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State Department Official Resigns
To work in bureaucracy is to manage the tension between moral compromise and insider politics
When you work in government, finding peace of mind resides in one of two things.
You must outsource your personal beliefs entirely to your government—which, once you’ve seen how policy is made, would be psychotic. Or, when you start to see decisions being made that put you in an uncomfortable position, you must draw red lines for yourself that you decide beforehand you will not cross.
Having some sense of your own limits is the only way to keep your soul, especially in a world where MAGA politics is a very real problem.
With that observation in mind, I wanted to quickly share a breaking story about Josh Paul, a State Department official who worked in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (responsible for weapons sales). He just resigned over US arms transfer policy toward Israel.
This is morally courageous, and very hard to do.
The practical problem is that Washington, DC is very expensive. Government service pays better than you think. And the longer you stay in Washington, the more your lifestyle tends to cost (mortgages, day care, private school). Under those financial constraints, resigning can literally upend everything about your life. Which partly explains why almost nobody ever does (obviously not the entire story).
And Paul’s decision here is not morality contra strategy, which would be a false frame. The morality is an analytical argument—which I happen to share with Paul—having to do with US policy toward Israel. What he describes in his resignation letter is about what makes strategic sense, which has a moral core (as good strategy often does).
While condemning Hamas outright, he also says:
I believe to the core of my soul that the response Israel is taking, and with it the American support both for that response, and for the status quo of the occupation, will only lead to more and deeper suffering for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people…we cannot be both against occupation, and for it.
This is my problem with liberal internationalism, which I spend an entire chapter critiquing in Grand Strategies of the Left. Judged on its own terms, America’s practice of liberal internationalism is contradictory. It is an idealized rhetoric that justifies extreme imbalances of power and practices of exclusion that perpetuate oppression.
Do liberal policymakers do some good too? Sure. But history doesn’t judge George W. Bush’s legacy based on PEPFAR—that has to be weighed against the world-historical death and destruction he oversaw.
Once you start to see the contradictions, you can’t unsee them. And you certainly don’t want to be part of heightening them. So it then becomes exit/voice/loyalty time. Find a niche in government where you can do some good from within (loyalty), get out quietly (exit), or get out and speak out (exit, voice).
I personally know some good folks who work in government, but they’re outnumbered. And the progressive movement needs people playing an insider’s game—it can’t only agitate from the outside. But if you see the world in a way that expects the American government to live up to its own ideals, then working in government is an extremely risky game. It can leave you in a position of only horrible choices.