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A Foreign Service Officer Explains Why He's Resigning

Aug 9, 2019
Originally published on August 13, 2019 7:44 am
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

I can no longer justify my complicity in the actions of this administration. That's why I choose to resign. That's how Chuck Park explains his decision to leave the State Department after a long career in the Foreign Service. He wrote about this in a Washington Post op-ed, and he joins us now.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

CHUCK PARK: Thanks for having me, Ari - happy to be here.

SHAPIRO: In this piece, you give a number of reasons for your departure. Before we get to that, will you just describe how Trump administration policies affected your day-to-day work in the countries where you were serving?

PARK: Every day, I and my colleagues had to execute kind of the more mundane daily details of the Trump administration's foreign policy. Now what that means is when that Muslim ban came out in January of 2017, we on the ground, and my colleagues on the ground - my consular officer colleagues - had to start refusing visas on the spot, kind of crazy disorder. We had to cancel existing interviews. We had to re-review cases. We were - people were almost mid-interview with potential immigrants and travelers to the United States when they to drop everything and change direction based on one executive order.

The difference between the Obama administration and the Trump administration is the sheer, I'd say, managerial incompetence in the execution of the foreign policy of the United States of America. We were given orders well in advance of when we had to execute them. There was clear communication. We had clear talking points to deliver.

SHAPIRO: Does the reason for your resignation have more to do with what you describe as the managerial incompetence or the Muslim ban, the comments about white supremacists, the policies that you disagree with strongly?

PARK: The short answer is it was the latter. The actions and the statements and the events that you just mentioned kind of led to, if I can call it, a growing moral distress. And maybe I can explain to your audience here that, you know, foreign service officers, U.S. diplomats overseas, are really in a unique position with unique responsibilities. And what I mean is we're never off duty when we're posted overseas. So it doesn't matter if it's after-hours, and I'm having a beer with a local friend of mine, or I'm in a meeting with a high-level official. In both of those situations, I am absolutely expected all day and every day to represent and defend the policies of this president and his administration. At a certain point, it became impossible.

SHAPIRO: If foreign service officers left every time there was a presidential policy or president that they disagreed with, the whole system would crumble. I mean, there would be no consistency in the Foreign Service. This is built on an expectation that people will serve under presidencies that they don't agree with, that are not of their party. And so what makes this so egregious that you think you need to leave in spite of that?

PARK: So the first answer is that I think this administration, this president have demonstrated particularly naked cruelty. And I'm talking about separation of children from their parents at the border and placing them in squalid detention centers. I'm talking about mass raids on parents who - in Mississippi who have just sent their kids their first day at school.

The second thing is under the prior administration, I had my disagreements. But you got the sense that when you read these directions from Washington, D.C., or you at least - when you heard the president speak or when you saw the president tweet - the former president, that is - you had a sense that there was thoughtful consideration of these issues, kind of reasoned vigorous debate in the White House before it was rolled out. And with this president, I have not seen any evidence of that.

SHAPIRO: Conspiracy theorists have referred to what they call the deep state, which is the idea that there is a cabal of career government workers trying to undermine the president. In your op-ed, you say there's no deep state. You refer to what you call a complacent state. What is that?

PARK: I have met many of my colleagues, and I can't speak for all Foreign Service officers, but many of my colleagues have expressed their own misgivings. You know, we're human beings. We see these distressing images. And naturally, they upset us. Of course they do. But the complacency isn't in the lack of an emotional response to these terrible things that this administration is doing. It's the fact that despite the genuine emotional response, they continue to carry out and comply with orders. And for me, again, it reached a breaking point where I couldn't do it anymore.

SHAPIRO: Chuck Park was a Foreign Service officer who served three tours abroad, including a position at the American consulate in Ciudad Juarez just across the border from El Paso, Texas. His resignation was effective this week.

Thanks for speaking with us.

PARK: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.