No president in recent times has done more to change the culture of Washington than President Donald J. Trump. I believe even his critics would agree. In the process he has been met with tremendous pushback and formidable resistance. There is no question in my mind that the president is fighting for the “soul” of America. The impeachment proceedings have more to do with a “Kulturkampf” than they do with the Ukraine.
Although the Democratic Party has given the president a run for his money, there are many other forces at work including the media that have tried to apply a straightjacket on him. Some call it the “deep state.” Others call it “the swamp.” Neither actually does it justice. Neither term actually describes in detail the complex nature of the great American democracy. I, for one, am not sure the Founding Fathers realized how complicated the American republic would become.
The New York Times in a lead article on November 10 declared in a headline: “From Dissent to Rallying Cry in State Department” – “Diplomats lead way in Trump Inquiry.” Obviously the Times is hinting at the core of the problem.
Essentially, career diplomats run Washington despite who the president might be. The New York Times goes on to say, “Rarely has the State Department often seen as a staid pillar of the establishment, been the center of a revolt against a president and his top appointees.”
Although the head of the State Department is Secretary of State Michael Pompeo appointed by President Trump, most of the positions in the State Department were holdovers from previous administrations. Clearly, much of the State Department is autonomous and independent even if Michael Pompeo, who follows the lead of the president, is their boss. One might think that every administration is entitled to turning over the State Department and appointing anyone they might wish. In theory this actually may be true, but in practice it never happens. The sheer enormity of the State Department (75,000 employees) and career diplomatic corps who are fully entrenched makes it nearly impossible. President Trump has to fill 1,200 positions that require Senate approval including Cabinet secretaries, deputy and assistant secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsel, heads of agencies, ambassadors, and many other leadership positions. Even with a Republican majority in the Senate, many positions have not been filled.
Like any big business it takes years to develop a successful, united, and cohesive team. It is precisely why presidents are able to accomplish much more in a second term.
For the State Department’s part it has not been labeled “foggy bottom” without just cause and reason. The State Department was the main reason the American embassy was never moved to its rightful place in Jerusalem despite bipartisan support. It took President Trump to make it happen.
The State Department has always had “Pan-Arabists” in key positions.
Under the Obama administration, many who supported the Muslim Brotherhood held positions in the State Department. It was one of the main reasons President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton supported the “Arab Spring” and the rise of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi. The State Department was certainly pushing Morsi. General Abdul Farrah el Sisi who took over was not the favorite of the State Department. El Sisi has been one of the most stabilizing forces in the Middle East. He came to power despite President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and the State Department. If the State Department had gotten its way, the Middle East would be in much worse shape.
The president has a Herculean task in trying to change a system old, dysfunctional, and set in its ways. Changing the culture of Washington is a massive undertaking. If anyone can do it and actually has done it to some degree already, it is President Donald Trump.
Joseph M. Frager is a physician and lifelong activist.