Nearly 1,000 Diplomats, State Department Officials Criticize Trump Travel Ban in ‘Dissent Memo’
An outgoing top State Department official told his colleagues on Tuesday to stay in their posts to defend the US Constitution and protect America from “all enemies foreign and domestic,” in a thinly veiled critique of the Trump administration.
“A policy without professionals is by definition an amateur policy. You have to help make the choices that bring this country forward,” Tom Countryman, the outgoing Undersecretary for Arms Control, said in a farewell address at the State Department.
Countryman’s remarks came as roughly 900 career diplomats and State Department civil servants from around the world criticized the Trump administration’s travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees in a formal “dissent memo” to the State Department.
He did not mention President Donald Trump or speak directly to the executive order, but State Department officials present understood his meaning when he said 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 said.
Countryman, one of several senior career State Department officials pushed out of their jobs last week, was informed his services were no longer needed last week while on overseas travel. He was asked to cut his State Department business trip short and return to the US after 35 years in the foreign service.
Hundreds of foreign and civil services officers, including Acting Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, gathered Tuesday to bid farewell to Countryman and outgoing Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, a 40-year career diplomat.
Countryman spoke to a somber crowd, many of whom had signed the dissent memo. Nerves were still raw after White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Monday slammed those who supported and told them to “either get with the program or they can go.”
Although several top officials have retired from the State Department in recent days, there were no signs of mass defections Tuesday. Many State Department officials said they hoped Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, who is expected to win Senate approval this week, will quickly address sinking morale among the career diplomats. Several were curious to know if Tillerson would meet with some of the officials who signed the memo.
The “dissent channel” is a mechanism for State Department officials to offer alternative views on foreign policy without fear of retaliation. It was established in the 1960s during the Vietnam War to ensure that senior leadership in the department would have access to alternative policy views on the war.
The memo, which had been circulating among the foreign service for days and was sent through the State Department’s well-established “dissent channel” on Tuesday, was obtained by CNN
While recognizing the President’s “can and should study all options” for securing the borders and protecting Americans from terror attacks, the diplomats argued the new immigration policy would have the opposite effect.
The ban “will not achieve its stated aim of to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States,” the draft memo notes, adding “given the near absence of terror attacks committed in recent years by Syrian, Iraqi, Irani, Libyan, Somalia, Sudanese, and Yemeni citizens who are in the US after entering on a visa, this ban will have little practical effect in improving public safety.”
Despite the current tensions with the White House, Countryman urged his colleagues in his parting remarks to remain “tireless” in upholding their oath to the Constitution “against all enemies foreign and domestic.”
“We still owe something to America,” he said.