The resignation statement of Josh Paul — the director of congressional and public affairs at the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, who published his parting shot on LinkedIn — should only surprise us because it departs from the usual discretion of unelected senior government bureaucrats across the Western World — the Blob, as we have learned to call it — when they push their own agendas.
Paul was outraged by continued support for Israel after the Hamas massacre of October 7 (which he barely alludes to) from the government he (theoretically) served. “I would like to think,” he told TIME magazine, “that it sends a signal that some things are worth fighting for internally… I am hopeful that it will bring others out of the woodwork… I certainly am encouraged by the responses that I’ve seen.”
Paul is alas typical of an age-old disease that is far from unique to Washington DC. Foreign Ministries especially (but not only) are full of supercilious types who see governments and ministers pass, while they remain in place. They prize process over political decisions, and the notion that unlike them, elected leaders enjoy an actual mandate from the country, only comes to mind to be contemptuously dismissed.
The historian David Pryce-Jones draws a disheartening but unsurprising portrait of the French Quai d’Orsay, as our own Foreign Ministry is known, in his 2006 Betrayal: only last week, Le Canard Enchaîné, France’s answer to Private Eye, whose political gossip is second to none, reported that Emmanuel Macron had brutally told off Foreign Secretary Catherine Colonna during the weekly Cabinet Meeting: a career diplomat, Colonna’s early statements on the attacks seemed to equate Israeli responsibility with Hamas’s.
In his lively and darkly funny memoir, Politics on the Edge, published last month, Rory Stewart, the former officer, diplomat, MP, and minister, recalls his experiences as Secretary of State for International Development in Theresa May’s Cabinet.
The man who’d been shot at by Shia militias and had been, among other things, Deputy Governor of Maysan and Dhi Qar governorates for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Southern Iraq, found himself stymied for months by his ministry’s own virtue-signalling bureaucracy as they were trying to pass hundreds of millions of pounds in aid programmes, with one in particular to disputed Syrian provinces. His recollections are straight out of Yes, Minister.
“…The leader, a quiet woman, apparently in her early twenties, began:
‘This is largely a formality, Minister. It is about providing support to Syria.’
I flipped through the paperwork. It seemed to propose funding municipal councils in north-west Syria.
‘Are these not the enclaves controlled by jihadi factions?’ I asked.
‘I think, Minister, there are many different groups in these areas.’
‘So we are not funding jihadis?’
‘No, Minister,’ she said with absolute confidence.
‘How do we know?’
‘We have due diligence and monitoring and evaluation teams in each context, Minister,’ she said. It sounded as though she were reciting a catechism.
‘Have any of you ever visited these areas of Syria?’
She glanced around the table. ‘No, Minister.’
‘Do we have any staff currently in Syria?’
‘No, Minister, but …’
Desperate to stop a repeat of the follies which I had witnessed elsewhere, I tried to give my sense of those areas of Syria. I described the municipal councils that I had seen taken over by jihadi groups in southern Iraq: the windowless buildings, pockmarked with shrapnel, and the exhausted civil servants, cowed by swaggering militias in black clothes, with Kalashnikovs bound tight to their chests.
‘I suspect,’ I said, ‘that we all know that the generator we have just bought for the hospital is the same generator which the doctor stole from the hospital the week before.’…”
Needless to say, Stewart soon finds out that his veto has been overruled. A delegation of his more senior mandarins come in to tell him it is not “within his power” to veto the programme.
“They seemed to be explaining that my signature was enough to approve this business case, but not to block it. ‘The decision is above our pay grades, Minister.’ But none of them could tell me whose decision it was.”
As it turns out, this representative bevy of the Blob had picked the wrong prospective victim: Stewart doggedly travels all the way to Turkey, the Syrian border, then Washington, to piece together the opinion of diplomats, spies, a US Presidential adviser, and the UK National Security Council.
After three months, still more officials finally announce that “only the PM” can take a decision, and he must refer to her. More wrangling ensues over the contents of Stewart’s own letter to the PM: his office repeatedly edits it to remove his salient points. A letter is finally sent to May, to which Stewart receives no answer whatsoever, while the programme he fought is duly implemented.
“Two months later, the director responsible for the Middle East came into my office: ‘I’m afraid I am here to brief you on a problem, Minister. It appears that one of the individuals whom we fund in north-west Syria has been videoed on a stage at an event organised and sponsored by al-Qaeda. We have prepared press lines but our advice, Minister, would be to terminate the funding to this kind of project in Syria.’
There was no acknowledgement of my campaign, but the funding somehow ceased.”
For one victory of sorts, there are 99 defeats: it takes both character and a rare capacity to dig one’s heels in to stand one’s ground.
Any sign of weakness or simply of the relevant government member having taken their eyes off the ball is immediately exploited.
The worse turf battles at the Quai d’Orsay took place under weak ministers: under Philippe Douste-Blazy, a cardiologist by trade, his mandarins belittled and curtailed the efficient work done in French Embassies wouldwide by the Missions Économiques, (which facilitated business to and from France) mostly because their parent Department was the Ministry of Finance.
In recent years, the Blob has gone woke, which leads to its new puerile and self-indulgent stridency. Josh Paul’s vocal resignation, and his quest for “likes” on social media, logically belongs to a State Department where counselling is now provided to employees whose gender pronouns have been incorrectly assigned by a glitch in the new email system. (The counselling was run by the State Department DEI department.)
“We had a therapy call yesterday, to help hundreds of employees express their distress that the Biden administration is being too pro-Israel,” one insider told me. That person noted down some of the complaints such as “our initial statements were dangerously reckless” and “we were tone deaf, starting by saying we supported Israel at the top”.
“These are the people doing diplomacy for the US: State now feels like a university campus.”
That is not terribly reassuring.