Tue. May 21st, 2024

Prof. ST Hsieh

Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum


[email protected]

November 3, 2023

The storm of dissent is brewing in the US, not limited to Biden’s State Department. US society is bitterly polarized, and it is not entirely Biden’s fault. However, under Biden’s watch, the divide has become dissent or cynical.

Domestically, Biden had promised, during his campaign for the presidency, that he would work with both Democratic and Republican parties. Unfortunately, Biden’s administration has not reached out to the Republicans often and his policy is almost entirely focused on pleasing liberalism. Again, it is not entirely Biden or Democratics fault, but the fact is under Biden the bipartisan conflict gets more confrontational. Biden’s fault, again, is he has not sincerely worked with the Republicans for a common agenda for the US.

Globally, it is the same “black and white” or “I am right, and you are wrong” approach. The proxy war in Ukraine is one case in mind. Whatever the consequences, Biden has pitched the Ukraine war as the extreme case of “god against evil.” It is almost to reach a cease fire unless Ukraine “wins” the war!

The dissent in the State Department over the Israel-Hamas crisis, is a manifestation of Biden’s approach to politics: whether domestic or global, he is always right. In terms of foreign policy, how do you argue with the President who proclaimed that “he is the utmost foreign policy guru in the US history?” Unfortunately, seniority is not the only measure of expertise!

Secretary Blinken will have to calm the storm in the State Department, we wish him the best of luck. But the root cause of the challenge rests on the top: President Biden.

The Storm of Dissent Brewing in the State Department

U.S. diplomats are split over Biden’s perceived blank-check support for Israel.

By Robbie Gramer

Following a marathon tour of the Middle East to address the massive regional crisis spurred by the Israel-Hamas war, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the time to send a lengthy message to the U.S. diplomatic corps on his trip.

In the Oct. 20 message, he wrote about how “challenging” the current crisis was for State Department employees and reiterated his and President Joe Biden’s calls for Israel to respect the “rule of law and international humanitarian standards” while backing the country’s right to defend itself in the wake of the massive attack by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.

“[L]et us also be sure to sustain and expand the space for debate and dissent that makes our policies and our institution better,” he wrote in the message, a copy of which was obtained by Foreign Policy.

The last line in particular was telling.

As Blinken shuttled between Middle Eastern capitals, a growing storm of dissent was brewing in the diplomatic corps back home, where many U.S. diplomats were privately angered, shocked, and despondent by what they perceived as a de facto blank check from Washington for Israel to launch a massive military operation in Gaza at an immense humanitarian cost for the besieged Palestinian civilians in Gaza. That anger became a groundswell of opposition to Biden’s initial approach to the war among the ranks of U.S. national security officials, putting top Biden administration officials on the defensive both abroad and at home.

Mounting objections within the State Department, National Security Council, and other agencies—described by more than a dozen current and former officials in interviews with Foreign Policy—have coincided with a sharp backlash against Biden’s policies beyond Washington and among progressive Democrats and Arab American voters. (Around 59 percent of Arab Americans supported Biden in 2020, but his support in the 2024 race has plummeted to 17 percent, according to a new poll.)

In Washington, the surge in internal dissent poses one of the largest challenges to Blinken’s tenure at the State Department so far, some current and former officials assert.

“In 25 years working at the Department of State … I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former State Department expert on Arab-Israeli negotiations. “It’s as if the administration is mediating its own internal Israel-Palestinian conflict.”

In the past week, as the humanitarian toll from Israeli strikes and military operations in Gaza mounted, the Biden administration has shifted its approach, urging Israel both publicly and privately to take more steps to ease humanitarian suffering and reopen Gaza’s access to water, fuel, and humanitarian supplies.

Though the administration hasn’t budged on plans to ship more arms to Israel and has dismissed calls for a permanent cease-fire to end the fighting, Blinken, testifying before the Senate on Tuesday, advocated for brief “humanitarian pauses” to allow sorely needed humanitarian relief supplies to get into Gaza. (Protesters loudly interrupted his testimony five separate times.)

