In an unprecedented move, 51 followers made the seismic decision to take on their leader, in public. Their leader is the president of the United States.
Who are these followers? Most are mid-level State Department officials, career diplomats, who had the temerity to speak truth, their truth, to power. They had the temerity to take on the administration’s miserably failed policy in Syria, by attaching their names to an internal document that registers their strong opposition.
The dissenters urged a radical change. Basically they advocated a tougher approach to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, a more militant and military one, “which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”
There is such a thing in the State Department as a “dissent channel.” It’s a way of registering disagreement with official policy, which is why the Department has a modest history of dissent either by an individual, or by a few individuals banding together. Two years ago former ambassador to Syria, Richard S. Ford, resigned from the Foreign Service precisely because he was in such strong disagreement with the administration’s policy on Syria, which generally has been hands-off.
However, never before has dissent been so strong. Never before have 51 State Department subordinates joined openly to challenge their superiors. It is not likely that as a result of their action President Obama will have a change of heart – or a change of policy. However, the timing of their protest is no accident. Clearly it’s meant less to shape policy in this administration than to try to effect change in the next one.