The right way to dissent

Paul Wolfowitz opined in the New York Times (but this link is to AEI) on the delicate problem of disagreeing with your boss in federal service.  He's talking about the State Department, not the DOJ, but it's still interesting.  I wasn't aware of any of his examples of private and public dissent.
Significantly, when a draft of the dissent channel cable objecting to President Obama’s Syria policy leaked to The New York Times last summer, William Harrop, a distinguished career ambassador who strongly believes in the dissent channel, condemned the leak, saying that the Foreign Service officers’ “oath of office is to protect and defend the Constitution, but they are not free to debate publicly with their president.” He added, “If they wanted to go public they should have resigned.”
Another diplomat, Chas Freeman, said at the time that “the channel can only work if it is ‘internal use only,’ i.e., it does not become part of the political diatribe or embarrass the administration.”
Diplomats confronted with an immigration policy that they believe is harmful to national interests should not abuse their government positions to undermine or sabotage the policy, no matter how strongly they feel about it. They do have three courses they can follow in good conscience:
They can seek reassignment to a position that is not affected by the policy, as John Negroponte did in leaving the White House and accepting reassignment to Ecuador after objecting to what he considered a betrayal of South Vietnam; they can continue working to mitigate the effects of a policy they object to, as Ryan Crocker did with extraordinary effectiveness in Iraq; or they can resign and go public with their objections as the Bosnia dissenters did and as Ann Wright did over Iraq and Ambassador Robert Ford did over Syria.
Whether they also have a First Amendment right to go public with their opposition while still serving in official positions is a question that lawyers can no doubt debate for a very long time.

7 comments:

Grim said...

I think the State Department's internal dissent mechanism is pretty wise. It's similar to what Cass was talking about in the Marine Corps: a culture of questioning and raising objections, within a context in which orders can still be given once everyone has had a chance to think together.

E Hines said...

Whether they also have a First Amendment right to go public with their opposition while still serving in official positions....

It seems to me that their service in the Federal government should (if it does not) come with restrictions on their free speech rights similar to those applied to a soldier's free speech rights.

Eric Hines

quasirenaissanceman said...

Bingo. The Dissent Channel only works when it remains a tool to present additional information or policy recommendations that were not considered in the first place, or to deliver bad news about the negative impacts of a policy that would otherwise not reach the right people. Turning it into a tool of public discourse cheapens it, leading the media to call such cables "protests," rather than recognizing them as a policy tool to make the country safer.

jaed said...

Of course they have a First Amendment right to go public with their opposition. I have a First Amendment right to publicly call my boss a horse's ass... but I shouldn't expect to still be working for that boss if I choose to exercise that right.

Here the federal government is acting as employer, not as sovereign. And employers may can an employee who's publicly working to undermine them. (Indeed, it might be a violation of the owners'—in the case of a government agency, the public's—reasonable expectations if they fail to do so.)

Vigorous internal argument is something else altogether. (If Sally Yates had gone straightforwardly to Trump or his deputies with her objections and argued for an immediate change in policy, instead of showboating and undermining, I'd have no problem with her actions at all.)

MikeD said...

What jaed said. You can say what you like. You don't get to ignore the consequences of what you say.

Tom said...

I kinda like the old samurai tradition of protesting orders by publicly disemboweling yourself. Cuts right to the heart of the matter ... er, at least the descending aorta of the matter, if they're determined. Maybe the iliac arteries. Anyway, that way, they really get to spill their guts and no one can complain. Except the cleaning crew.

Ymar Sakar said...

Two faced humans idealize what they can't achieve.

Once the Japanese feudal aristocracy turned into bureaucrats, they had to use State executioners to help people commit seppuko, because the aristocrats lacked the guts to do it themselves. Merely touching the knife will lead to the neck stroke.

A two faced human is the norm, someone who pushes for an ideal, meanwhile it only benefits them personally and they literally do not have the guts or the discipline to match the high standards. They lack the courage to fight the system. They just criticize the system and hope someone else dies for the cause.

They are human, thus to say, they are weaklings. It is the ones that could master their own life and death, that surpassed human limits, not the copy cats, the bureaucrats, or the politicians.