More than 200 retired career diplomats have signed a letter sounding the alarm about the corrosion of the State Department, warning that the Trump administration’s neglect of the institution has “crippled” its capacity.
The letter is addressed to Sens. Bob Corker and Robert Menendez — the Republican chairman and top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — and comes just ahead of the confirmation hearing for Mike Pompeo, Trump’s new pick for Secretary of State.
Signed by more than 200 senior diplomats who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the letter urges lawmakers to “focus public attention on the urgent need to restore the power and influence of American diplomacy,” which has suffered under the Trump administration.
The letter’s signatories express alarm over the current state of diplomacy, which has been hampered by an understaffed and underfunded State Department. Morale among employees has also sunk to a new low, further hindering the State Department’s work.
Former diplomat William Burns, who served under 10 secretaries of state and five presidents, described the letter as “a product of profound concern about the broad attitude of dismissiveness to diplomacy, the marginalization of professional diplomats and the corrosion of the institution” under the current leadership.
The Trump administration’s disregard for diplomacy has resulted in a mass exodus of career diplomats, with 60 percent of the State Departments top-ranking career diplomats leaving during Trump’s first year in office. And qualified applicants aren’t exactly lining up to replace them. New applications to join the foreign service have fallen by half since Trump took office.
Currently, eight of the nine senior leadership positions in the State Department are unfilled. Additionally, 50 ambassadorships are vacant, as are 16 of the 22 assistant secretary positions.
The list of vacant posts spans a slew of critical positions, including coordinators for cyber issues and sanctions policy, as well as the lead coordinator overseeing implementation of the Iran nuclear deal.
The top diplomatic post overseeing North Korea policy is also empty, as are senior positions involving nuclear nonproliferation, arms control, and conflict stabilization.
Other notable vacancies include the Special Envoy on climate change, the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, and the U.S. Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Perhaps most tellingly, the position of White House Liaison is currently listed as vacant.
While all of this would be alarming under normal circumstances, it is particularly concerning given the chaos and constant turnover in the Trump White House. In just the past month, Trump has fired three of his Cabinet secretaries — on Twitter.
The White House says Trump “came to Washington to drain the swamp” and “make America great.” Instead, he’s purging career officials, leaving key positions vacant, and making America weaker on the global stage.