by James Carden
Friday, 24
September 2021
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10:48

Daniel Foote: yet another US diplomat gone native

The resignation of the special envoy to Haiti over expulsion of migrants is typical
by James Carden
Daniel Foote receives his commission as Special Envoy to Haiti (credit: Getty)

This week, thousands more undocumented Haitian migrants made their way to the Texas border town of Del Rio. ‘Open borders’ advocates claim the migrants are fleeing from political persecution in their native Haiti which is going through yet another period of turmoil, this time in the aftermath of the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse on July 7.

It is therefore somewhat surprising that Biden’s response to the Del Rio invasion was in keeping with that of his immediate predecessors: he ordered their expulsion. After all, there is little basis on which to grant the migrants political asylum — there is no evidence they will face persecution when they return to Haiti. Further, despite the terrible conditions in Haiti, the migrants in Del Rio did not come directly from Haiti but from Chile, Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico, none of which, it should be noted, have offered asylum. Simply put, the Haitians migrated to Del Rio when their employment opportunities dried up.


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Biden’s decision is eminently defensible. Yet he received immediate blowback from one of his own appointees, Daniel Foote, a career foreign service officer who, until Wednesday, had been serving as the Biden administration’s special envoy to Haiti. In his resignation letter Foote said he would “not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs to daily life.”

Foote’s resignation is a classic case of a diplomat ‘going native’ — also known as ‘clientitis’ —in which the diplomat champions the interests of the country they serve in rather than the interests of the country they serve.

Sadly, Foote is far from the first American diplomat to suffer from a bout of clientitis, nor will he be the last.

US diplomats going at least as far back as Stalin’s show-trial apologist Joseph E. Davies have fallen prey to this tendency. But it was not until after the fall of the Berlin Wall, where the threat of nuclear annihilation dissipated, that clientitis starting spreading through the diplomatic service.

In recent years, a series of US ambassadors to Ukraine, including Geoffrey Pyatt and William Taylor regularly overlooked US interests in their enthusiasm for a war with Russia over the Donbas, an economically depressed strategic backwater with no bearing on US national security. As Ted Galen Carpenter observed of Taylor’s time in Kiev, “it seemed as though Taylor was Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States rather than the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.” Then there was Trump’s personal envoy to Israel, David M. Friedman, who routinely conflated the whims of the host Right-wing Likud government for American interests and in doing so bestowed an ‘endless list of political giveaways’ to Benjamin Netanyahu.

These cases are all symptomatic of the underlying arrogance in America’s diplomatic corps. Certain diplo-officers believe they are endowed with a higher purpose and that only they know what’s best for for their country, and not the president who they serve.

In the end this is what the Foote affair comes down to: a high-ranking US diplomat resigning because he disagreed with a sensible and legal decision made by a duly elected president; a president who decided to place the interests of his own citizens over those of thousands of economic migrants who illegally crossed the sovereign border of the United States. One can only hope that Foote’s replacement will be better suited to the task at hand and serve the president’s interests, not his own.

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Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

This is the major problem in Britain too: the ruling-class don’t instinctively take their country’s side. It seems implausible – they are British, their families are British, Britain has afforded them a decent life and an interesting job, and still they take the side of another country.
Exhibit A – I assumed that having lost the referendum, Britain’s elites would say “oh well, it wasn’t what I wanted but it is what my compatriots voted for, lets make it work!” Instead they are still sulking six years later, flying EU flags and slandering their countrymen.
Until or unless we can get to the point where our top civil servants always pitch for their own country, we are doomed to fail. After all, can you imagine the Chinese embassy going native?

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt M
James Joyce
James Joyce
1 year ago

This is a well-written summary but does not go far enough. As an American living in Estonia–I heard long after the fact, that the embassy had flown the BLM flag. I called the embassy to find out if this was true and they refused to answer. How is this a secret? Had I been there on the day, I certainly would have taken a picture, but I missed my chance. The consular officer said that she would be happy to refer me to certain State Department memos. I said fine, I’m happy to take the referral, but first, can you please answer my question? I’m happy to refer you to the memos…. Can you please answer my simple question? Yes, it’s a simple question, and I’m happy to refer you to the memos. The conversation was polite but strained. She hung up on me.
Let’s talk about why this was wrong. First, BLM is a communist organization, and Estonia was a victim of communism. BLM proudly touts their communist fundamentals. Their stated goal is essentially to destroy the American way of life. Must I mention that this is divisive, and that tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of Americans, would object to having their way of life destroyed? Some in America believe that the American flag is divisive and have removed it from their classrooms, as a symbol of racism, white supremacy, colonial oppression….
Second, why should America, a beacon of freedom to Estonians in Soviet times, knowingly advocate communism in a former communist country?
Rewind to October of 2020. After many problems attempting to obtain a ballot while overseas, I went to the embassy to cast my paper ballot. I was turned away by non-Americans because I did not have a mask. Masks were not common here then, and where required, they were usually provided. Not at the US embassy for American citizens. I returned 2 days later with a mask, got in, and when attempting to send my paper ballot was told by a consular officer that my vote would not count. Why not, I asked? Because it will take at least 8 weeks to get to the USA. Really? I could, I was told, ship my ballot to the USA privately, using DHS, UPS, FedEx at my expense. I thought about this and decided, no, this is a fundamental right, it’s their job, and it’s not like I had waited until the last minute. In the end, my vote did not count. Suppression or just incompetence? On the state and local end, their were also irregularities. The public record reveals that it was not counted, stated that there was a problem with the signature. I called and said–Hey, what was the problem with the signature–I followed the instructions to the letter. “Oh, no problem with the signature. It just came late.” Q: So why do public documents say that there was a problem with the signature? A: Because our computer system can’t do that. It can only say there is a problem with the signature.”
I should add that I know, having been told in detail by one, that FSNs–Foreign Service Nationals–move heaven and earth to obtain kit for US diplomats serving abroad. Need the latest iPhone tomorrow? We’re on it! Need some special part for your classic American car? We’ll get it for you ASAP. Need a special toy for your kid’s birthday next week–we’ll assign a team to work around the clock to get it here…. You’re an American in need of voting–tough luck!
Ambassador Foote is simply a disgrace, as is most of the Foreign Service, supposedly an elite corps of American diplomats, now part of the Deep State. At least he had the good sense to resign. Imagine what would have happened had this been Trump!
Defund the Foreign Service!

