The Foreign Service Journal - March 2017
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MARCH 2017



State’s Dissent

Channel Lights Up


Dissent Channel message respond-

ing to President Donald Trump’s

Jan. 27 Executive Order, “Protecting the

Nation fromForeign Terrorist Entry into

the United States,” was submitted on

Jan. 30, reportedly signed by more than

900 State Department officials, primarily

Foreign Service officers.

The dissent message is titled, “Alterna-

tives to Closing Doors in Order to Secure

Our Borders.” While in draft form, the

message was shared among employees at

numerous U.S. embassies, and people con-

tinued to add their names along the way.

Though Dissent Channel messages

can only be signed by current employees,

many retired diplomats sought ways to

support the dissent message, as well.

The State Department’s Dissent Chan-

nel, created in 1971 to give FSOs a way to

air disagreement with Vietnampolicy at

that time, is meant for internal use, a way

to foster review and reconsideration of

policy within the government.

Dissent is an honored tradition and

part of the culture of the U.S. Foreign

Service, something that is even included

in annual employee reviews. This is

because it is the job of diplomats to

report on what is happening on the

ground, to understand local situations

and to use their professional experi-

ence to offer reasoned, honest advice to

inform policymaking.

Given the number of people signing on

to the draft dissent message in such a short

time, it is not surprising that it became

public (or was intentionally leaked). In

connection with the firestormof public

reaction to the executive order (protests at

airports across the country) and its chaotic

rollout and implementation (implement-

ing agencies left without clear instruc-

tions), the draft dissent and the support it


was gathering from State employees drew

media attention.

Before the message had been officially

submitted through the Dissent Channel,

the White House was already reacting to it,

sending a chill through Foggy Bottom. On

Jan. 30, White House Press Secretary Sean

Spicer said that those who were dissenting

“should either get with the programor they can go.”

Further clarifying, Spicer said:

“The president has a very clear vision…

he’s going to put the safety of this coun-

try first. If somebody has a problemwith

that agenda, that does call into question

whether they should continue in that post

or not.”

Alarmed by the White House response

to the dissent message, some members of

Congress issued a strongly worded defense

of the State Department employees in a

letter to the president on Jan. 31. Signed

by 22 members of Congress, the letter was issued from the office of House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.).

“For decades, the Dissent Channel has

offered diplomats the ability in critical

circumstances to express concerns and

warnings contrary to administration poli-

cies,” the legislators state, and continue

with a call to respect the rights of employ-

ees to dissent:

“So it’s deeply troubling that your

administration isn’t interested in hearing

different perspectives, especially those

transmitted through the State Depart-

ment’s revered Dissent Channel. The State

Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual pro-

hibits reprisal or disciplinary action against

anyone who uses the Dissent Channel. We

are requesting your assurances that State

Department personnel will not be subject

to harassment or retribution if they take

advantage of the Dissent Channel or offer

policy advice that doesn’t align withWhite

House policy decisions.”

The members of Congress request

a response “as soon as possible” that

confirms that the administration will

respect the law (P.L.96-465) governing the

State Department and the treatment of its


—Shawn Dorman, Editor

National Security Leaders

Push Back on Trump

Immigration Order


he Trump administration’s Jan. 27

executive order on immigration

elicited an unprecedented response from

the top echelons of U.S. national security

Nuclear rhetoric is now loose and destabilizing. We are more

than ever impressed that words matter, words count.

—Career Ambassador (ret.) Thomas Pickering—former U.S. ambassador to the United

Nations, as well as to Russia, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria and Jordan—speaking

at a

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

press conference on Jan. 26 in Washington, D.C.

The press conference was held to announce that the “Doomsday Clock” was being

moved 30 seconds closer to “midnight.” The clock is updated annually by the scientists

and security experts of the


, and has only been moved closer once before, in

1953 following hydrogen bomb testing by both the United States and the Soviet Union.

The clock now stands at 2


/2minutes to midnight.

Contemporary Quote