|Whatever you do, don't look him in the eye|
Official Washington continued its jeremiad against Silent Rex Tillerson this week, and added a couple new complaints to the list of lamentations. Tillerson, of course, maintained his quietude.
Here are a few quotes from the WaPo story, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spends his first weeks isolated from an anxious bureaucracy:
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 … It has sown mistrust among career employees at State, who swap paranoid stories about Tillerson that often turn out to be untrue.
Untrue like, for instance, the WaPo's preceding debunked gossipy tidbit about the “some” who have been instructed to keep silent and avert their gaze from the man.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tillerson called him after the proposed cuts were announced. Engel said Tillerson seemed to share Engel’s concern that the cuts are “draconian” and counterproductive. But Engel said Tillerson seemed to signal his acquiescence when he called them “a glide path to what was about to happen.”
Silent Rex was right. Budget cuts in foreign affairs ARE about to happen. That is a consequence of the election. The SecState is not there to obstruct the administration’s plans – that’s Rep. Engel’s job. The SecState is there to take the Department down a glide path to budget cuts rather than make a sudden drop.
Rep. Engel continued:
“When you put it all together, it certainly seems they’re trying to downsize the State Department and make it irrelevant. I’m at a loss for words. Why would Tillerson take the job if he was not going to defend his agency?”
That’s an easy one. I repeat, he’s not there to fight the administration’s plans; he’s there to implement them. The simple fact is that State is on the losing end of a change in national policy and objectives. It happens. The last administration made the policy choice to downsize and make irrelevant the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service by, for instance, declining to enforce various immigration laws against unlawful aliens who had arrived as children, decreasing funding for immigration enforcement, and failing to deport some 900,000 aliens who had already received deportation orders. Administrations prioritize what they want. Now, on this turn of the wheel, DHS/CBP is on top and it’s foreign aid and some other unpopular international programs that will be downsized and made irrelevant. To quote our previous President, elections have consequences.
Current and recently departed State Department officials — all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid assessments of what one called the “benching” of the oldest Cabinet department — said Tillerson is paying a price.
“Benching” is a good word for it. Some agencies are back in the game, and others will sit this administration out.
And lastly, this heartfelt one:
“We’re rooting for our secretary of state to come around, and trying to figure out a way to convince him we [the State Department staff] do work for administrations of both parties,” the official said.
I understand the sentiment, but, frankly, it’s too late. The perception of partisan bias has been there for decades, and not without reason. I think back to the rapturous crowds that came out for Hillary’s arrival and Obama’s first visit to HST. Obviously, there is bias. That’s okay by me, you understand, but just don’t think the other party doesn’t notice. In any case, I expect Tillerson came to the job with a firm fixed opinion of State that he'd already acquired during his years of dealing with Exxon’s overseas interests. Those current and recently departed State Department officials aren’t likely to change that impression in any way other than by simply carrying out the new administration's agenda without foot-dragging.
And, that might already be happening, with a consequent improvement in the administration's negative attitude. See today's New York Times story in which President Trump's chief strategist fairly gushes with praise for the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, who implemented the administration's Executive Order on travel restrictions without delay.