Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes a private elevator to his palatial office on the seventh floor of the State Department building, where sightings of him are rare on the floors below.
On many days, he blocks out several hours on his schedule as “reading time,” when he is cloistered in his office poring over the memos he prefers ahead of in-person meetings.
Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact.
If he happens to pass them in the halls, are they supposed to turn around and face the wall?
On his first three foreign trips, Tillerson skipped visits with State Department employees and their families, embassy stops that were standard morale-boosters under other secretaries of state.
Well, that certainly sounds like a bad fit for the job. He’s shy and introverted and fond of peace and quiet…so he’s not cut out to be Secretary of State, is he.
Eight weeks into his tenure as President Trump’s top diplomat, the former ExxonMobil chief executive is isolated, walled off from the State Department’s corps of bureaucrats in Washington and around the world. His distant management style has created growing bewilderment among foreign officials who are struggling to understand where the United States stands on key issues. It has sown mistrust among career employees at State, who swap paranoid stories about Tillerson that often turn out to be untrue. And it threatens to undermine the power and reach of the State Department, which has been targeted for a 30 percent funding cut in Trump’s budget.
Many have expressed alarm that Tillerson has not fought harder for the agency he now leads.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who during his confirmation hearings repeatedly vowed to promote human rights as a core American value, alarmed human rights advocates when he did not appear in person to present the State Department’s annual human rights report, released Friday.
In a break with long-standing tradition only rarely breached, Tillerson’s remarks were limited to a short written introduction to the lengthy report. Nor did any senior State Department official make on-camera comments that are typically watched around the world, including by officials in authoritarian countries where abuses are singled out in the report.
Instead, a senior administration official talked to reporters by phone and only on the condition of anonymity.
“The report speaks for itself,” the administration official said. “We’re very, very proud of it. The facts should really be the story here.”
But Tillerson’s absence underscored how the former ExxonMobil executive remains more comfortable with an aloof, corporate style of governance than the public diplomacy practiced by his predecessors.
Governance isn’t supposed to be aloof.
Tillerson drew fire from some members of Congress and advocates who said his decision not to personally unveil the report suggested the Trump administration places a low priority on advancing human rights.
“While the U.S. commitment to human rights has been imperfect, it has always been one of the key pillars of foreign policy,” said Sarah Margon, the Washington director for Human Rights Watch. “That seems to be under dramatic threat right now. The fact he’s not personally involved makes it much easier for other governments to ignore its findings.”
It’s not surprising that Trump doesn’t care about human rights, because we already know that Trump doesn’t care about anything that matters. He cares about himself, and money, and winning, and grabbing them by the pussy. Human rights are about other people, so of course he’s not interested.
In the past, secretaries of state have taken the attitude that their presence in unveiling the report lends weight to its findings. John F. Kerry delayed its release twice because he was traveling and wanted to present it himself. Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright all showed up for the release in their first year in office. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice missed the first year but made personal appearances in subsequent years.
Whenever previous secretaries did not make it, the report was always made public on camera by a senior State Department official who answered questions about it.
But now we have an administration that wants to destroy the Deep State, so apparently that means global human rights too.
Some human rights advocates said their concerns are heightened by reports of budget cuts impacting humanitarian aid and Trump’s campaign remarks that he supports waterboarding and “much worse” for terrorist suspects.
Human Rights First said Tillerson’s decision to forgo a public rollout suggests U.S. leadership on the issue is waning.
“Such a decision sends an unmistakable signal to human rights defenders that the United States may no longer have their back, a message that won’t be lost on abusive governments,” said Rob Berschinski, a senior vice president at Human Rights First and a former State Department official in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" (http://johnbrownnotesandessays.blogspot.com/2017/03/notes-and-references-for-discussion-e.html). Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."