Opinion

Changing the culture of Washington

Changing a system so old, dysfunctional and set in its ways is a massive undertaking—but if anyone can do it, it’s President Donald Trump.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks on the phone aboard Air Force One during a flight to Philadelphia to address a joint gathering of House and Senate Republicans on Jan. 26, 2017. This was the president's first trip aboard Air Force One. Credit: Shealah Craighead/White House Photo.
U.S. President Donald Trump talks on the phone aboard Air Force One during a flight to Philadelphia to address a joint gathering of House and Senate Republicans on Jan. 26, 2017. This was the president's first trip aboard Air Force One. Credit: Shealah Craighead/White House Photo.
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Joseph Frager
Dr. Joseph Frager is a lifelong activist and physician. He is chairman of Israel advocacy for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, chairman of the executive committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim and executive vice president of the Israel Heritage Foundation.

No president in recent times has done more to change the culture of Washington than Donald Trump. I believe that even his critics would agree.

However, in the process he has been met with tremendous pushback. There is no question in my mind that the president is fighting for the “soul” of America; the impeachment proceedings against him have more to do with a Kulturkampf than with Ukraine.

Although the Democratic Party has certainly given the president a run for his money, there are many other forces working against him, including much of the U.S. media. Some call it the “deep state,” others call it “the swamp,” but neither term does justice to the complex nature of the great American democracy. One wonders whether the Founding Father ever realized how complicated the American Republic would become.

A New York Times headline from Nov. 9 gets is closer to the core of the problem: “How the State Dept.’s Dissenters Incited a Revolt, Then a Rallying Cry.”

Essentially, the issue is that career diplomats run Washington, regardless of who the president might be.

Although Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was appointed by Trump, the State Department is mostly staffed by holdovers from previous administrations. Despite the fact that Pompeo, ostensibly their boss, follows Trump’s lead, much of the State Department remains autonomous and independent.

While in theory each incoming administration could completely turn over the State Department and appoint anyone they might wish to, in practice it never happens. The sheer enormity of the State Department (75,000 employees) together with its entrenched career diplomatic corps make it nearly impossible.

Moreover, Trump has to fill 1,200 positions that require Senate approval, including cabinet secretaries, deputy and assistant secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsel, heads of agencies, ambassadors and many other leadership positions. Even with a Republican majority in the Senate, many positions have not been filled.

As with any big business, it takes U.S. administrations years to develop successful, united and cohesive teams. This is one of the big reasons presidents tend to be able to accomplish much more in their second terms.

The State Department was the main reason the American Embassy in Israel was never moved to its rightful place in Jerusalem, despite bipartisan support for the move. It took President Trump to make it happen.

While the State Department has always had “pan-Arabists”in key positions, under the Obama administration many in the department supported the Muslim Brotherhood. This was one of the main reasons President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supported the “Arab Spring” and the rise of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi in Egypt. The State Department was certainly pushing Morsi.

Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, who took over the presidency after Morsi, is certainly no favorite of the State Department. El-Sisi has been one of the most stabilizing forces in the Middle East. He came to power despite Obama, Clinton and the State Department; if the State Department had gotten its way, the Middle East would be in much worse shape than it is today.

Trump faces a truly a Herculean task in trying to change a system so old, dysfunctional and set in its ways. Changing the culture of Washington is a massive undertaking. But if there is anyone who can do it—in fact, he has done it do some degree already—it’s Trump.

Dr. Joseph Frager is first vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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