Lately, America’s diplomats have had to explain the new administration’s policies to foreign governments while grappling with a reduced budget, but their work is getting more difficult by another factor as well.
They have been hobbled by unforced errors in Washington that make it harder for them to promote transparency and the rule of law.
As a result, our Foreign Service guys and gals will have to do their best rendition of that old diplomatic standard, “It’s different when we do it.”
There are a number of key errors made in Washington prior to Trump coming to power that need be corrected in shaping a more effective way ahead for a more credible US government stance in the world.
The first key error is weaponizing the tax authority.
No, it’s not just the Russians. America’s Internal Revenue Service has decided to prioritize politics over, you know, revenue.
In 2013, the IRS admitted that since 2010 it targeted applications by groups for not-for-profit status strictly on the basis of their Tea Party or conservative leanings.
The IRS delayed applications for several years and typically demanded additional information, including the names of the groups’ doors.
It might have been regarded as typical of a service-challenged bureaucracy but the bureaucrat-in-charge regularly admitted in her official email how much she despised conservatives.
Congress started digging and unearthed the fact that the head of the IRS spent a lot of time at the White House, well, just because.
And most of the relevant 30,000 emails were, sadly, missing, until they weren’t because someone forgot to erase the backup tapes.
The case has is still on the burner as another 7,000 documents were recently found – two years after the IRS was sued to produce them.
The second mistake is using the deep State against your political opponents.
Before the 2016 election, the “Deep State” was thought to be the employer of Cigarette Smoking Man of The X-Files, but real life is now imitating art, or television at least.
President Obama’s national security advisor had a pronounced interest in the identities of Trump campaign and transition officials who were “incidentally” collected by the NSA.
Inspired by Obama’s admonition to “spread the wealth” she “unmasked” the Trump associates and gave once close-hold information of the identities of Americans broad distribution among the security services in the waning days of the Obama administration.
The Attorney General met the husband of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, allegedly to talk about the Clinton grandchildren.
The FBI used an unverified dossier funded by Trump’s opponents to launch an investigation of Trump and his associates.
CIA Director John Brennan then briefed Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, on alleged Russian connections to the Trump campaign.
Reid, predictably, sent a public letter to FBI Director Comey demanding to know what was going on.
The House and Senate Intelligence Committee investigations of the surveillance of Trump are being stonewalled by the FBI, CIA, and NSA who insist they are working “in good faith” and President Obama’s national security advisor has refused to testify to Congress.
For Russia’s state-directed media, the stories write themselves.
And every guy who spends too much time listening to Coast to Coast AM now knows he was right all along.
The third is threatening reporters with jail.
Turkey has been called the “world’s worst jailer of journalists”.
Good thing that can’t happen here!
If President Trump decides to aggressively pursue leakers and publishers of classified information, he can thank Presidents Bush and Obama for the tools he will use.
The Obama administration used the World War I-era Espionage Act to launch prosecutions in nine cases for publishing leaked information, up from President Bush’s three, and one solitary case by their predecessors.
According to Reporters Without Borders, the U.S. has fallen from 17th (2002) to 41st (2016) in its measure of press freedom, but up from 49th in 2015 if that’s any consolation.
It was amusing to see a New York Times reporter threatened with jail by Obama’s minions, especially after the Times worked so hard to usher Obama into office, but it was a sobering reminder of the importance of the First Amendment.
And the government must save its prosecutorial energy for its own employees who cavalierly betray their oath of office.
In today’s global media market, words are no longer “for local consumption only.”
Granularity and “context” matter less.
Details, like the fact that the FBI and the Justice Department weren’t cooperating and, in fact, distrusted each other, are (literally) lost in translation.
And any time we excuse our own fouls with “Yes, but…” we echo that same Soviet tactic.
The crises in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, the South China Sea, and North Korea will respond to American leadership, but only if America gets its house in order and stops living by “Do as I say and not as I do.”
James Durso is the Managing Director of Corsair LLC.
He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Durso served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years and specialized in logistics and security assistance.
His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority.
He served afloat as Supply Officer of the submarine USS SKATE (SSN 578).