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Trump has the wrong attitude towards diplomats

Whether Republican or Democrat, a United States politician must represent the interests of constituents — the people. This basic principle is the foundation of the American political system. When it comes to international relations, representing the American people means supporting their interests overseas. Our current administration seems to have forgotten that. In August, President Donald Trump said he was “thankful” that Putin ordered American diplomats out of Russia. Sadly, this was not an isolated incident. Trump’s attitude toward foreign diplomats has always been disrespectful, and his words carry consequences felt by Americans at home and abroad.

Trump has forgotten diplomats’ importance. Before instant communication, diplomats functioned as the main political bridge between governments. Countries’ policies were presented directly from representatives — a task that drew some of the most well-traveled, clever negotiators in the world. Today, the job is even harder. News reports reach governments well before shiny black cars can deliver ambassadors from embassies. Information is unfiltered; it is the diplomat’s job to both articulate a country’s policy — as before — and address this outside information.

When a job is done right, it goes unnoticed. Diplomacy is no exception. On a very high level, diplomacy is the conduct of foreign policy: cutting trade deals, processing visas and being a stable political presence in a foreign capital. The other half of a diplomat’s job is much more tangible: assisting Americans abroad. Assisting can mean anything from issuing emergency passports to facilitating evacuations in the event of a disaster.

While both functions are important, the second affects Americans more immediately. That’s why Putin’s decision in August to reduce U.S. embassy staff in Moscow by 755 people was so disastrous to the thousands of Americans living, working and traveling in Russia. The safety net was cut. And how did Trump respond? “I want to thank him because we are trying to cut down our payroll.” Bad timing. When the well-being of Americans is at stake, don’t make a joke of the situation.

More important than the joke is that Trump’s words were not just playful; they were substantiated by past behavior. In his short presidency, Trump has flaunted a disrespectful attitude toward American diplomats, beginning on his first day in office with a notice issued across the world: come home. Politically-appointed ambassadors were to drop everything and book it back to the U.S. by Inauguration Day. Everyone was caught off guard. New presidents always allow, at the very least, a grace period in which ambassadors can tie up their loose ends, pack their suitcases and comfortably return home. This time was different. The edict displaced families and left gaping holes in embassies’ staffs, many of which still have not been filled.

Trump seems to think that he can fill the role of the diplomat. Decadent resorts, weekends on the green and “TRUMP”-inscribed jets may have given him the upper hand in business dealings, but this is a different domain. In diplomacy, it doesn’t matter who has the strongest handshake  when the world is watching and laughing. What Trump considers unimportant, a joke or a job for him alone could risk American citizens’ safety and, in some cases, their lives. Americans need the support system that diplomats provide — both in the long term to conduct foreign policy and in the short term to keep them safe. So let the diplomats work, Mr. Trump, and show them some respect for doing the job you can’t.

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