State Department
The State Department's headquarters in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Credit: Loren/Wikimedia Commons

For many of us, the impeachment hearings have provided a window into the professional standards of the people who’ve spent their entire careers in foreign service. But what we’ve seen is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the non-partisan nature of how they do their jobs demonstrates how the everyday work of these professionals has provided stability in our relationships with foreign countries. On the other hand, we’re learning about that primarily because it has all been thrown into chaos by the current administration.

The story of David Holmes, political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, provides an example. Here is how he described his background at the State Department.

I have spent my entire professional life serving my country as a Foreign Service Officer. Prior to my current post in Kyiv, Ukraine, I served at the Embassy of Moscow, Russia as Deputy and Internal Unit Chief in the Political Section, and before that as Senior Energy Officer in the Economics Section. In Washington, I served on the National Security Council staff as Director for Afghanistan and as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State. My prior overseas assignments include New Delhi, India; Kabul, Afghanistan; Bogotá, Colombia; and Pristina, Kosovo.

Holmes has been referred to as a “rising star” in the State Department, which adds some depth to this story.

In 2014, Holmes won a “constructive dissent” award raising concerns about how the Obama administration was carrying out Afghanistan and Pakistan policy. Using the classified dissent channel, Homes sent a formal message where he explained the system at the time was cumbersome and that it “hindered our diplomatic effectiveness.”

“His message was so good and so influential that it went all the way to the secretary of state,” said Eric Rubin, and active duty foreign service officer and president of the American Foreign Service Association.

The William R. Rivkin award goes to mid-level officials at the State Department who shine a light on policy issues they observe…

[Rubin] said the memo Holmes crafted ultimately became “the subject of senior interagency meetings to discuss how to reorganize our approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

A mid-level official in the State Department raised concerns about the system in place for carrying out the administration’s policy. Not only did he get an award for doing so, the memo he crafted reached the secretary of state—which would have been John Kerry at the time—and was used to reorganize the department’s approach. A colleague of Holmes described him as “the best of the rising generation of foreign service officers.”

Throughout the tenure of both Tillerson and Pompeo at the State Department, we’ve heard a very different story about how they handle dissent. A major concern has been their attempts to hollow out the department generally. But just last week a report from the State Department inspector general revealed that a “purge of individuals Trump allies viewed as insufficiently loyal to the president began in the earliest days of the Trump administration.”

Witnesses like David Holmes were aware of those purges before they came forward to testify in the impeachment proceedings—knowing that doing so would put their careers on the line. Trump’s congressional enablers could learn a thing or two about patriotism from someone like that.

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