career officials — career foreign service officers express themselves.”
“Obviously, we’re aware of it. But I think that any — any government official, anyone who doesn’t understand the president’s goal in this and what this actually was. Again, I think this has been blown way out of proportion and exaggerated. Again, you talk about in a 24-hour period, 325,000 people from other countries flew in through our airports and we’re talking about 109 people from seven countries, that the Obama administration identified. And these career bureaucrats have a problem with it?” Spicer said. “I think that they should either get with the program or they can go.”
According to internal Customs and Border Protection statistics obtained by the Daily Beast, 348 people were blocked this past weekend from boarding flights with a destination in the United States, between 200 and 250 people were denied entry at airports after landing in the country, and 394 lawful permanent residents had encounters with CBP such as secondary inspection or detention but almost all were eventually allowed back into the U.S.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called Spicer’s comments “a deeply disturbing statement that runs counter to our more than century-old tradition of a nonpartisan foreign service.”
“Stifling legitimate dissenting views at the State Department – or those of any civil servant across our agencies – undermines the ability of our government to adopt the best ideas and put them into practice in service to the American people,” Hoyer said. “Our career foreign service officers are the finest in the world, and no matter what changes a new administration brings, we must ensure that they can adhere to their sacred oath and serve this country as they have so ably in the past.”
Some FSOs put their names on pieces of advice to the new administration in the latest issue of the American Foreign Service Association’s Foreign Service Journal: “End the disgraceful practice of rewarding personal friends and donors with ambassadorships,” wrote Steven Kashkett of Washington, D.C. “…Allies and enemies alike rarely take seriously these appointees, who often do careless damage to U.S. foreign policy.”
“Do not write off the entire Foreign Service as politically biased against you and not to be trusted,” wrote Brian T. Neubert, FSO and director of the Africa Regional Media Hub in Johannesburg. “…We have a tradition of constructive dissent, which we will continue to exercise through appropriate channels, perhaps with historic frequency. A reasoned challenge to one of your policy proposals is not a personal attack on you; it is an argument in defense of the national interest. We probably will not change your mind often, but your effectiveness is certain to suffer if you disregard our counsel completely.”