The most obvious weapon is vetoing additional staff. It’s not hard to find stories focusing on how slow the Trump White House has been at selecting the folks who will be Deputy Secretaries and Undersecretaries in the relevant departments. Every White House wants appointees who are politically loyal, but in Trump’s case that seems particularly salient. Just as important, Trump’s staff might be comfortable leaving many of those positions unfilled, because it empowers the White House at the expense of the more mainstream cabinet officers.
State is much smaller than the Pentagon or Homeland Security. It has few large installations and no costly weapons systems that can be delayed or canceled in service to austerity. Its main resource is its personnel. Reductions of the magnitude under consideration would confront Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with an impossible task — cutting deep into the muscle and bone of a foreign and civil service already stretched to the limits. This is simply not a wise path.
What’s interesting is that many of Trump’s other cuts — to the Centers for Disease Control, United Nations peacekeeping, the Coast Guard, TSA, and FEMA — are like those aimed at the State Department. They save small sums of money, but only by eliminating insurance programs that might come in handy during an emergency — particularly a foreign policy emergency.
If you think there will be no need to commit nonmilitary American resources to address a serious pandemic or foreign policy crisis or peacekeeping issues, then you’re an America Firster who is happy with these cuts. If you think that the national security establishment can’t do its job properly when starved of staff and budget, then all of this should concern you immensely. It certainly concerns the military, which will have to pick up the slack.
I want Wright to be correct about the Trump White House’s lack of intellectual firepower. The political scientist in me, however, worries about their ability to starve their political opponents of staff and resources.