Molly Montgomery on the absence of American diplomacy during the government shutdown
When the government is closed, American diplomacy pauses
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You may have seen coverage of the whirlwind trip Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took across nine countries in the Middle East and assumed it was business as usual at the State Department. You would be wrong.
Hundreds of employees who worked around the clock in places like Iraq and Saudi Arabia to support his travel missed their first paycheck this week, along with thousands of their colleagues based around the world.
According to the State Department, 42 percent of domestic employees and 26 percent of overseas employees have been furloughed due to the ongoing partial government shutdown. The remaining 15,000 American employees of our lead foreign affairs agency are working without pay.
Like thousands of other American workers affected by the shutdown, many of them are worried about making ends meet without a paycheck and concerned about when the government will reopen. They deserve our gratitude and respect. More than that, they deserve a president who understands that diplomacy is equally important to protecting our national security as military might or secure borders.
Most of all, they deserve, and our own national interest demands, an end to the government shutdown. Until that happens, American diplomats will continue to show up at the State Department and at our United States embassies overseas to perform without pay the limited emergency functions permitted by law during a lapse in federal appropriations.
They are not allowed to meet with other foreign diplomats, make public speeches, or conduct media outreach. They are not even permitted to participate in meetings with counterparts from other federal government agencies. In short, our diplomats are not allowed to conduct diplomacy.
The Trump administration views the world through a lens of strategic competition. If we are not winning, then we are losing. But what if we are not even showing up? On diplomatic playing fields from Syria to Korea, Venezuela to Ukraine, we are forfeiting the game to our adversaries.
At the United Nations, where American diplomats must battle Chinese and Russian diplomats in support of our interests and allies, the seat belonging to the most powerful country in the world is empty. In fragile states such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is in the midst of what would be its first democratic transition, an American voice supporting democracy and discouraging violence is virtually absent.
Our adversaries are more than happy to fill the vacuum, undermining our place in the world. That is no way to run a country, let alone a superpower. It is time to reopen the government. Let our diplomats do their jobs. Our security and prosperity, and that of our allies and partners, depend on it.
Molly Montgomery is a vice president at the Albright Stonebridge Group. She is a former foreign service officer with the State Department and served as special adviser for global affairs to Vice President Mike Pence.