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Nonpartisan Diplomats Caught Up In Ukraine Investigation


We've been focusing on this raid in Syria and the U.S. strategy. There has been a target for the president's critics, who say his foreign policy lacks focus. Another hard target for critics of the president are his dealings with Ukraine and the ongoing impeachment inquiry. One thing that makes these inquiries different from the investigations into, let's say, Nixon and Clinton is that it involves the country's diplomats - nonpartisan career civil servants - people like the acting chief of mission in Kiev, Bill Taylor, who testified to Congress about President Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine. Barbara Bodine is the former U.S. ambassador to Yemen. She now directs the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, and she joins me now. Welcome.

BARBARA BODINE: Thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I want to start here with White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and something that he said about quid pro quos being perfectly normal - in this case, of course, he was referring to President Trump's right to withhold military aid from Ukraine until Ukraine's president Zelinskiy investigated Trump's political opponent's son for allegedly corrupt deals in Ukraine. Let's listen.


MICK MULVANEY: We do that all the time with foreign policy. And I have news for everybody. Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is what Mulvaney said true?

BODINE: Yes, and very significantly, no. Yes, there are quid pro quos. If we have a good relationship with a country, we will increase the trade. We may increase assistance. There is a trade-off between the actions of one state and another. And you could call that a quid pro quo. What is significantly different in this case is that those conventional quid pro quos are done within the context of broader policy goals, and they're done in order to advance the national interests - our national interests. The apparent quid pro quo here was not done for that but was done to advance a personal political agenda.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've heard the term shadow foreign policy to describe how the president was dealing with Ukraine using his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for instance, to communicate with foreign officials. What's the difference between this shadow foreign policy and, say, a diplomatic back channel?

BODINE: There's a world of difference. Back channels are normal. I would note that Ambassador Bill Burns' memoir is called "The Back Channel." Having private communications with governments on significant issues is something that we do and it's been done for decades, if not, hundreds of years. Those are coordinated through the State Department and they are advancing a national security interest.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The president tweeted on Wednesday that he wished people in his administration would stop hiring people like Ambassador Taylor, whom he described as a never Trumper. There is no political loyalty tests for hiring foreign service diplomats, right?

BODINE: There is no political test at all and we take pride in the fact that we serve presidents and administrations of both parties and we take very seriously our oath that we pledge to the Constitution of the United States. We are nonpartisan by choice, by institutional culture, and by law.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It seems to go against everything that I know about diplomats. I've dealt with diplomats a longtime. I was a foreign correspondent for many, many years, and to get people to talk is always extremely challenging. I mean, part of your job, really, is to keep the secrets of this nation and the presidents. That is what you're tasked with - very sensitive discussions on all sorts of issues. So...

BODINE: This is very much out of character for us. We are a quiet profession. We deal in confidentialities. And our job is to provide advice and our best assessment of policies but not to get in the middle of an impeachment. We do, however, routinely testify before Congress, including depositions, much like the current ones we - that had happened on Benghazi, for example.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is the thing that you've seen that causes you the most concern? I've heard others talk about the recall of Ambassador Marie Jovanovic, who was the ambassador to Ukraine, as being something that was particularly concerning. But what is it that, when you look at this - and you have been a part of this community for so long - has concerned you?

BODINE: I think it goes back to this issue of the credibility of our service - of what we are doing as diplomats - what we're doing as career civil servants. We made this career choice because we wanted to do something for the country. It's as simple as that and we feel that we have served loyally. We often serve in very difficult countries, sometimes at great risk to our lives. You know, most of the world is not Paris. Most of the world is not London. And to have it called into question by our own president, to not be defended by our secretary of state, it makes some people question, why am I doing this? Being battered, being disrespected, having your patriotism called into question gets to the very core of who we are, and it's painful.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's former Ambassador Barbara Bodine. Thank you very much for joining us.

BODINE: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOHN'S "SIGNAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.