The impeachment hearings in Washington have shown public servants at their best.
Over the last several days, State Department witnesses acquitted themselves with both seriousness and thoughtfulness befitting the important constitutional process underway. In tone and testimony, they demonstrated themselves to be true professionals of diplomacy – U.S. officials charged with putting the national interest first. Over decades, these career ambassadors have conducted the crucial business of representing complex U.S. national security priorities in difficult and sometimes dangerous locations.
One of us writes as a former State Department official with firsthand knowledge of the degree to which diplomats have been on the frontlines since Sept. 11, 2001, alongside more traditional settings around the world. Some notable examples: in Guinea, an ambassador visited Ebola treatment centers, engaging with tribal and religious leaders while also showing the local population that America’s top official in the country was not hiding behind embassy walls. Another Foreign Service officer spent months working in crowded Syrian refugee camps, herself the descendant of Chinese immigrants who settled in Northern California. One Pashtu-speaking State Department officer gained the trust of Afghan district governors, Afghan army and police leaders, and U.S. Marines, by walking alongside them in bomb-filled poppy fields in southern Afghanistan.
These stories of overseas public service are not well known but should be. Diplomats and aid workers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last two decades — none lies buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Unfortunately, U.S. diplomacy has been under attack since the beginning of the Trump administration by political appointees and the president himself. Morale within the State Department is at an all-time low. The rate of departures of senior Foreign Service officers is unprecedented. These gaps in diplomatic personnel are corrosive to keeping the U.S. safe and alliances strong.
It is worth watching and indeed rewatching the honest and powerful reaction of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch when she was informed that President Trump – giving “bully pulpit” a whole new meaning — had just criticized her via Twitter while she was seated in the congressional hearing room. The highly regarded three-plus decade diplomat responded: “It is very intimidating” after previously telling committee members, “While I obviously don’t dispute that the president has the right to withdraw an ambassador at any time … what I do wonder is – why it was necessary to smear my reputation.”
The globe is increasingly disordered and U.S. foreign policy in disarray – whether regarding policy toward North Korea, Latin America, Iran or a destabilized NATO. U.S. diplomats’ jobs are now more demanding than ever. Just look at the rushed and unwise pullout of U.S. troops in Syria, leading to thousands of displaced Kurdish families and numerous deaths. The Russian government’s aggression toward its neighbor, Ukraine, and related U.S. efforts to combat corruption in post-Soviet nations. The Chinese attempts to fill the vacuum as Americans sit out international deliberations on climate and other key multilateral agreements. And of course the diplomatic cost of White House rhetoric about building walls, not bridges.
Utah is a state that has strong international ties and good diplomatic instincts. Gov. Gary Herbert deserves great credit on the issue of refugees — asking that more be sent here and declaring that they will be welcomed. Many are already neighbors who contribute to our growing diversity and economic dynamism.
Will other Utah politicians speak up for the State Department and the importance of diplomacy? Or will the standard of Oval Office conduct be lowered even further in coming weeks? Rep. Chris Stewart, Utah’s most prominent voice against impeachment, should continue to be under our collective and close scrutiny, but also GOP Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee.
As House and impending Senate deliberations move forward, we believe “enough” should be a chorus emanating from Utah. Enough … of attempting to use hundreds of millions of U.S. tax dollars for personal political gain and thereby undermine U.S. national security – the overriding issue in the impeachment proceedings. Enough … of the belittling of public servants by an abusive president. Enough … of putting party over country.
And enough of our national amnesia about what truly makes America great. Let us all recall what is contained in American passports – our public diplomacy message to the world that the American story and leadership are still worth believing in.
Our passport’s idealistic words and images are not about an empire, military or economic, but rather an America that can still inspire. No picture of American tanks or banks, but instead statements of long-held American values and ideas: The Declaration of Independence; Martin Luther King’s dream speech; John F. Kennedy’s “Pay any price, bear any burden” promise; Herbert Lehman’s “It is immigrants who brought to this land the skills of their hands and brains to make it a beacon of opportunity and hope for all men;” Henry Emerson Fosdick’s “Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people;” Jessamyn West on the transcontinental railroad “A big iron needle stitching the country together;” Horace Greeley’s “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country;” Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.”
And the images, between passport covers, that accompany the prose? A sailing ship. Bison herds. Saguaro cactuses. A wheatfield. Grizzly bear and a totem pole. The Statue of Liberty. Mount Rushmore. Independence Hall. A steam engine locomotive. The Tetons. And arguably the most moving of all, printed on the inside back cover? A view of earth from the moon.
Washington, D.C., is the current home to a loud and loutish president lashing out. Whether his stay in “The People’s House” is shortened, and not extended, is up to each of us and perhaps our consciences.
John Zaccheo, a 92-year old Rotarian, is a former pizza and Italian restaurant owner and business executive, who has called Utah home for almost five decades.
Kael Weston, a fourth-generation Utahn, is a former U.S. State Department official, Rotarian, and instructor at Westminster College and Marine Corps University and author of “The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan.” www.jkweston.com