Thursday, June 29, 2017

Tillerson has only himself to blame

Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s frustrations with the White House have been building for months. Last Friday, they exploded.
The normally laconic Texan unloaded on Johnny DeStefano, the head of the presidential personnel office, for torpedoing proposed nominees to senior State Department posts and for questioning his judgment.
The story continued: “Tillerson also complained that the White House was leaking damaging information about him to the news media, according to a person familiar with the meeting.” (Well, someone leaked about him complaining about leaking so yes, the White House, which is supposed to reject anonymous sources, is using one or more to bloody its secretary of state.) “Above all, he made clear that he did not want DeStefano’s office to ‘have any role in staffing’ and ‘expressed frustration that anybody would know better’ than he about who should work in his department — particularly after the president had promised him autonomy to make his own decisions and hires, according to a senior White House aide familiar with the conversation.”
Tillerson is understandably frustrated dealing with a pack of inexperienced grudge holders who veto qualified candidates who have previously criticized the president. Nevertheless, he has only himself to blame for a host of reasons.
First, Tillerson must have known exactly what he was getting into when he signed up with a dilettante president who hired relatives and cronies. Surely he knew President Trump operates out of resentment and spite. He can hardly be surprised that Trump is acting like Trump and Trump’s minions are acting as advertised. He cannot complain that he was unaware of the prominence of the president’s son-in-law, who was given broad authority over foreign policy and possesses even less experience and sophistication in international diplomacy than Tillerson.
Second, Tillerson set the pattern of subservience by allowing the White House to veto as his deputy someone with superb qualifications and bipartisan support, Elliott Abrams. Once you roll over on that post, you’ve given the White House leverage.
Third, Tillerson has been excruciatingly slow in conducting his internal reorganization. He told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he wouldn’t get around to filling many slots until next year. Both Democrats and Republicans were aghast.
Image from video included in the article, under the title:  Top-level vacancies frustrate Trump's administration

Fourth, Tillerson took a job for which he was not remotely qualified and which demanded skills he never developed as chief executive of an oil company. His role now includes public diplomacy, but he shuns the press. His effectiveness depends on demonstrating the president’s support, but he ludicrously defends a budget that would eviscerate his department. And he wonders why he doesn’t have influence?

In sum, he’s being denied staff and budget. He is regularly undercut by the White House and in particular Jared Kushner. He has to play catch-up to the president’s errant tweets. In other words, he has less influence and visibility than millennial staffers. He has a choice: Put up with it or quit. And if he should do the latter, he’d do a great service by warning the country about the dangers of a shockingly ignorant commander in chief who foreign leaders can manipulate by appealing to his massive and fragile ego. He could explain the dangers of depriving the State Department of budget and staff at a time when threats are intensifying and multiplying. He could tell the country that Trump’s inability to concede that Russia, directed by Vladimir Putin, interfered with our election is indicative of a narcissist who puts his own emotional needs ahead of the country’s. He might even shine some light on Trump’s and Jared Kushner’s massive conflicts of interest and whether their international businesses drive policy choices.
Former State Department employees tell a similar story after visits to Foggy Bottom. “State is being quickly gutted. Offices closing; Sr. and mid-level career experts fleeing or being axed,” tweeted Max Bergmann. “Tillerson is now clearly one of worst Sec States in American history. Few have done more to weaken America.”
Come to think of it, Tillerson could do far more for his country by quitting and telling the truth than by remaining in a job in which his boss prevents him from succeeding. Does he really want the capstone of his career to be “marginalized as secretary of state”? Better to be known as “the patriot who had the courage to quit and sound the alarm.” And by the way, the Friday before a July 4 weekend is an excellent time to announce you are leaving and make one’s getaway. 

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