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  James Joyce

The BLM flag incident , if true, is shocking.
The rest of what you have described is, unfortunately, typical of the attitude and behaviour of embassy and consular staff everywhere.
You expected them to treat you as a “customer”.
You are not. You are an inconvenience.

James Joyce
James Joyce
1 year ago

Exactly how I see it. Also, trust, but verify. Sadly the BLM flag story is true. Google the memos.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 year ago

The USA owes Haiti and Haitians nothing. We have already absorbed a million Haitians and have given the small island country $5 BiLLION. Moreover, we’ve taken in a third of the population of Honduras, ditto Ecuador. Not to mention taking in millions from myriad other countries in recent years. Enough already – we’re so beyond losing our national selves yet the elites do not listen to American citizens the majority of whom would like immigration to cease for at least a few years. Instead, they just raise taxes and tell the citizens to suck it up. Enough already. There was a reason Trump got elected and perhaps will be reelected again. Enough already. We’re way beyond establishing ‘diversity’. It’s ruining the national fabric at this point.

Simon Collis
Simon Collis
1 year ago

I’m a retired diplomat. Leaving aside the specific issue for a moment, on the basic principle it looks like Foote did the honourable thing here and chose to resign over a policy he could not support.

What are the alternatives? Implement a policy that he can’t square with his conscience? Or stay and try to undermine a lawful decision taken by his democratically elected boss?

Part of a diplomat’s job is to understand the country they deal with well as the country they come from, and then to advise HQ on the policies that will best serve their own country’s national interest and values. In a democracy, this requires a sense of the politically possible as well as a sense of proportion about best fit with your own country’s wider interests, which can sometimes conflict with its specific interests in your narrow patch.

A good professional will properly seek to shape the policy they are asked to carry out – this is sometimes called ‘writing your own instructions.’ That’s not the same thing as ‘going native.’

But yes, once your government has taken a lawful decision, the diplomat’s job is to own and carry out that policy, and to defend it loyally in public and in private. If they can’t do that in good conscience the right course is to resign and make way for someone who can.

As it happens, I personally believe strongly that every state has the right and duty to control its borders, including illegal migration across them. Under the 1951 Convention on Refugees the basis for asylum is a well-founded fear of persecution on protected grounds (race, religion, political opinions etc). Economic migration is not covered. While I am not familiar with the situation in Haiti, I have no reason to dispute James Harden’s suggestions in the article that the Del Rio migrants do not face persecution if deported, and in any event have already travelled through safe third countries to reach the US border. In Foote’s place, I don’t expect that I would have seen any reason to resign.

Of the other diplomats cited for clientitis in the article, Pyatt and Friedman seem to have been fully aligned with the different Administrations they served. Maybe the policies were wrong, and maybe criticism of them is due for their roles in devising and implementing those policies. But there doesn’t seem to have been any disloyalty. To the contrary perhaps there was ‘trop de zèle.’

The Taylor case is much more complex, and as the subsequent impeachment proceedings revealed seems to have been more about domestic US politics than any clientitis.

(I don’t personally know any of the individuals named.)

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Collis

I appreciate your insights into the life of a diplomat. However, I think the criticism here comes from the political ideals this particular diplomat represents. He works or worked for a party that wants to limit freedom of movement between countries for citizens, but clamors for open borders for immigrants. For someone in such an important position, there is very little in the way of logical thinking.

Simon Collis
Simon Collis
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Thanks. That’s why it was right for him to resign. Perhaps the clash between the Administration’s policy on migration and his own views should have been obvious enough from the outset. But it’s not clear that he favours ‘open borders’ as distinct from the specific claim that Haiti is too dangerous for returnees. And the Administration’s own policies may not have been fully formulated at the time of his appointment. So the point of difference may not have been sufficiently clear for him not to accept the position in the first place.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Collis

We seem to have ended up in a situation where any kind of violence (gangs etc) in the home country is considered grounds for asylum in a Western country, even if no specific threat because of “race, religion, political opinions”.

Simon Collis
Simon Collis
1 year ago

In the UK, immigration and asylum cases must quite properly be decided within a legal framework. I’m not an expert, but I think about half of all applications are refused. The courts are struggling with caseloads. The government published a paper on planned reforms in March this year – it’s pretty informative https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/972517/CCS207_CCS0820091708-001_Sovereign_Borders_Web_Accessible.pdf

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Collis

Thanks Simon
I recommend this paper to other readers.
It’s easy to read, with many graphics.My comments were more directed to emotional public arguments that “nobody is illegal” etc.

Simon Collis
Simon Collis
1 year ago

Agreed. Tackling illegal migration and human trafficking gangs is key to detoxifying public debate about legal migration, including for genuine asylum seekers