WASHINGTON (AP) - The Trump administration is losing its top career diplomat in a heavy blow to the State Department amid numerous international crises.
The retirement of the department’s third-ranking official, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon, was announced on Thursday at a time when the administration’s foreign policy and its treatment of veteran diplomats has come under heavy criticism.
While not a household name, Shannon is widely respected by his colleagues, lawmakers and others, and his departure in the coming months will leave another void in the top ranks. He holds the rank of “career ambassador” - the highest in the foreign service.
Shannon informed State Department staffers that he will retire as soon as a successor is chosen and ready to assume the job after receiving Senate confirmation. He is a near 35-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service and was the most senior department official to remain in his job after the transition from the Obama to the Trump administrations. He has served under six presidents of both parties since 1984 and was seen as a symbol of diplomatic continuity and professionalism during last year’s tumultuous transition.
Shannon’s departure is sure to be seized on by critics of the administration who accuse Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of gutting the foreign service, particularly its senior ranks. Of five career ambassadors on the job when Tillerson arrived at the State Department a year ago Thursday, only one remains and that diplomat is currently on sabbatical. Of six undersecretary positions, only two, including Shannon’s, are currently occupied. The rest are vacant.
Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey noted in a tweet there is just one remaining career ambassador and said, “I fear poor management at State that has led to the loss of staff, and failure of the Trump Admin. to nominate enough people to fill vacant positions is risking international security.”
In an interview, Shannon said he was retiring for personal and not political reasons.