The Demolition of U.S. Diplomacy

Not Since Joe McCarthy Has the State Department Suffered Such a Devastating Blow

Pompeo looks on as Trump holds a news conference after the NATO Summit in Brussels, July 2018 Yves Herman / Reuters

In my three and a half decades as a U.S. Foreign Service officer, proudly serving five presidents and ten secretaries of state from both parties, I’ve never seen an attack on diplomacy as damaging, to both the State Department as an institution and our international influence, as the one now underway.

The contemptible mistreatment of Marie Yovanovitch—the ambassador to Ukraine who was dismissed for getting in the way of the president’s scheme to solicit foreign interference in U.S. elections—is just the latest example of President Donald Trump’s dangerous brand of diplomatic malpractice. His is a diplomacy of narcissism, bent on advancing private interests at the expense of our national interests.

Ambassador Yovanovitch is not the first professional diplomat to find herself in political crosshairs in the history of the State Department. Trump is not the first demagogue to bully career personnel. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is not the first secretary of state derelict in his duty. But the damage from this assault—coming from within the executive branch itself, after nearly three years of unceasing diplomatic self-sabotage, and at a particularly fragile geopolitical moment—will likely prove to be even more severe to both diplomatic tradecraft and U.S. foreign policy.


Almost 70 years ago, in the early years of the Cold War, Senator Joseph McCarthy conducted a savage campaign against “disloyalty” in the State Department. Partisan investigators, untethered to evidence or ethics, forced out 81 department employees in the first half of the 1950s. Among them was John Paton Davies, Jr., an accomplished China hand. His sin was to foresee the communist victory in the Chinese Civil War. Davies was subjected to nine security and loyalty investigations, none of which substantiated the paranoid accusation that he was a communist sympathizer. Nevertheless, in a moment of profound political cowardice, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles fired him.

Purging Davies and his colleagues was not only wrong but also foolish. The loss of such expertise

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