Many officials agree the scenes of carnage in Gaza and dire warnings from humanitarian groups, as well as outcry from other regional powers, have started to shift U.S. policy at the margins and on limited humanitarian priorities. Privately, administration officials have expressed deep misgivings about how Israel’s bombing campaign and raids in Gaza have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and mounting civilian death toll, and U.S. officials were successful in pressuring Israel to resume the supply of water to Gaza.

Current and former officials said it was hard to say to what degree, if any, the backlash among diplomats and security officials, including through formal dissent channels, helped shape that change in tone. But the dissent remains simmering and will test the Biden administration’s response to further twists in the conflict: More internal objections from policymakers at every level in the coming weeks could potentially alter the calculus of the one country that could still temper Israel’s approach to the war.

Within the State Department, the dissent was sharpest in the first two weeks of the conflict, when Biden stuck to his approach of offering unfettered support for Israel. Biden said the U.S. response to an attack of the scale Israel faced would lead to a “swift, decisive, and overwhelming” response on Oct. 10 and later cast doubt on the scale of reported Palestinian casualties in Gaza.

Four current and three former officials told Foreign Policy that otherwise routine internal policy debates on how to respond to a major foreign crisis—including debating the merits of transferring new arms and munitions to a U.S. ally versus the potential cost of civilian casualties and concerns about the ally violating international humanitarian law—were completely snuffed out as the administration immediately leaned in to offering Israel unfettered military support.

“The feedback I’ve heard from others within the department [is] that when they’ve tried to raise these issues, folks are happy to talk about their personal feelings or their discomfort, but as soon as any hard policy discussions come up, they are told, ‘This is coming from the top. There’s no room for any discussion,’” said Josh Paul, a veteran State Department official who worked on arms transfers and resigned in protest of the administration’s policies on Oct. 18.

Administration officials have sharply disputed this characterization and said the administration has remained consistent in calling for Israel to abide by all international law as it defends itself.

Others say the diplomatic corps was upset by Biden’s rush to back widespread Israeli military operations in Gaza instead of more precise and targeted operations to take out Hamas’s leadership alongside diplomatic efforts to rally support for Israel.

“No one wants to give up diplomacy. No one wants to accept that. You couldn’t expect anyone in the Department of State to be happy at being set aside when diplomatic engagement is what they do,” said Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, a former senior U.S. diplomat who is now the president of the Middle East Policy Council.

Paul, the former State Department official, published his resignation letter in a LinkedIn post that swiftly went viral. Other State officials lodged their complaints through the department’s formal dissent channel to object to U.S. policy. At least two dissent cables have been drafted over the U.S. response to the crisis, according to one current and one former official familiar with the matter, though the State Department did not address this when approached for comment. Still other diplomats voiced their complaints informally and kept their objections behind closed doors.

Administration officials, including Blinken in his message, say they welcome internal dissent through proper channels. “We understand—we expect, we appreciate—that different people working in this department have different political beliefs, have different personal beliefs, have different beliefs about what United States policy should be. In fact, we think that’s one of the strengths of this government,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Biden’s allies on Capitol Hill concur. “These are really tough decisions about how to support Israel, how to balance accountability for Hamas versus avoiding civilian harm in Gaza,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, a leading foreign-policy voice in the progressive flank of the Democratic Party and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“I guarantee you that no matter what President Biden decided on this set of questions, there was going to be dissent inside the White House, there was going to be dissent inside the State Department and dissent in Congress,” Murphy said.

But top administration officials saying they welcome dissent and actually altering policy based on that dissent is another matter entirely. Biden and Blinken faced a surge in outrage over the administration’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2021, which sparked a separate State Department dissent cable that reportedly correctly predicted the calamity to come.

Paul, the State official who resigned, told Foreign Policy that this current crisis has fueled dissent of a different kind, with diplomats feeling powerless in their efforts to influence U.S. policy from the inside. He said dissent at most has sparked a change in “tone but not substance” inside the administration.

“With Afghanistan, it was all hands on deck, and people were volunteering on task forces to help Afghan allies. … There was something you could do,” he said. “But here, there’s a sense that there’s nothing you can do, and that’s what differentiates these crises.”

By user

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.