A Nairobi-based American diplomat described as a rising star has resigned in protest over President Donald Trump administration’s military-focused foreign policy, particularly in Somalia.
“We have ceded to the (military headquarters) Pentagon our authority to drive US foreign policy, at the behest of the White House but to our detriment as a nation,” Ms Elizabeth Shackelford wrote to the State Department last month.
The political officer with the US Somalia Mission added: “The cost of this is visible every day in Mission Somalia, my current post, where State’s diplomatic influence, on the country and within our own interagency, is waning.”
The November 7 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was published on Saturday by Foreign Policy, a Washington-based online journal.
The Trump team’s growing emphasis on military action against Somalia-based militants Al-Shabaab stands in contrast to the Barack Obama regime’s more cautious diplomacy-oriented approach to Somalia.
Ms Shackelford, 38, recalled witnessing the positive results of the State Department’s earlier efforts to promote democracy in Somalia.
She wrote in reference to the election of Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” Mohamed as president: “In February this year, in a crowded hangar on the Mogadishu International Airport compound, I watched with pride as the new Somali parliament voted out corruption and bribery and embraced opportunity and change.
“I had witnessed a historic moment that State and my own work had helped deliver through persistent engagement to ensure Somalia’s presidential election process was credible and inclusive.”
Since then, however, “our government has failed to demonstrate a commitment to promoting and defending human rights and democracy,” she told Mr Tillerson.
“President Trump’s dismissive attitude toward human rights was no surprise following his campaign, but your May 3 remarks to Department staff shocked many as you called into question the utility of advancing human rights when it proves inconvenient.”
Ms Shackelford warned Mr Tillerson that the deep State Department budget cuts he and President Trump are urging will further enhance the Pentagon’s dominance in shaping US policy.
“Top career leadership in the Department has been gutted, leaving few empowered to make hard foreign policy decisions,” she wrote. “With dozens of vacant positions and so many officials in acting capacities it is little wonder we lack direction.”
Asked to respond to Ms Shackelford’s criticisms, the State Department spokesperson, Ms Heather Nauert, told Foreign Policy: “We are not able to comment on the career choices of each person at the Department.”
The new preference for military action over diplomacy is most evident in Africa, where some US ambassador posts are vacant and about 6,000 US troops are stationed in several countries, including Kenya.
More than 500 of the soldiers are in Somalia, which lacks a top US envoy and where the US Africa Command regularly carries out air and ground strikes.
This escalation raises the risk of civilian casualties and consequent damage to political efforts to diminish support for Al-Shabaab.
“The staff at the US mission have repeatedly asked Washington for permission to meet Somali political leaders at Villa Somalia, the presidential residence, but the State Department has rejected the request on security grounds,” Foreign Policy reported in a story accompanying publication of Ms Shackelford’s letter. “US military officers are able to meet Somali officials at the presidential palace, and other foreign diplomatic missions regularly visit the building for talks.”