Let’s Talk Tillerson

November 28, 2017

As a recurring actor in the climate debate, Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil has figured prominently in shaping the international conversation over the past decade or so.
His close relationship with Vladimir Putin is well known, as is his half trillion dollar plan for Exxon to work with Moscow in moving Russian gas out of the arctic.

For that reason, when he was named as Secretary of State, it seemed to a lot of people to be as clear an indicator as any of the close coordination between the Trump White House and the oil-soaked mafia oligarchy ruling Putin’s Petrostate.
Still, some held out hope that Tillerson, who is on record as favoring a carbon tax, might be a moderating influence on the climate deniers in Trump’s circle.  I had some small hope myself.
I think we can discount that hope at this time.
Meanwhile, Tillerson’s management of the US State Department, one of Washington’s Crown Jewels of professional knowledge and expertise, has been stunningly inept, if not deliberately destructive.

The most charitable interpretation of those actions is incompetence.
A darker view is that this is a Putin inspired initiative to deliberately hamstring and cripple the United State’s ability to act in the wider world, and create a power and influence vacuum for the Russians and Chinese to fill. See Rachel Maddow’s take on that below.

Former Diplomats Nicolas Burns and Ryan Crocker in the New York Times:

The Foreign Service, our country’s irreplaceable asset for understanding and interacting with a complex and dangerous world, is facing perhaps its greatest crisis. President Trump’s draconian budget cuts for the State Department and his dismissive attitude toward our diplomats and diplomacy itself threaten to dismantle a great foreign service just when we need it most.

The United States is facing an extraordinary set of national security challenges. While we count on our military ultimately to defend the country, our diplomats are with it on front lines and in dangerous places around the world. They are our lead negotiators as we work with our European allies in NATO to contain growing Russian power on the Continent. They are our lead negotiators seeking a peaceful end to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Our diplomats are assembling the coalition of countries in East Asia to counter the irresponsible regime of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.

But we are concerned the Trump administration is weakening the Foreign Service by a series of misguided decisions since taking office. It has proposed a 31 percent budget reduction for the State Department that would cripple its global reach. It has failed to fill the majority of the most senior ambassadorial positions in Washington and overseas. It is on track to take the lowest number of new officers into the service in years.

It has even nominated a former officer with a scant eight years of experience to be the director general of the Foreign Service, the chief of its personnel system. The nonpartisan American Academy of Diplomacy (of which we both are members) advised Congress that this would be “like making a former Army captain the chief of staff of the Army.”

As a result, many of our most experienced diplomats are leaving the department. Along with the senior diplomats who were summarily fired by the Trump team early this year, we are witnessing the most significant departure of diplomatic talent in generations. The drop in morale among those who remain behind is obvious to both of us. The number of young Americans who applied to take the Foreign Service officer entry test declined by 33 percent in the past year. This is particularly discouraging and will weaken the service for years.

The recent decision by Mr. Tillerson to downsize the Foreign Service by up to 8 percent of the entire officer corps, however, is particularly dangerous. The Foreign Service, which has about 8,000 officers who do core diplomatic work, is a fraction of the size of the military. The service is already overwhelmed by the growing challenges to the United States on every continent. In our view, Mr. Tillerson has failed to make a convincing case as to why deep cuts will strengthen, rather than weaken, the service, and thus the nation. This is not about belt tightening. It is a deliberate effort to deconstruct the State Department and the Foreign Service.

The Hill:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson previously turned down multiple meetings with the department’s chief of security, forcing the chief to invoke the law’s requirement that he is allowed to meet with the top U.S. diplomat, according to The New York Times.

The chief, Bill Miller, has since resigned from his position.

Former senior officials at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security told the Times that for nine months Tillerson turned down multiple briefing requests, including urgent requests, from Miller.

Miller was eventually granted a meeting, according to the report, but only after demanding it in according with the law. The meeting reportedly only lasted five minutes.

The Hill has reached out to the State Department for comment.

Miller announced his resignation from his post in July.

The State Department said at the time he did not resign in protest, and was not forced out.

The department announced that Christian Schurman, deputy assistant secretary for international programs, would replace Miller.


Rex Tillerson just took another stab at winning the contest for Worst Secretary of State in Modern History.

The occasion took place Tuesday at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., where he delivered a speech bubbling over with boilerplate, interesting only for his warnings of Russian aggression and his touting of America’s allies as our most vital strength—both sentiments at odds with those of his president, a sign of his scant influence within the administration.

The eyebrow-raisers came during the Q&A session, when he was asked to explain the sharp reductions in the State Department’s budget and the hollowing-out of its diplomatic corps. Tillerson replied that the cuts are “reflective of an expectation that we’re going to have success … in getting these conflicts [around the world] resolved” and, therefore, won’t need to have so many officials dealing with them.

