Monday, January 30, 2017

White House to Dissenting U.S. Diplomats: ‘Get With the Program’ or Leave




More than 100 signatures have been gathered for a so-called dissent cable circulating within the State Department opposing President Trump’s executive order banning entry visas from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Credit Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The White House on Monday warned State Department officials that they should leave their jobs if they did not agree with President Trump’s agenda, an extraordinary effort to stamp out a wave of internal dissent against Mr. Trump’s temporary ban on entry visas for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Career officials at the State Department are circulating a so-called dissent cable, which says that Mr. Trump’s executive order closing the nation’s doors to more than 200 million people to weed out a handful of would-be terrorists would not make the nation safer and might instead deepen the threat.

“These career bureaucrats have a problem with it?” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, told reporters. “They should either get with the program or they can go.”

Asked if he was suggesting that people resign, Mr. Spicer said, “If somebody has a problem with that agenda, that does call into question whether or not they should continue in that post.”


Mr. Spicer defended the visa ban, saying its effects had been grossly exaggerated and that it symbolized Mr. Trump’s overriding goal of protecting the safety of the nation. He displayed little patience for the “dissent channel,” which the State Department has long maintained as a way for its staff to register objections over administration policies.

It was the starkest confrontation yet between the new president, who is moving swiftly to upend years of government policies, and an entrenched bureaucracy, parts of which are openly hostile to Mr. Trump’s proposals or have struggled to enforce his executive orders, which have been announced with little warning and no input from the rank and file.

Mr. Trump’s visa ban has reverberated through multiple agencies: the Defense Department, which says it hurts the military’s partners in conflict zones like Iraq; the Department of Homeland Security, whose border control agents are struggling to enforce the directive; and the Justice Department, whose lawyers are charged with defending its legality.

But Mr. Spicer’s blunt warning posed a particularly difficult choice to the more than 100 State Department officials who signaled they would sign the memo. They can sign a final version, which would be put on the desk of Rex W. Tillerson, Mr. Trump’s designated secretary of state, on his first day in office. Or they can choose not to identify themselves, and instead rely on the leak of the letter to make their point.

Under State Department rules and whistle-blower laws, it is forbidden to retaliate against any employee who follows the procedures and submits a dissent memorandum. One of the signatories, in a text message, said State Department signatories were trying to figure out what to do.


The memorandum began to take shape late last week, as word of Mr. Trump’s executive order leaked out. The sponsors quickly gathered more than 100 signatures, an unusually large number, but a draft of the memo was still being refined over the weekend.

Last summer, 51 State Department officials signed one protesting President Barack Obama’s policy in Syria, which they asserted had been “overwhelmed” by the violence there. They handed the cable to Secretary of State John Kerry.

The State Department confirmed the existence of the memo on Monday, and it affirmed the right of its staff to dissent.

“This is an important process that the acting secretary, and the department as a whole, respect and value,” said a spokesman, Mark Toner.


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The speed with which the memo was assembled and the number of signers underscore the degree to which the State Department has become the center of the resistance to Mr. Trump’s order. More broadly, it represents objections to his efforts to cut back on American participation in international organizations and to issue ultimatums to allies.

Not surprisingly, the diplomats and Civil Service officers of the State Department are among the most internationally minded in the government; they have lived around the world and devoted their careers to building alliances and promoting American values abroad.

That was reflected in parts of the draft of the dissent memo circulating in the State Department. It warned that the executive order “will increase anti-American sentiment,” and that “instead of building bridges to these societies,” it would “send the message that we consider all nationals of these countries to be an unacceptable security risk.”

Among those whose views will be changed are “current and future leaders in these societies — including those for whom this may be a tipping point towards radicalization.” It also warned of an immediate humanitarian effect on those who come “to seek medical treatment for a child with a rare heart condition, to attend a parent’s funeral.”


“We do not need to alienate entire societies to stay safe,” the memo concludes.

Overseas, Iraqi officials said they were surprised by the directive, which they learned about through the American news media; they had not been consulted first. Objections from Baghdad are notable because Iraq is a front-line partner in the campaign against the Islamic State.

And at the Pentagon, senior officials plan to send the White House a list of Iraqi citizens who have served with American forces with the recommendation that they be exempt. Officials said that the Iraqis who will be put on the Defense Department list have undergone a stringent form of vetting because

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