- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2017

The Trump White House and the State Department were locked in their first battle of wills after the publication of a draft memo circulating Monday among dozens of State Department officials and career U.S. diplomats slamming President Trump’s temporary visa and refugee ban as an affront to “core American and constitutional values.”

“We are better than this ban,” stated the memo, which was submitted as a cable into the State Department’s long-established “dissent channel” and leaked to reporters over the weekend.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the executive order is about protecting Americans, and he said those diplomats who are objecting may be better off leaving the administration.

“They should either get with the program or they can go,” he told reporters at the White House.

Mr. Trump signed an executive order Friday to halt all refugee access to the U.S. for 120 days and Syrian refugee access indefinitely. The order also blocks visas from being issued to people from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Sudan — seven of the world’s more than 40 majority Muslim nations — for a minimum of 90 days.

Mr. Trump has faced harsh criticism over the order, with protests breaking out in several cities, as well as at airports around the U.S. and the world since Friday. The president and his aides have defended the ban, saying it’s necessary to keep terrorists from reaching the U.S. homeland and that critics have overreacted to the temporary disruptions and carefully limited scope of the order.

But with the State Department set to play a key role in implementing parts of Mr. Trump’s visa order, outrage has been deep among some officials at Foggy Bottom, with reports Monday that more than 100 career Foreign Service officers were ready to sign the protest memo.

“Consider this a major bureaucratic uprising on the part of career foreign officers against the president on his executive order on refugees,” stated a posting at Lawfare.com, a blog popular among State Department officials that often focuses on legal implications of contentious foreign policy and national security developments.

One version of the memo published by Lawfare said that “the end result of this ban will not be a drop in terror attacks in the United States; rather, it will be a drop in international good will towards Americans and a threat towards our economy.”

“Looking beyond its effectiveness, this ban stands in opposition to the core American and constitutional values that we, as federal employees, took an oath to uphold,” the memo states.

Lawfare and several news organizations, including The Washington Post and ABC News, reported that the memo was submitted as a cable into the State Department’s so-called “dissent channel” — an established, private medium for Foreign Service officers to question U.S. policy that dates back to the Vietnam War era.

At least officially, the State Department was playing down the idea of an organized, overt challenge by career diplomats to their new boss.

The dissent channel “is a longstanding official vehicle for State Department employees to convey alternative views and perspectives on policy issues,” department spokesman Mark Toner said. “This is an important process that the acting secretary, and the department as a whole, value and respect.”

The identity of dissent cable writers and cosigners is rarely revealed. In publishing the memo Monday, Lawfare said there was talk that “literally hundreds of Foreign Service officers are planning” to sign on.

Mr. Spicer staunchly defended the executive order, saying Mr. Trump would always put the safety of the country first. But the order has sparked bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill, and Britain and other U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East have attacked the order.

Anthony Cordesman, a longtime Middle East and national security analyst with the Center for Strategic International Studies, said Monday that he’s worried about the “firestorm of criticism and anger” generated overseas by the ban that “has alienated Muslims all over the world in precisely the way that [the Islamic State] and al Qaeda have been seeking to do for years.”

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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