Yet the impressive display of courage by impeachment inquiry witnesses — diplomats speaking truth to power — serves as inspiration to those seeking a career in foreign service.
“This Trumpian scandal of undiplomatic communication, intimidation of a witness, and possible misuse of power for the sake of personal gain remains not only deeply upsetting for an aspiring Foreign Service officer (FSO), but also incredibly disturbing with regard to the American political system,” said Leo John Arnett, a 19-year-old sophomore at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. “Of course, Trump’s actions affect my decision to join the Foreign Service.”
But despite Trump, Arnett, like other Georgetown students interviewed by email, is determined to “press on without losing faith in the American political system.”
That can be difficult when Trump’s insults don’t stop.
Trump has said that his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, when Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Trump’s political opponents, was “perfect.”
Hannah Urtz, a 22-year-old Georgetown senior, was a State Department intern last year, passed the Foreign Service exam last month and has dreamed of being a Foreign Service officer since she was 16. Instead of working for the government, however, she has decided to join a federal consulting firm.
“The current administration and its apparent general lack of regard for the State Department,” she said, “has certainly affected my desire to work directly for the U.S. government.”
Like other students, Urtz was inspired by Friday’s testimony from Marie Yovanovitch, an unknown figure outside diplomacy circles until she was catapulted to rock star status by her response to attacks from Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani. She was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation when she visited the Blues Alley jazz club in Washington on Sunday.
Yovanovitch was ousted as ambassador to Kyiv apparently because she was not considered a team player in the Trump/Giuliani schemes. She “reminded me why I had wanted to pursue this career in the Foreign Service in the first place,” Urtz said. Although Yovanovitch is a senior State Department fellow at Georgetown, the students interviewed had not had contact with her.
She exemplifies Foreign Service officers, a particularly proud and staunchly nonpartisan cadre of federal employees who sometimes risk their lives, as she has done, to represent the United States abroad.
“We are the 52 Americans who 40 years ago this month began 444 days of deprivation, torture and captivity in Tehran,” she told the House hearing. “We are the dozens of Americans stationed at our embassy in Cuba and consulates in China, who mysteriously and dangerously — and in some cases perhaps even permanently — were injured in attacks from unknown sources several years ago. And we are Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Patrick Smith, Ty Woods and Glen Doherty — people rightly called heroes for their ultimate sacrifice to this nation’s foreign policy interests in Libya, eight years ago.”
While Delphi Cleaveland, a 25-year-old Georgetown master’s degree candidate, finds the impeachment hearings “absolutely unnerving,” she felt that Yovanovitch “exuded tremendous strength and integrity” and provided encouragement “as a young woman . . . aspiring for a life-long career in foreign service.”
At the same time, Yovanovitch’s experiences are a warning to students who viewed diplomacy as it should be, instead of Trump’s realpolitik.
Those experiences “have made me realize that perhaps the Foreign Service is more intertwined with domestic political skirmishes than I originally thought,” said Kirk Zieser, a 20-year-old Georgetown sophomore. “Rather than seeing the Foreign Service as a means of promoting America’s values of liberty, equality, and democracy abroad, I now also see it as another channel through which partisan agendas and private interests can be pursued.”
Among his accomplishments, Trump has taken students from idealism to a discouraging realism. A significant part of that has been the use of what William B. Taylor Jr., the acting American ambassador in Ukraine, told Congress was an “irregular channel” running Trump’s foreign policy with Kyiv.
Back channels certainly have been used previously in American diplomacy, but not for individual advantage.
“If our elected leaders continue to sideline dedicated public servants like that, then I am concerned that being a FSO will not be the impactful career advancing U.S. interests that it has been for decades,” said Forrest Gertin, a 21-year-old Georgetown senior. “Several of my courses have talked about using different diplomatic channels effectively, but to do that an official must be acting on behalf of the American people rather than for personal gain.”
It’s a class Trump must have missed.