By John Frederick Kaufman

The newest foreign policy news today is that Russia has retaliated for the expelling of Russian diplomats (some of whom are said to be spies) by both European nations and the United States. Russian diplomats were banished from our shores by President Trump (in a rather quiet, un-Trumpian manner) in response to the nerve-agent poisoning in England of a former Russian double agent and his daughter.

The NY Times writes that tensions between Russia and the West have reached “a fever pitch” though President Obama previously expelled 35 Russian “diplomats” who, we were told back in 2016, were actually “intelligence operatives.” Obama’s move came after it was known that Russia had tried to hack and alter the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor. After Putin declined to respond in kind against U.S. diplomats, president-elect Trump praised the Russian president, tweeting that Putin was “very smart” not to retaliate. So far, no word from Trump on whether Putin is being dumb this time by not turning the other cheek.

President George W. Bush also sent packing a large number of Russian “diplomats,” accusing them of being spies back in 2001. The Guardian provides a useful collection of recent U.S.-Russia diplomatic/espionage conflicts, none of which seems to have caused any high fevers, pitched or not. It is clear, however, that current Russian leadership under Putin is not serving the causes of democracy, honesty and human rights; in fairness, the Trump administration is not exactly proving to be a beacon of sweetness and light either, but let us hope that our diplomats in Russia and elsewhere remain devoted to diplomacy and leave the spying (and drone killing?) to the CIA.

Of course, now that Mike Pompeo has been transferred from the Dept. of Sometimes Unsavory Methods to the Dept. of (we hope) Diplomacy, it may well be the U.S. itself that is undermining U.S. diplomats and diplomacy. Other Americans, it seems, share this concern. CBS News reports on a letter signed by many U.S. ambassadors and diplomats that was sent to the Senate Foreign Relations committee regarding the nomination of Pompeo to lead the State Dept. :

“Over 200 former ambassadors and veteran diplomats have signed a letter urging the Senate Foreign Relations committee to grill Mike Pompeo, who is President Trump’s nominee to become the next Secretary of State.
The letter, sent to Republican committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker and ranking Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, raises concerns that American diplomacy has been crippled and calls on the committee to question Pompeo on how he plans to fix it.”

The letter generously assumes that Pompeo does plan to fix the shrinking State Dept. But the letter also helpfully points out various ways he can fix it, should he need any prodding. Time will tell.

But for the moment it appears that we don’t need the Russians to banish our diplomats and weaken American diplomacy. Under Trump, we are doing a very good job of it ourselves.

(Photo credit: “Diplomats at the foot of an unidentified waterfall, New York State, 8/1863.” National Archives Archeological Site [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

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