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Foreign Service Officers

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I think the House impeachment inquiry is a partisan fishing expedition, but as a former U.S. foreign-service officer, I tuned in to the hearings rooting for my erstwhile colleagues to acquit themselves well. Instead, the hearings were a made-for-TV spectacle in which foreign-service officers were used as props in a political drama.

Foreign-service officers serve in more than 200 posts around the world, most in places where few Americans would want to live. They learn the local languages and quickly become experts in their fields. Yet when the countries where they serve make news, politicians and policy makers often disregard their expertise. I hoped that the hearings might serve as an argument for why administrations, Republican or Democratic, should lean more on the foreign service.

George Kent, who was a deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of Ukraine policy, disappointed me on the first day by droning on at length about his family tree. The public has a vague impression of diplomats as effete bores who sip tea with their pinky fingers out and have ancestors who came over on the Mayflower. Wearing what President Trump later mocked as a “wonderful bow tie,” Kent unfortunately fit the part.

Ambassadors Bill Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch came off better but also seemed too willing to hitch old grievances onto the impeachment train. Each was rightfully disturbed that Rudy Giuliani had his own back channel in Ukraine and had more clout and access to key policy makers than they did. But this is common. Recall that Hillary Clinton exchanged more than 150 emails about Libya with confidant Sidney Blumenthal and not one with Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

None of the career diplomats who testified last week had any insight into the president’s decision-making. That’s not uncommon for officers of their rank. The witnesses were brought before the committee because Democrats knew they would rightfully object to how President Trump handled Ukraine policy, not because they were in a position to know his motives or goals.

Ms. Yovanovitch has served the country admirably in dangerous places and is undoubtedly a courageous person. That’s why it was a shame to see her questioned so delicately, as though she had survived some sort of trauma. Daniel Goldman, the Democrats’ lead counsel, said at one point, “Without upsetting you too much, I’d like to show you the excerpts from the call.”

Chairman Adam Schiff asked her about the president’s disparaging tweets about her and whether they might intimidate other witnesses. “Well, it’s very intimidating,” she said. The media lionized her as a hero. But when she was asked about how the president’s actions made her feel, I wish she had rejected the victim role the Democrats wanted her to play. How great it would have been for her to say dismissively, “I’m not intimidated by anyone sending tweets, even if it’s the president.”

The biggest opportunity the foreign-service officers missed last week came when they were queried about Hunter Biden. They preached ad nauseam about the importance of anticorruption efforts in Ukraine, but they walked on eggshells in their Biden responses, refusing to go further than pro forma acknowledgments that his position on the board of a Ukrainian company while Vice President Joe Biden was overseeing U.S. policy toward Ukraine “created the perception of a conflict of interest.” Mr. Taylor testified that he thought the reason to investigate Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that paid Hunter Biden $50,000 a month, “was to cast Vice President Biden in a bad light.” On Wednesday Ambassador Kurt Volker took it a step further, calling accusations that the Bidens were up to no good “not credible” and a “conspiracy.”

The diplomats emphasized that they had served under Republican and Democratic administrations. But that means little—it’s currently true of every career diplomat with three years on the job—and in any case we know that many government officials consider Mr. Trump to be very different from any prior president. It would have been a much more powerful moment—and a great argument for enhancing the role of the foreign service—if these diplomats had given a more forceful denunciation of the Biden family’s shenanigans in Ukraine. They had a unique opportunity to explain how the Biden situation hampered America’s credibility on the corruption issue or at least argue that Joe Biden should have recused himself from Ukraine policy, but they didn’t seize it.

Most of the foreign-service officers I know are proud of their colleagues who testified last week, and some are sharing stories of the sacrifices they’ve made, using hashtags like #FSProud. Perhaps last week’s hearings will help some Americans understand their valuable service to our country, but most Republicans and independents will view them as willing accomplices in an effort to oust a president they don’t like. Democrats will cheer them on for the same reason.

If only one side is lauding you as heroes, you can bet the other now views you with even more suspicion than before. That isn’t a good look for American diplomacy.

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Source: Diplomats Play Partisans on TV – WSJ