There’s so much nonsense going on it’s hard to focus on any of it, but I will try. Today I want to bring up something I read in the Guardian that I’m not seeing elsewhere: “The White House is struggling to prevent a crippling exodus of foreign policy staffers eager to leave before the arrival of the Trump administration, according to current and former officials,” the Guardian says.
The top level officials in the National Security Council (NSC) are political appointees who have to submit resignations and leave in a normal transition. The rest of the 400 NSC staff are career civil servants on secondment from other departments. An unusual number of these more junior officials are now looking to depart. …
… “Career people are looking get out and go back to their agencies and pressure is being put on them to get them to stay. There is concern there will be a half-empty NSC by the time the new administration arrives, which no one wants,” said one official.
The NSC staffers want to get out before Michael Flynn takes over, and I can’t say I blame them.
Reports from the state department suggest most of its staff are taking a wait-and-see to the prospect of having the ExxonMobil oil executive, Rex Tillerson, at the helm. On Thursday, most of the Democrats on the House foreign affairs committee wrote to the current secretary of state, John Kerry, offering his staff protection against a “witch-hunt” by the new administration against civil servants who worked on Obama policies Trump wants to reverse. The letter was sent after the energy department refused to hand over to the Trump transition team a list of names of staffers who had worked on climate change.
I don’t know how those staffers are going to be protected once the Trump appointees take over. There will be witch hunts. The “old hands” will continue to leave.
Two words come to mind: Institutional memory. You might remember the wonder that was FEMA after Hurricane Katrina. It came to be realized that the massive incompetence that marked the response to Katrina was a combination of bad management and loss of institutional memory. So many old FEMA hands had left in disgust during Bush’s first term that the agency literally was staffed by people who didn’t know what they were doing. Not enough people remained who knew established procedures, what worked and what didn’t.
In the case of foreign policy, though, there’s another precedent that comes to mind. The McCarthy witch hunts in the 1950s were especially hard on the State Department. People with expertise in Asia were targeted in particular after Mao Zedong gained control of China. I have read that the loss of the old China hands in State left the U.S. largely blind when dealing with subsequent events in Asia, and this fed into the decisions that eventually got us more and more entangled in Vietnam. Loss of a critical number of professionals in any agency could have disastrous consequence long after Trump is gone.
So climate scientists may yet be purged, and foreign policy personnel, and I hate to think what’s going to happen to the Justice Department. It’s going to be very, very bad. And Trump may have a lot of Katrinas on his hands.