The State Department Building, January 26, 2017.
Joshua Roberts / Reuters

On January 30, after word got out that a large number of U.S. State Department officials were preparing a formal, well-argued dissent against President Donald Trump’s cruel executive order on immigration, the White House reacted with stung indignation. Even before the cable was submitted by an astonishing total of nearly a thousand State Department staffers, Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, issued an extraordinary rebuke to the professional diplomats: “These career bureaucrats have a problem with it? They should either get with the program or they can go.”

It was precisely in order to avoid that sort of stark choice that the State Department’s dissent channel was first established. Created during the Vietnam War, when many Foreign Service officers understandably had grave misgivings about U.S. foreign policy, it offered a way for them to speak their minds while continuing to serve their country. Since then, the dissent channel,

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  • GARY J. BASS is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and the author of The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide.
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