Diplomats from the US are worried that the country's first line of defence - its diplomatic missions abroad - are eroding under the Trump administration.

White House Senior Advisers Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner talk behind President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a Cabinet meeting, Monday, June 12, 2017.
White House Senior Advisers Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner talk behind President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a Cabinet meeting, Monday, June 12, 2017. (TRT World and Agencies)

Winter has come to Washington under President Donald J. Trump.

The election of the New York-born reality star has set off a retreat into monarchism in the capital city of the republic, where the president has delegated crucial duties to his family members while neglecting to staff civil service.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the US Department of State, the American equivalent of a foreign ministry.

Dozens of diplomatic positions go unfilled by the Trump administration. Meanwhile, Trump has tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner with the momentous task of building peace in the Middle East.

So far, Kushner's intervention perhaps helped yield the Qatar diplomatic crisis, which remains unresolved, and a diplomat from the United Arab Emirates, Yousef al Otaiba, says he has Kushner's attention.

Kushner was a private citizen, albeit a very wealthy one, until his father-in-law became one of the most powerful people on the planet.

"It's entirely unprecedented," said former Ambassador Dennis Jett, a career foreign service officer who served as an ambassador to multiple countries between 1972 and 2000.

"It's almost medieval, the government under the Trump administration. You have the king and the royal family around him and you have all these princes and court jesters all trying to influence the king. There is no system. There is no control. It's all whoever talked to him last. It's no way for a government to run," Jett said.

"If you can get to Ivanka or Jared or Donald Jr. and whisper in their ear and hope they'll whisper in the king's ear and the function of government completely breaks down," he added.

Meanwhile, last Monday, forty foreign service officers sent a letter urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to reverse a decision to shutter a section of the State Department that handles refugee issues – the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration – and give at least some of its job to the Department of Homeland Security.

The chaos in Washington could make the world a much more dangerous place. Including Jett, three retired ambassadors gave stark warnings about the path the administration is taking. In their view, the US diplomatic mission is really the nation's first line of defence. And it's corroding under Trump.

(TRT World and Agencies)

If that defence fails, the US might run out of options and react by launching military action instead of pursuing diplomacy.

Recent history in Iraq has shown that US military intervention does not lead to a more peaceful planet. It's easy to laugh or gawk at the dysfunction in the nation's capital, but the consequences of that dysfunction mean a more dangerous world for everyone.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not helping, former Obama adviser and State Department official Max Bergmann wrote in June.

"What we now know is that the building is being run by a tiny clique of ideologues who know nothing about the department but have insulated themselves from the people who do," Bergmann wrote of proposed cuts of up to 30 percent of the State Department's budget.

These likely won't pass, but the sentiment is something State Department officials found alarming. Bergmann said there is no reason for slashing State's budget, placing significant blame on Tillerson.

"America is not in decline—it is choosing to decline. And Tillerson is making that choice. He is quickly becoming one of the worst and most destructive secretaries of state in the history of our country," he said.

What's the reason for the Trump administration's attitude toward the State Department? It comes down to his nationalist adviser, Stephen K. Bannon.

The State Department represents the kind of "globalist" cabal that Bannon blames for foreign policy that naively treats egalitarianism as an article of faith by opening up the US to refugees and immigrants. It's also a central node in the "administrative state," a den of career civil servants Bannon and others despise as an entrenched, unaccountable, and faceless elite.

Bannon has vowed to take it apart.

Bannon is playing an old game, although he's doing it with a vengeance veteran diplomats can't remember.

"The attitude of a lot of politicians towards diplomacy and the state department is a bit schizophrenic," said Charles A. Ray, a former ambassador to Zimbabwe.

"This goes back to the founding of the republic. Diplomacy is not really trusted. Politicians only look at the short term, and getting votes. They look at things that will get them votes right away. And diplomacy is an unending process."

An "America First" relationship with allies sounds good to an audience at a Trump rally, but it spells bad news for the US abroad. Trump himself has distinguished his foreign policy so far by irritating longtime US allies like Germany and France, and pulling out of the Paris climate accord.

"When you see an enemy around every corner, you don't have any friends left," Ray said.

There is also politics closer to home that helps contribute to a toxic relationship between Trump and diplomats. Trump's populist message of sweeping reform comes with an antagonist: the deep state, allegedly out to undermine Trump's agenda.

But Ray says he doesn't buy the phrase "deep state" as legitimate.

"I hear it. I read it. And frankly I don't know what it means. And I'm not sure the people who are using it know what it means. It implies that somewhere in the bureaucracy of career people there are moles trying to find ways of sabotaging the executive and that's total bullsh*t," Ray added.

If they disagree with the president, they resign, Ray said. He cited the example of the deputy chief of mission in China, who resigned after Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord.

Henry Allen Holmes, another retired ambassador, told TRT World that he had faced a similar dilemma when he was a young foreign service officer. He was against US involvement in the Vietnam War, but was stationed in Paris during the conflict.

"I felt very strongly opposed to our policy our participation in the war in Vietnam," Allen said. "What I did when I was in Paris, I was in a position frequently to talk about our policy. I didn't feel compelled to resign, but if I had been assigned to Vietnam I would have resigned, I wouldn't have been able to carry out the policy on the ground."

There's a long tradition of foreign service officers implementing policies they don't agree with. The problem for State Department officials now is that so much of policy simply ignores their role entirely.

Unless you have the ear of the president, or someone close, your word is not worth much in Washington anymore. And that makes the whole world less safe.

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