Saturday, February 25, 2017

Trump has sidelined Rex Tillerson just when the US most needs a strong secretary of state

Yochi Dreazen · Thursday, February 23, 2017, 1:03 pm

A picture is beginning to emerge of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first three weeks as America’s top diplomat. It isn’t pretty.

On Thursday, a pair of devastating articles in Politico and the Washington Post described how the former Exxon Mobil CEO has been cut out of the loop on major foreign policy shifts, slapped down by the White House on personnel choices, and given virtually no opportunities to make public appearances with President Trump. Per the Post:

The Trump administration in its first month has largely benched the State Department from its long-standing role as the pre­eminent voice of U.S. foreign policy, curtailing public engagement and official travel and relegating Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to a mostly offstage role.

The day-to-day chaos of the Trump White House and mini controversies the new president regularly stirs up on Twitter make it difficult to track what’s going on in individual parts of the government, even ones as important as the State Department. And that’s why understanding what Tillerson has — and has not — been able to do is so important.

Here’s one thing Tillerson hasn’t been able to do: choose his own deputy. Tillerson, who has never worked in government, wanted State Department veteran and longtime Republican foreign policy hand Elliott Abrams. Trump personally rejected Abrams after learning that the former Bush administration official had criticized him during the campaign. Tillerson hasn’t found a replacement, and it’s not clear if, or when, he’ll be able to fill the post.

“The Elliott Abrams example is pretty horrifying,” Eliot Cohen, a top to aide to former Republican Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, told the Post.

Tillerson also doesn’t seem to be much of a player on key foreign policy decisions, even though the job of the secretary of state normally is to help make them. Politico has this eye-opening anecdote:

Sources have told POLITICO that the secretary of state was never consulted when Trump, in an appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dropped the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

That suggests, to put it diplomatically, that Tillerson doesn’t have remotely the same power as high-profile predecessors such as Rice, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry.

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