Friday 12 June 2020

Retired senior State Department official criticises retired ambassadors' attack on Trump

From 2000 to 2003 Ed Stafford worked as 'policy advisor' at the US Embassy in Bucharest and was one of the very cleverest foreigners in Romania. He comes from a working-class Catholic family and was possibly one of the minority of permanent officials in the State Department who sides with the Republicans rather than the Democrats. I urged him to hang around and serve the Trump administration for a year, but he preferred to retire before the Donald took office. He has just written this.

A group of retired U.S. Ambassadors and others with a background of public service in foreign affairs or national security affairs published June 5 an open-letter on the Just Security website excoriating the President for his comments about the potential use of federal troops and federalized National Guard units to confront and suppress rioting and looting. After reading the letter, I was perplexed at what could have induced the authors to write or add their signatures to it, for it has several glaring faults that render it an unserious effort. Those faults, failures to take into account material information, would have been very easy to avoid, which raises the question: was it just sloppiness brought on by the rush to publish before the news cycle had moved on? Or, simple ignorance of material information? Or, was there a deliberate effort to misrepresent the President’s statement?

In the June 1 statement from the Rose Garden, the President stated that “All Americans were rightly sickened and revolted by the brutal death of George Floyd. My administration is fully committed that, for George and his family, justice will be served.” The Ambassadorial riposte (my shorthand here for the open-letter) makes no mention of this. Yet, in any discussion of the protests subsequent to the unlawful killing of Mr. Floyd, particularly a response to a Presidential statement regarding those protests and attendant outbreaks of violence, the failures to note the President’s forceful comments of revulsion at what was done to Mr. Floyd as well as his commitment to justice are embarrassing lacunae.

The President’s statement also shows his support for the right of peaceful protest. He said that he is “…an ally of all peaceful protesters.” The Ambassadorial riposte ignores this distinction and states contrary to fact that the President has called “for the use of U.S. military personnel to end legitimate protests in cities and towns across America.” Nowhere in the President’s statement does this occur, for it focuses solely on the rioters and looters. Fairness and honest writing require them to take note of the distinction the President made. To claim that the President wishes to use the U.S. military against American citizens without noting the distinction made by the President between looters and peaceful protestors is misleading, bordering on a mendacious misrepresentation.

Most importantly, the President was not calling for the subversion of the Constitution or exceeding his legal authorities under the Constitution. To the contrary, he made it clear that any actions taken would conform with the legal authorities provided to the Chief Executive of the U.S. under the Constitution. (Left unspoken but in the penumbra of the statement resides the Insurrection Act.) The riposte’s authors completely dismiss this clear commitment to operating within the law to re-establish order without which the rule of law is a mirage. The statement makes clear that the use of federal military units would occur if local authorities were unable or unwilling to fulfill their obligations to protect the lives, rights, and property of their citizens. The Ambassadorial riposte ignores this legal basis for the use of federal troops in extremis, instead arguing (without evidence) that the President is misusing “the military for political purposes.”

The letters glaring faults make it unlikely that it will be taken as a serious effort to contribute in a positive way to a fruitful discussion of Presidential authority. Instead it is likely to be consigned to the overflowing waste basket of partisan screeds dedicated to undermining the President named Trump.

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