The president, not diplomats, sets ‘official foreign policy’

There’s an important revelation from the first day of impeachment hearings that I haven’t heard discussed. It has to do with the witnesses’ strange notion of how foreign policy works.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent and Acting Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor both accused President Trump of interfering with U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine. They indicated they differed with Trump’s skepticism of Ukraine’s newest leadership, and they disagreed with Trump’s apparent decision to keep Ukraine at a measured distance while he assessed the situation.

They further said that Trump gave approval for his attorney and adviser, Rudy Giuliani, to develop a communications channel on Ukraine diplomacy that was outside the “regular” diplomatic chain. Some in the media have dubbed that a “shadow campaign.” 

Kent and Taylor strongly disapproved.

“Kent and Taylor … gave compelling testimony about why [President Trump’s] ‘shadow campaign’ was so at odds with America’s official foreign policy,” wrote Rolling Stone.  

The Huffington Post wrote, “State Department officials say Rudy Giuliani’s foreign policy backchannel ‘undercut’ U.S. policy on Ukraine.”

And Ambassador Taylor testified, “The official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Rudy Giuliani.”

There must be some confusion. 

Under the U.S. Constitution, it is the president of the United States who determines foreign policy. How can President Trump be “at odds with foreign policy” when he’s the one who determines it? 

President Trump may well have been altering foreign policy on Ukraine. It should be of no surprise that he wasn’t operating “business as usual,” since he ran on that platform and has executed it from day one. It’s clear that Kent and Taylor didn’t like or agree with Trump’s ideas, and believe they know what’s best. Trump rankled, contradicted and “embarrassed” them by operating outside the “regular” chain. 

But they seem to miss the fact that their desires are subordinate to the president’s. “Official foreign policy,” as they called it, is not an independent unmovable-force object that exists outside the president’s authority; it is what the president determines it to be. The diplomats must execute the president’s wishes or resign from their posts if they feel they cannot bring themselves to do so.

Kent and Taylor genuinely seem to believe Trump was acting for his own political benefit — though they acknowledged they never had spoken to him or met him. Obviously, President Trump would say he was acting in the national interest. But their testimony makes it pretty clear why President Trump would develop a communications chain that would attempt to minimize career diplomats who do not wish to execute his wishes and may be working to undermine them.

Trump’s enemies may cheer on the idea of diplomats and other officials choosing to oppose or undermine his wishes. But based on our Constitution, the dissenting diplomats are the ones who are at odds with “official foreign policy”— not the other way around. To the extent they are attempting to further policies that oppose or undermine the president’s wishes, they are the ones conducting the “shadow campaign.”

Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times best-sellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program, “Full Measure.”

Tags diplomats Donald Trump Donald Trump Impeachment Foreign policy George Kent Rudy Giuliani Ukraine William Taylor

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