The Foreign Service Journal, December 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 13 TALKING POINTS Dissent Over Response to Hamas Attack Across the foreign affairs community, as of Nov. 7 when this edition was being finalized, there was ongoing debate and disagreement over the best way for the U.S. to respond to fighting in Israel and Gaza. Dissent over the administration’s policy was being expressed internally as well as publicly by some employees who were speaking to the press. State Department Civil Service employee Josh Paul, director of congressional and public affairs in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs resigned Oct. 18 in protest of U.S. policy of expanded military aid to Israel. Paul wrote on LinkedIn that he feared “rushing arms to one side of the conflict” would lead to “ethnic cleansing” in Gaza. He wrote a follow-up a week later in The Washington Post. On Oct. 19, after Secretary Blinken returned from a trip to the Middle East— the war prompted the Secretary to push up a scheduled visit to Israel and Jordan and add a half dozen additional stops, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Qatar—he sent a note to the entire department, acknowledging the personal and professional difficulties many State Department employees were experiencing as the war got underway. “While we fully support Israel’s right to defend itself, how it does so matters,” he wrote. “That means acting in a way that respects the rule of law and international humanitarian standards, and taking every possible precaution to protect civilian life.” The Secretary continued: “The United States has the most dedicated and capable diplomatic corps in the world. … Rather than stand on the sidelines when challenges seem daunting, you wade into the fray … you try to make things Americans don’t understand foreign aid. Instead of relying on misinformed citizens, we should demand better answers from national leaders who want to cut aid to our friends and allies and imperil American security. … Let’s review some important realities. First, foreign aid is about 1 percent of the U.S. budget, roughly $60 billion. … That’s a lot of money. To put it in perspective, however, Americans forked over about $181 billion annually on snacks, and $115 billion for beer last year. … We need to stop asking people in diners about foreign aid. (Populists who demand that we rely on guidance from The People should remember that most Americans think foreign aid should be about 10 percent of the budget—a percentage those voters think would be a reduction but would actually be a massive increase.) Instead, put our national leaders on the spot to explain what they think foreign aid is, where it goes, and what it does, and then call them out, every time, when they spin fantasies about it. —Tom Nichols, The Atlantic Daily, Oct. 30, 2023. Contemporary Quote better.” He then called on employees “to sustain and expand the space for debate and dissent that makes our policies and our institution better.” But the memo did little to calm the dissenters. On Nov. 1, Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer reported that more than a dozen current and former officials described “mounting objections” to the administration’s current policy, saying U.S. diplomats were “privately angered, shocked, and despondent by what they perceived as a de facto blank check from Washington for Israel.” On Nov. 3, Foreign Policy reported that “hundreds” of USAID employees had signed onto a letter calling on the Biden administration to demand an “immediate ceasefire” and to uphold international law, which “includes ending Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and settlements on occupied land.” On Nov. 6, Politico’s Nahal Toosi reported on one Dissent Channel message leaked to the press. The Dissent Channel is meant for internal debate, not as a way to reach the public. Meanwhile, the conflict triggered the authorized departure of nonemergency embassy staff in the region, with Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Beirut moving to evacuate family members and others. The attack on Israel also brought into focus the dearth of U.S. ambassadors and other senior officials in the region. On Oct. 7, there was no confirmed U.S. ambassador to Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, or Oman—only seven of Biden’s 78 ambassadorial nominees worldwide had been confirmed by the Senate. On Oct. 18, the Senate confirmed career diplomats as ambassadors to Kuwait (Karen Sasahara) and Oman (Ana