Yovanovitch: Political leaders need to do more to support the foreign service

Yovanovitch: Political leaders need to do more to support the foreign service
© Greg Nash

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchGiuliani hires attorneys who defended Harvey Weinstein The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Former Ukrainian prosecutor says he was fired for not investigating Hunter Biden: report MORE in a public address Wednesday called on political leaders to do more to support the U.S. foreign service, while warning about a demoralized atmosphere at the State Department under President TrumpDonald TrumpMcAuliffe takes tougher stance on Democrats in Washington Democrats troll Trump over Virginia governor's race Tom Glavine, Ric Flair, Doug Flutie to join Trump for Herschel Walker event MORE.

“Right now, the State Department is in trouble,” Yovanovitch said during an event hosted by Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. “Senior leaders lack policy vision, moral clarity, leadership. The policy process has been replaced by decisions emanating from the top with little discussion, vacancies go unfilled, and our officers are increasingly wondering whether it is safe to express concerns about policies even behind closed doors.”

But this undermining of the foreign service corps, she said, comes as the U.S. is entering a challenging time with international allies and adversaries. 


“It is not news the State is being hollowed out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage," she told a mostly packed auditorium filled with friendly attendees. “We need to re-empower our diplomats to do their jobs. We can’t be afraid to share our expertise and challenge assumptions.

"Working off of facts is not a trademark of the deep state, but the deeply committed state,” she added, emphasizing that “truth matters.”

“The quiet work of diplomacy can be more effective and less resource intensive than just about any other tool ... It is not as exciting as sending in the Marines, but it is cheaper and usually more effective in the long run,” she said, adding that “creating relationships of trust is more important now than ever.”

Yovanovitch said one thing she believes diplomats and other foreign service officers should work to improve is explaining to the American people what they do overseas. She noted that in the many letters she received over the past several months, she was stunned to see that many followed the theme of: “I didn’t know what you guys did.”

“I think the American people want to know what we are doing, what we are doing in their name,” she said.

Yovanovitch’s keynote at the event came shortly before she was awarded the 2020 Trainor Award, which honored her service to international diplomacy.

Former diplomats, like former ambassadors Tom Pickering and William Burns, praised Yovanovitch for her bravery and courage after facing attacks from Trump and his allies for her decision to testify in the House impeachment inquiry, despite orders not to do so. They also subtly jabbed the president and others for their attacks against the longtime public servant, with Pickering describing the president’s remarks against her as “reprehensible.”

Democrats have described Yovanovitch as the first victim of the pressure campaign on Ukraine, one which abruptly and unceremoniously ended the career of the longest-serving diplomat in Europe at the time.

Yovanovitch’s public testimony late last year put a human face on the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s contacts with Ukraine, describing a dangerous precedent in which the president’s personal lawyer Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiBook Trump signed for Giuliani fetches K at auction: 'I promise never to run against you' Judge: Request for Tucker Carlson personnel files is 'intrusive' White House orders release of Trump records to Jan. 6 committee MORE, corrupt Ukrainian officials and disreputable media figures could succeed in ousting a U.S. ambassador who they saw as standing in the way of their business and political interests. 

Yovanovitch also previously testified that she felt “threatened,” “concerned” and uncomfortable upon learning that Trump singled her out during his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which sparked the impeachment inquiry against him.

And while Yovanovitch had a far more somber tone during the public impeachment hearings late last year, she took a tone of empowerment and recovery on Wednesday.

"I lost my sense of humor, but I am glad I found it again," she remarked.