Rex Tillerson’s lamentable legacy

It was a heck of a way to get canned. Early Tuesday morning, President Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson via tweet and announced Mike Pompeo, head of the CIA, as his replacement. There was something especially appropriate about Trump making this announcement, as he does so many, through Twitter, and without giving Tillerson either time to respond or even notice of his removal. The deliberately insulting gesture is not only a hallmark of Trump’s management style, but a nice synecdoche for the utter disconnect between the State Department and the White House in the Tillerson era.

Tillerson’s monumental failures are well known, and have been largely of his own making. He failed to staff key roles, and eliminated positions and even entire offices essentially without regard for their replacement. He failed to engage with experienced diplomats or others who were familiar with the operation of the department. He endorsed a 30 percent cut to his own departmental budget, against the increasingly frantic objections of everyone who values what the department does. He largely ignored the need to cultivate the press, and he butted heads repeatedly and ineffectually with President Trump, and sulked when Trump responded by pointedly ignoring his counsel.

Some of these failures are undoubtedly due to Tillerson’s personal qualities, but others I suspect have a more structural origin. The Trump administration as a whole views the State Department as a repository of wooly-headed, mealy-mouthed globalists who mostly just get in the way of bold action. Disdain for diplomacy being widely-shared among Republicans, if Tillerson didn’t already share that view, he surely had it reinforced by his interlocutors in Congress. And if state was failing, it needed a radical overhaul to become effective again.

So it should be unsurprising that Tillerson’s top priority upon arrival was straight out of the executive playbook for failing business lines: cut funding, fire a bunch of people, reorganize, and hope that a shakeup lets new talent right the ship. If it does, you’re a genius. If not, the business probably couldn’t have been saved, and you deserve at least some credit for bold action. The perverse incentives created by the lack of executive accountability are rife in the senior ranks of the corporate world, and now we’ve seen what happens when you run a vital government department that way.

Tillerson’s inability to work with the president was also at least as much structural as personal. Yes, Trump is an impossible manager and Tillerson clearly either didn’t understand how to manage him in turn, or didn’t care to learn. But it’s also difficult to do a job when nobody can tell you what that job is, and that is not a problem that Tillerson was unique in confronting.

In the post-Cold War world, there have been no truly exceptional secretaries of state, because since the end of the Cold War, America has not been able to articulate a coherent foreign policy with concrete, specific, and achievable objectives. And so, our chief diplomats’ …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


(Visited 2 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *