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02 Mar 17,, 13:47
The State of Trump's State Department
Anxiety and listless days as a foreign-policy bureaucracy confronts the possibility of radical change

U.S. State Department
Win McNamee / Getty
MAR 1, 2017 GLOBAL
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The flags in the lobby of the State Department stood bathed in sunlight and silence on a recent afternoon. “It’s normally so busy here,” marveled a State Department staffer as we stood watching the emptiness. “People are usually coming in for meetings, there’s lots of people, and now it’s so quiet.” The action at Foggy Bottom has instead moved to the State Department cafeteria where, in the absence of work, people linger over countless coffees with colleagues. (“The cafeteria is so crowded all day,” a mid-level State Department officer said, adding that it was a very unusual sight. “No one’s doing anything.”) As the staffer and I walked among the tables and chairs, people with badges chatted over coffee; one was reading his Kindle.

“It just feels empty,” a recently departed senior State official told me.

This week began with reports that President Donald Trump’s budget proposal will drastically slash the State Department’s funding, and last week ended with White House adviser and former Breitbart head Stephen Bannon telling the attendees of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that what he and the new president were after was a “deconstruction of the administrative state.” At the State Department, which employs nearly 70,000 people around the world, that deconstruction is already well underway.


Trump's Hollowed-Out State Department

In the last week, I’ve spoken with a dozen current and recently departed State Department employees, all of whom asked for anonymity either because they were not authorized to speak to the press and feared retribution by an administration on the prowl for leakers, or did not want to burn their former colleagues. None of these sources were political appointees. Rather, they were career foreign service officers or career civil servants, most of whom have served both Republican and Democratic administrations—and many of whom do not know each other. They painted a picture of a State Department adrift and listless.

Sometimes, the deconstruction of the administrative state is quite literal. After about two dozen career staff on the seventh floor—the State Department’s equivalent of a C suite—were told to find other jobs, some with just 12 hours’ notice, construction teams came in over President’s Day weekend and began rebuilding the office space for a new team and a new concept of how State’s nerve center would function. (This concept hasn’t been shared with most of the people who are still there.) The space on Mahogany Row, the line of wood-paneled offices including that of the secretary of state, is now a mysterious construction zone behind blue tarp.

With the State Department demonstratively shut out of meetings with foreign leaders, key State posts left unfilled, and the White House not soliciting many department staffers for their policy advice, there is little left to do. “If I left before 10 p.m., that was a good day,” said the State staffer of the old days, which used to start at 6:30 in the morning. “Now, I come in at 9, 9:15, and leave by 5:30.” The seeming hostility from the White House, the decades of American foreign-policy tradition being turned on its head, and the days of listlessness are taking a toll on people who are used to channeling their ambition and idealism into the detail-oriented, highly regimented busywork that greases the infinite wheels of a massive bureaucracy. Without it, anxiety has spiked. People aren’t sleeping well. Over a long impromptu lunch one afternoon—“I can meet tomorrow or today, whenever! Do you want to meet right now?”—the staffer told me she too has trouble sleeping now, kept awake by her worries about her job and America’s fading role in the world.

“I used to love my job,” she said. “Now, it feels like coming to the hospital to take care of a terminally ill family member. You come in every day, you bring flowers, you brush their hair, paint their nails, even though you know there’s no point. But you do it out of love.”

Some try to conduct policy meetings just to retain the muscle memory and focus, but, said another department employee, “in the last couple months, it’s been a lot more sitting around and going home earlier than usual.” Some wander around the streets of Foggy Bottom, going for long, aimless lunches. “I’m used to going to three or four interagency policy meetings a week,” the employee added, referring to the meetings in which policy is developed in coordination with other government departments. “I’ve had exactly one of those meetings in the last five weeks.” Even the torrent of inter-department email has slowed to a trickle. The State Department staffer told me that where she once used to get two hundred emails a day, it’s down to two dozen now. “Not since I began at the department a decade ago has it been so quiet,” she said. “Colleagues tell me it’s the same for them.”

A lot of this, the employee said, is because there is now a “much smaller decision circle.” And many State staffers are surprised to find themselves on the outside. “They really want to blow this place up,” said the mid-level State Department officer. “I don’t think this administration thinks the State Department needs to exist. They think Jared [Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law] can do everything. It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.”

Right now, those I’ve spoken to in the department seem to know very little about what’s going on. The staffer told me that she finds out what’s going on at State from the news—which she spends all day reading because, after years of having her day scheduled down to 15 minute blocks, she has nothing else to do. And even the news itself isn’t coming from official sources. There hasn’t been a State Department press briefing, once a daily ritual, since the new administration took over five weeks ago—though they’re scheduled to resume March 6. These briefings weren’t just for journalists. They also served as a crucial set of cues for U.S. diplomats all over the world about policy priorities, and how to talk about them. With no daily messaging, and almost no guidance from Washington, people in far-flung posts are flying blind even as the pace of their diplomacy hasn’t abated.

“Meetings are happening,” said one American diplomat stationed abroad, “but it is noticeable that we’re not having press briefings, which makes it hard for ambassadors waiting to take cues. We’re able to echo what Mattis, Tillerson, Pence say. But we’re still not there in aggressively promoting president’s agenda.” Other American diplomats, especially those in geopolitically sensitive posts, find themselves going on old, Obama-era guidance because no new guidance has been issued. But “the diplomacy goes on,” said another American diplomat abroad. “People notice every little change in our position,” the diplomat said. “And we don’t always know where the administration is or is going to be, so you operate on old guidance until Washington takes a new position. We’re largely taking our cues from the president, vice president, and Secretary Tillerson’s remarks and from reading the Spicer briefings,” referring to the daily briefings of White House press secretary Sean Spicer. “We are watching the news and seeing how quickly we can get our fingers on the [Spicer] transcripts,” the diplomat said.

When Rex Tillerson finally arrived in the building, members of the department I spoke to had very high hopes for him. People wanted to like him. But his remarks to the staff left many cold, and confused. “He only spoke of reform and accountability,” said the State Department staffer. “He offered no vision of America and its place in the world.” He also spoke of protecting missions abroad, which some read as a gratuitous reference to Benghazi. “It landed like a thud,” said the staffer. “There are all these people whose sole focus is protecting missions abroad. What do you think we’ve been doing for all these years?”

The fact that there hasn’t been a deputy secretary of state nominated, and that many undersecretary slots sit empty, is also unnerving to a bureaucracy used to relying on a strict hierarchy to get things done. “Not having a deputy ... is going to become a problem real soon,” the staffer said. “The world has been pretty quiet but it won’t stay that way.” She and others I spoke to worry about the optics of Tillerson flanked by empty seats during his meeting in Bonn, Germany, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was accompanied by a dozen aides. All these details send signals that other countries’ leaders and diplomats pore over for indications of potential policy changes. “With the Chinese, protocol is policy,” said the mid-level State officer. “We’re sending signals that are potentially damaging the relationship in ways we can’t anticipate.”

It also worries some State employees that Tillerson was unable to name his own deputy. His choice of the neocon Elliott Abrams was vetoed by the White House because Abrams had criticized Trump, and many in Foggy Bottom saw it as yet another signal that they and their secretary were being downgraded. “It’s troubling that his first battle with the president, he lost,” said the State employee. “If he couldn’t even bring in his own staff member, it’s concerning for future issues.”

On Tuesday, Trump confirmed their fears, telling Fox and Friends that there was a reason he wasn’t filling certain government posts: “in many cases, I don’t want to fill those posts. … They’re unnecessary.”

But while senior State appointees have yet to be appointed, other staff has been showing up. The Office of Policy Planning, created by George Kennan after World War II, is now filled not just with Ph.D.s, as it once was, but with fresh college graduates and a malpractice attorney from New Jersey whose sole foreign-policy credential seems to be that she was born in Hungary. Tillerson’s chief of staff is not his own, but is, according to the Washington Post, a Trump transition alum named Margaret Peterlin. “Tillerson is surrounded by a bunch of rather mysterious Trumpistas,” said the senior State official who recently left. “How the hell is he supposed to do his job when even his right hand is not his own person?” One State Department employee told me that Peterlin has instructed staff that all communications with Tillerson have to go through her, and even scolded someone for answering a question Tillerson asked directly, in a meeting.

Peterlin did not respond to request for comment, but former Newt Gingrich aide and State public affairs senior advisor R.C. Hammond clarified that the malpractice attorney was the White House liaison to State, and denied that Peterlin had issued such instructions or admonishments, or that the State Department was slow and listless. “The place is humming,” he said.

He and his staff pointed me to, among other people, Christiaan James, who is the Arabic-language spokesperson for State’s bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. He is busy; he spends a lot of time fielding questions from the Arabic-language press. “Even though we haven’t had a press briefing since January, we still get a lot of inquiries,” he said. “There’s still a lot going on, and we have to respond.” In the absence of a press briefing, staffers are now winging it, trying to interpret for their questioners what the American president meant when he seemed to toss overboard the idea of a two-state solution. “This actually came up yesterday,” James said. “An Egyptian channel wanted me to go on air and talk about this.” So, using the “two pages of guidance” put out by the press officer on the Israel-Palestine desk, James told them that, whatever the two sides agree on, “the United States is committed to finding a solution to this, that we’re going to be involved in the process. It’s about telegraphing that the U.S. is committed and not getting into the nitty gritty, and talking in more general terms until something more specific gets developed.”

Michelle Bernier-Toth, who runs overseas services for American citizens abroad, meanwhile continues to monitor the world for crises that might affect U.S. citizens and make consular services for them even more efficient, but she told me that she didn’t need guidance from the White House or even the Secretary of State. “What we do, we just keep on doing it,” she told me. “We’re very much a heart that keeps going. The consular side is law-based, so that’s our guidance.”

A State Department public-affairs officer was on the line with us when we talked. Another public-affairs officer was also on the line when I spoke to Paco Palmieri, a career foreign service officer and the acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Palmieri has had plenty to keep him busy, from Tillerson’s meeting with the Brazilian foreign minister in Bonn, Germany to his trip to Mexico, but he is an acting assistant secretary and he doesn’t know how long it will take for a political appointee to take his place. “Sometimes as an administration gets started, it takes some time to get a definitive answer but that just means you work harder to get to it,” he told me. “Every transition is unique.” Then the public affairs officer hustled him off to his next meeting.

According to the other people I spoke to, though, Tillerson seems cut off not just from the White House, but from the State Department. “The guidance from Tillerson has been, the less paper the better,” said the State Department staffer. “Voluntary papers are not exactly encouraged, so not much information is coming up to him. And nothing is flowing down from him to us. That, plus the absence of undersecretaries and assistant secretaries means there’s no guidance to the troops so we’re just marking time and responding.”

Many in the State Department openly acknowledge that the department is bloated, that it is at times inefficient and redundant. But they don’t understand why the culling is being done in such a crass and indiscriminate manner. “They didn’t talk to anyone, they didn’t ask them what they did, they just told them to look for other jobs,” said the mid-level officer of the seventh floor dismissals. “Nothing will make you a libertarian faster than working in the federal government,” said the State staffer. “There are inefficiencies, there needs to be reform. They certainly have a right to staffing, or lack of staffing,” the staffer said of the new administration. “But doing it without an analysis of where the inefficiencies are, the cutting just won’t be rational or effective. It just creates ill will.” The last month, the staffer said, “has been a very deliberate stress test.” “There seems to be no effort to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of people who are here, who just want to help,” said the mid-level officer. Instead, they see the White House vilifying them as bureaucrats no one elected, and it all seems, the mid-level officer said, “symbolic of wanting to neuter the organization.”

“This is probably what it felt like to be a British foreign service officer after World War II, when you realize, no, the sun actually does set on your empire,” said the mid-level officer. “America is over. And being part of that, when it’s happening for no reason, is traumatic

06 Mar 17,, 18:40
Officials: Tillerson eyes State Dept budget cut over 3 years
Mar 3, 2017 04:12 PM
AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has agreed in principle to a White House proposal to slash foreign aid and diplomatic spending by 37 percent, but wants to spread it out over three years rather than in one dramatic cut.

Officials familiar with Tillerson's response to the proposal from the Office of Management and Budget said Friday that Tillerson suggested the reductions to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development begin with a 20-percent cut in the next budget year. Tillerson sent his response to OMB director Mick Mulvaney on Thursday, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the budget publicly until it is presented to Congress.

Tillerson likened his approach to that of landing an airplane safely: a gradual descent rather than a precipitous one-time drop that would have far-reaching consequences for policy as well as political and human costs, according to the officials. The officials cautioned that Tillerson's response was the beginning of a discussion with the OMB that could lead to a different figure, which would then go to Congress, where more changes could emerge. Some lawmakers, including senior Republicans, as well as current and former military commanders strongly object to steep cuts in foreign aid and diplomacy.

The combined State Department/USAID budget this year was $50.1 billion, a little more than 1 percent of the total federal budget. The White House is looking for massive savings across the non-defense portions of the total budget to offset a proposed $54 billion increase in military spending.

One official said Tillerson agreed with "an aggressive scrubbing of the budget" with an eye toward prioritizing programs based on specific achievable results rather than theoretical goals. The official said Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, was seeking a budget that outlines "a clearer vision of what of the end product is."

Even carried out over three years, a 37-percent cut to the foreign affairs budget would be felt deeply across the State Department and foreign development assistance, which is largely overseen by USAID. It would likely require the wholesale elimination of some programs as well as staffing cuts.

One suggestion, which was not contained in Tillerson's response but is under consideration, would be to bring USAID, now a semi-autonomous operation, entirely under the auspices of the State Department to eliminate redundancies between the two agencies. This would reduce USAID's front and administrative offices by combining those functions with those of regional assistant secretaries of state.

The OMB proposal, which was sent Monday to the State Department, raised concerns about America's ability to promote its values around the world and avert wars, rather than fight them. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were among several Republicans voicing objections.

David Petraeus, who headed the CIA after commanding U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a group of more than 100 national security experts echoed that sentiment, calling diplomacy "critical to keeping America safe."

However, Trump advisers and top aides to Tillerson believe there is fat to cut from the State Department and USAID budgets and the OMB outline suggested ways to achieve savings.

The officials wouldn't discuss those details but some noted a 37-percent cut would eliminate programs and likely cause staff reductions, including security contractors at diplomatic missions, a matter that became only more sensitive after the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. They said some overseas facilities and offices might have to be closed.

The State Department had already been bracing for budget cuts under the Trump administration. Many of its bureaus went through exercises to see how they could function with 20 percent or 25 percent less money, officials said. Buyouts could help reduce the size of the diplomatic corps along with early retirements and layoffs, they found. Eliminating special envoy and special representative positions could also yield savings. Only 11 of 32 special envoy or representative posts that existed during the Obama administration are currently filled.

USAID's operations may be even more precarious. Numerous agency initiatives, including those dealing with global health, climate change and women's issues, could be cut if the proposal is adopted, the officials said. They said they expected most USAID funding to be cut

06 Mar 17,, 19:00
The combined State Department/USAID budget this year was $50.1 billion, a little more than 1 percent of the total federal budget. The White House is looking for massive savings across the non-defense portions of the total budget to offset a proposed $54 billion increase in military spending.

Why not just incorporate the State Department into the military? Imagine the joy of State Department employees going on 10k hikes each morning.

Councilor to the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, Management and Resources Zedekiah Smith, you had best square your ass away and start shitting me Tiffany cufflinks or I will definitely fuck you up!

06 Mar 17,, 20:13
So let's eviscerate State and while we are at it let's eviscerate the Coast Guard at the same time. That is truly making America Great again and safe.

10 Mar 17,, 18:53
Bureau chiefs ‘deeply concerned’ that Rex Tillerson is ditching the press on Asia trip

By Benjamin Mullin • March 9, 2017

D.C. bureau chiefs from major news organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the wire services, Fox News and CNN sent a letter to the State Department earlier this week protesting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's decision to ditch reporters on his upcoming trip to Asia.

"We were deeply concerned to hear that Secretary Tillerson plans to travel to Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo to hold key meetings about some of the most important foreign policy issues for the United States without any traveling press," reads the letter, which was also signed by NPR, the BBC, Voice of America, the Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy and the Agence France-Presse.

"Not only does this situation leave the public narrative of the meetings up to the Chinese foreign ministry as well as Korea’s and Japan’s, but it gives the American people no window whatsoever into the views and actions of the nation’s leaders."

The letter, which was sent on Tuesday, also notes that the State Department's offer "to help those reporters who want to travel unilaterally is wholly unrealistic, given the commercial flight schedules, visa issues and no guarantee of access once they are there."

The letter also requested a meeting with State Department officials to discuss access to Secretary Tillerson and press availability on trips abroad with the State Department.

Tillerson's decision to spurn reporters is unusual, especially in light of North Korea's recent nuclear missile test that violated sanctions and raised alarms in the international community. CNN's Jake Tapper called the trip "insulting to any American who is looking for anything but a state-run version of events."

Secretary Tillerson's trip, which begins next week, will take him to several countries, including Japan, South Korea and China. The State Department recently resumed press briefings after a weeks-long dry spell.

Here's the letter:

Dear Mr. Hammond and Ms. Peterlin,

We are the Washington bureau chiefs and editors of major print, wire, television and radio news organizations. We are writing to request a meeting with both of you as soon as possible to discuss press access to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and coverage of American foreign policy going forward.

We were deeply concerned to hear that Secretary Tillerson plans to travel to Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo to hold key meetings about some of the most important foreign policy issues for the United States without any traveling press. Not only does this situation leave the public narrative of the meetings up to the Chinese foreign ministry as well as Korea’s and Japan’s, but it gives the American people no window whatsoever into the views and actions of the nation’s leaders. And the offer to help those reporters who want to travel unilaterally is wholly unrealistic, given the commercial flight schedules, visa issues and no guarantee of access once they are there.

But the issues go beyond just the March 14-19 trip and affect the day-to-day coverage of the nation’s top diplomat and U.S. relations with the rest of the world.

Please let us know when a small group of us could come by to see if we can work out an arrangement that suits all of us.

Thank you,

Wendy Benjaminson
Acting Washington Bureau Chief
The Associated Press

Bryan Boughton
Fox News Channel
Washington Bureau Chief

Elisabeth Bumiller
Washington Bureau Chief
New York Times

Edith Chapin
Executive Editor

Paul Danahar
BBC Americas Bureaux Chief

Sam Feist
CNN Washington Bureau Chief

Peter Finn
National Security Editor
The Washington Post

Keith Johnson
Acting Managing Editor, News
Foreign Policy

Weston Kosova
Washington Bureau Chief

David Lauter
Washington Bureau Chief
Los Angeles Times/Chicago Tribune

Yolanda Lopez
Central News Director

David Millikin
North America bureau chief

10 Mar 17,, 18:55

American Diplomats’ Comfort With Tillerson Gives Way to Unease

Nick Wadhams

U.S. diplomats breathed a sigh of relief three months ago when Rex Tillerson was nominated as secretary of state, welcoming the oilman as a seasoned manager who would shield them from ideologues ready to gut America’s foreign policy machinery.

Yet that comfort is now giving way to unease, as the former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief embraces President Donald Trump’s vision.

Tillerson supports the president’s goal to cut the State Department budget and shift its mission away from existing initiatives such as climate change, global health and development assistance beyond key allies, according to half a dozen people familiar with his thinking who requested anonymity to discuss internal matters.

“The issue isn’t a lack of resources, it’s how do we refocus the department on its core priorities, and this is a way of getting at that,” said Brett Schaefer, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who has advocated a restructuring of the department but says he isn’t advising Tillerson. “It’s sort of a pressure exercise to force the people inside State and at USAID to rethink how budgets have been allocated and focus on critical priorities.”

Slimmed-Down Department

That doesn’t mean Tillerson will rubber stamp the Office of Management and Budget’s proposal to slash 37 percent of the combined $50 billion budget for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to free up money for the military, but he supports the sentiment behind it, the people said.

