The U.S. Ambassador Who Crossed Trump on Immigration

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — As President-elect Donald J. Trump ready for his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, Ted Osius assumed he was about to lose his dream job because the American ambassador to Vietnam.

“I assumed I might be put out with the trash on Jan. 21,” mentioned Mr. Osius, 57, a profession diplomat for practically three a long time who had as soon as labored for former Vice President Al Gore.

He wasn’t, however he quickly fell out with the Trump administration over its effort to deport 1000’s of refugees from the previous South Vietnam who had fled to america after the Vietnam Conflict. Final fall, he was abruptly ordered to go away Vietnam, a number of days earlier than President Trump arrived to offer a speech on the Asia-Pacific Financial Cooperation discussion board.

Mr. Osius later resigned from the State Division and moved to Ho Chi Minh Metropolis, Vietnam’s industrial capital, as a non-public citizen. He’s one in all many senior profession diplomats who’ve labored for presidents of each events, however whose objections to the Trump administration’s insurance policies have led them to go away.

In phone interviews, officers on the White Home and the Division of Homeland Safety defended the president’s immigration insurance policies on Vietnam. They mentioned that just about all of the deliberate deportations that Mr. Osius opposed had been for Vietnamese refugees who had been convicted of committing crimes in america, and that the Trump administration was merely urgent Vietnam and different “recalcitrant” nations to cooperate with current United States immigration legal guidelines.

“If the previous ambassador would really like the legal guidelines modified, we welcome him to go to Congress and ask them to alter the legal guidelines,” mentioned Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for the Division of Homeland Safety.

However Mr. Osius mentioned he sees himself not as a insurgent, however as a bridge builder.

He was born in Maryland, the son of a doctor and a highschool English instructor, and attended highschool in Vermont. He mentioned his early curiosity in international cultures was cast throughout a spot yr within the Center East he took after commencement.

“The half that caught was a fascination with cultures which are very completely different from ours,” he mentioned on a current morning in his Ho Chi Minh Metropolis front room, surrounded by furnishings collected throughout postings in Vietnam, India and elsewhere in Asia.

Mr. Osius joined the State Division after graduating from Harvard in 1984, and served the primary of his 10 postings within the Philippines. He mentioned he rapidly found that his pure diplomatic intuition — constructing belief on the idea of shared pursuits — was generally at odds with official American coverage.

For instance, he mentioned, he blamed a dismissive strategy to negotiations with President Corazon Aquino of the Philippines for America’s lack of entry to vital naval and air bases there within the early 1990s. “She was a lady and he or she was brown,” Mr. Osius mentioned of Ms. Aquino. “And we had been good and smug and didn’t hear.”

Years later, Mr. Osius was a part of a bunch of diplomats who quietly pleaded with the George W. Bush administration to interact North Korea by way of the so-called six-party talks. Because the administration’s North Korea coverage hardened, he mentioned, two of his colleagues resigned in frustration.

“That is the dilemma that each skilled diplomat faces: What moral traces received’t you cross?” he mentioned. However in that case, “I made a decision to not give up however to journey it out and see if I might proceed to do some good.”

Mr. Osius has spent a long time constructing diplomatic relationships in Vietnam, a one-party state, the place he first served as a political officer within the late 1990s. Considered one of his early duties there was serving to to open america Consulate in Ho Chi Minh Metropolis, previously referred to as Saigon.

The concept that he would turn out to be an envoy in Vietnam — or anyplace else — was as soon as inconceivable to him, Mr. Osius mentioned, largely as a result of the State Division’s conservative tradition made such senior postings successfully off-limits to overtly homosexual American diplomats like himself.

However by 2014, when then-Secretary of State John Kerry really useful him to President Obama as the subsequent ambassador to Vietnam, the company’s politics had modified.

“For him particularly, coming right here was only a pleasure,” mentioned Clayton Bond, Mr. Osius’ partner and a fellow diplomat who additionally resigned from the State Division final yr. “It felt like he had received the lottery.”

Initially, Mr. Osius mentioned, his precedence as ambassador was lobbying Vietnamese officers to comply with labor and environmental requirements linked to the Trans-Pacific Partnership commerce negotiations. (President Trump would later withdraw america from the settlement, a transfer that Mr. Osius described as a “self-inflicted wound” to American pursuits.)

He additionally lobbied the Obama administration to host the first-ever White Home go to by a chief of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Occasion, in 2015 — an effort to win over holdouts on the social gathering’s elite Politburo who nonetheless held a deeply antagonistic view of america.

“On reflection, that turned out to be probably the most consequential factor I did,” he mentioned. Vietnam and america more and more see cooperation on safety and commerce as a hedge towards China’s rising regional affect.

Mr. Osius’ fluency in Vietnamese and his frequent public appearances, generally with Mr. Bond and their two youngsters in tow, gave him an unusually excessive profile among the many Vietnamese.

The couple additionally served as a mannequin for homosexual Vietnamese whose households worry that their sexual orientation will forestall them from having youngsters or profitable careers, mentioned Luong Minh Ngoc, the director of iSEE, a Vietnamese analysis outfit that advocates human rights.

“Ted and Clayton have damaged all these stigmas,” she mentioned.

However issues modified after Mr. Trump’s election in 2016. Amongst different issues, the couple puzzled whether or not to cease displaying a “gender impartial” lavatory signal — and even images of themselves and their youngsters.

“Am I a legal responsibility now as a result of I’m black?” Mr. Bond, whose cousin was the civil rights chief Julian Bond, mentioned he thought on the time.

Mr. Osius mentioned that regardless of his deep objections to the president’s proposed journey ban on folks from a number of Muslim-majority nations, amongst different insurance policies, he determined to work for the administration anyway — partly out of loyalty to his embassy employees, he mentioned, but additionally as a result of he wished to stop harm to United States-Vietnamese relations.

However that grew harder, he mentioned, when he was requested to press the Vietnamese authorities to simply accept the deliberate deportation of greater than eight,000 Vietnamese from america, most of whom had fled the previous South Vietnam as refugees after the conflict resulted in 1975. He mentioned he feared a lot of them would turn out to be human-rights instances, and that the transfer would anger Hanoi and undercut Washington’s pursuits on commerce and safety in Asia.

In an announcement, a senior State Division official expressed “disappointment” over Mr. Osius’ remarks. “The State Division is searching for to make sure that all of our international companions abide by their worldwide obligation to simply accept the return of their nationals who’ve violated our legal guidelines,” the official mentioned.

Mr. Osius is now the vp of Fulbright College Vietnam, a brand new college in Ho Chi Minh Metropolis. He mentioned he deliberate to go away the place in December, partly to put in writing a guide.

He mentioned he had ended an almost 29-year diplomatic profession as a result of he couldn’t bear the concept of once more being President Trump’s private consultant. “I couldn’t think about that being in keeping with who I’m and what I worth,” he mentioned.

Julie Hirschfeld Davis contributed reporting from Washington.

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