This may rank as the silliest comment ever made by a Cabinet secretary.

First, as an old saw has it, hope is not a strategy. Merely expecting that you’ll resolve the world’s conflicts is not a valid reason for cutting programs and personnel that are currently needed for managing those conflicts. Second, anyone who thinks that any Americans, much less those on Team Trump, are going to solve this world’s conflicts has no understanding of history or politics and thus no business being anywhere near the State Department, much less running the place. Third, even if his expectation wasn’t a fantasy, there’s no way Tillerson or anyone else could even come close to solving the world’s problems without a functioning State Department and a well-stocked diplomatic corps—those things Tillerson and Trump have eviscerated.


Then Tillerson muddled the picture further. After explaining why he slashed the budget and ranks of his department, he denied that he’d done any such thing. Yes, he said, the administration seemed to be requesting a drastic cut in the State Department’s budget (a cut of 31 percent, to be precise), but that’s only because in 2016, President Obama boosted the budget to “a record high” of $55 billion, way above normal levels. Trump, he said, is simply returning to a “sustainable” status quo ante.

This is simply a lie. Here, from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is a graph showing the budgets for the State Department’s operations. Spending has been climbing since 2006 (and a larger chart would show the trend dates back to 2001, for obvious reasons), but 2016 saw no appreciable rise from the years before. The Trump–Tillerson budget is an unambiguous drastic cut.


5 Responses to “Let’s Talk Tillerson”

  1. Who wants Diplomacy and averting wars and conflicts when the Industrial Military Complex has huge profits to make from wars and conflicts and the increases in citizen surveillance and loss of freedoms will ensure a corrupt, brutal and evil regime is unchallenged.
    Go back to the Cold War and it’s genesis at the end of WW2
    read Major Jordans Diaries

  2. J4Zonian Says:

    A farmer retired. His daughter was all ready to take over the farm and had superior business sense and an excellent plan to start carbon farming, working with horses where needed (shared with the neighboring farms) and move toward perennials and no-till…

    But the farmer didn’t think a girl could or should run a farm, so he turned it over to his alcoholic, schizophrenic son taking over the farm, and when it came time to plant crops, decided he didn’t believe a farm should have crops, so he planted transistors hoping computers would grow. When it was time to plow, he decided he didn’t believe in tractors, so he started plowing the fields with a an old Cabriolet. the computers took a while coming up so he offered his weeds for sale at a farm stand.

    And when it came to chickens, he decided he didn’t believe in chickens so he left the gates open and they were all eaten by raccoons and wild dogs. (Which fit in really well with his delusions because then were no chickens and it seemed his belief was right. Then he closed the raccoons and dogs inside and decided he would farm wild dogs. The farm went out of business and was bought at auction by the neighbor. The daughter was made manager and the farm is thriving.

  3. ubrew12 Says:

    Clausewitz: “War is the continuation of politics by other means” is also true the other way around. Tillerson can either spend the money at the front end of conflict, or spend it at the back end when it’s soaked in blood.

  4. webej Says:

    Now the state department are crown jewels of diplomacy, instead of the viper’s nest of neocon brinkmanship that brought us the very wars (Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Korea) that we supposedly need them for to resolve “peacefully”? How immoral, despicable and disingenuous can you get? Arming Al-Qaeda and destroying nations all for some misbegotten geo-political chess moves and support of the homeland’s weapons industry.

    And then the incomparable hysterical Rachel Maddow overwroughtly gushing forth monotonous inane conspiracy anglets.

    ? Russia has no desire to be part of an alliance of free countries? They actually applied in 1955 (before the Warsaw Pact) and again in 2001.
    ? Russia sees NATO as this big enemy — perhaps because they have recently started camping on the border and positioning missiles there, and the last three invasions by Western alliances were nothing short of catastrophic.
    ? Russia’s knock-off military, no match for NATO, but still threatening enough to win every possible war-game scenario?
    Rachel detailing how America expoits its hegemony for partisan advantage.
    Rachel detailing how America has interfered extensively in Russian politics, even suggesting revolutions.
    Rachel suggesting that America is an arbiter of free and fair elections.

    The hypocrisy and baseless self-celebration is at levels beyond outrageous here.

  5. dumboldguy Says:

    Talk in the nightly news is that Tillerson is on his way out, and that Pompeo is his likely replacement. I wonder if Tillerson will turn on the “F**King Moron” when he is given his walking papers—-and whether he will go back to Exxon-Mobil and pick up where he left off with his buddy Putin.

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