Tillerson, according to the people interviewed, wants a slimmed-down department that serves Trump’s goal -- a national security strategy more narrowly focused on backing U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe to advance his “America First” theme. That means largely doing away with the global promotion of democracy and other “soft power” initiatives.

It marks a sharp departure from the era of President Barack Obama, who oversaw an expansion of the State Department’s mandate, staff and budget.

Swings of Sentiment

The swings of sentiment inside the State Department were described by several current and former officials who said staffers were initially encouraged that Trump chose Tillerson and not former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or other candidates they saw as hostile to the department’s goals. Their concerns crystallized later after career diplomats were let go without protest from Tillerson and appointees seen as loyal to Trump but lacking foreign policy experience were installed, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters.

Unlike his predecessors -- from Republican Henry Kissinger to Democrat Hillary Clinton -- Tillerson has cultivated a low public profile. He hasn’t held a single press conference and isn’t taking reporters with him on a trip to Japan, South Korea and China next week.

“He has gone very slowly in developing a public profile in part because he’s smart enough to know that he has to win Trump’s confidence and the confidence of the White House,” said James Jeffrey, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies who was previously ambassador to Iraq and went on to work under Tillerson at Exxon. “That’s job one of any secretary.”

Paying Off

There are signs that Tillerson’s strategy is paying off, at least at the White House.

Early media reports painted him as out of the loop after his pick for deputy secretary of state was rejected and he didn’t participate in meetings Trump held with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. However, he has been given more face time with the president since then.

Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson.
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Read more: Has Trump Already Sidelined His Secretary of State?

The two spoke by phone on Feb. 14 and then met on Feb. 22, Feb. 27, March 1 and March 6, according to the White House schedule. Tillerson was scheduled to meet with Trump at the White House on Friday for lunch in the presidential dining room.

Tillerson also was center stage when the administration rolled out a revised executive order outlining immigration limits -- one of Trump’s top priorities -- and he will chair a ministerial meeting of the 68-nation coalition to combat Islamic State later this month.

But in a change troubling to some in the foreign policy community, Tillerson hasn’t offered an overarching vision for the U.S. role in the world -- and may never do so. Instead, he sees himself as a manager with an eye toward corporate-style reform, an outgrowth of his four decades in the private sector, according to those familiar with his thinking.

At Exxon, the 64-year-old Tillerson surrounded himself with a small group of aides with whom he met daily to steer the company. He’s done the same at State. While he has been briefed by many career diplomats, he relies on Chief of Staff Margaret Peterlin; Matt Mowers, a former aide to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who is his main conduit to the White House; and Christine Ciccone, formerly the chief operating officer of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign.

Surprising Senators

Tillerson’s management style is surprising would-be supporters. When the budget office’s proposals were revealed last week, senators on both sides of the political aisle condemned the idea, saying it would cripple the department he oversees and undermine U.S. influence. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina proclaimed the plan “dead on arrival.”

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Those same senators are finding that the one person they expected to champion their cause -- Tillerson -- isn’t necessarily on their side. A memo sent to top staff at the State Department and USAID last week by a senior official highlights the divisions and the conflicting messages. While it says Tillerson is “deeply concerned” about the timing and size of the reductions, it also says he is “committed to pursuing” Trump’s agenda of making government leaner and more accountable.

Democrats say Tillerson’s approach is misguided. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont wrote him Thursday to say the department increasingly “appears unable to respond to the myriad foreign policy challenges facing our nation.”

Asked about the potential State Department budget cuts, acting spokesman Mark Toner said at a briefing Tuesday that the senior staff’s goal was to study “where can we possibly move resources to, re-evaluate resources, reassess, perhaps make cuts if we feel that’s necessary, but in no way trying to limit the function or the efficacy, efficiency of this State Department.”

Tension over the State Department and its role is hardly new. David Halberstam’s “The Best and the Brightest,” a book that Trump adviser Steve Bannon demanded that others on the presidential transition team read, is replete with tales of President John F. Kennedy’s frustration with the slow pace of work at State.

And whether or not his employees agree, Tillerson’s made clear that change is coming. In an otherwise conciliatory speech to State Department staff on his first day there, he warned that they “cannot sustain ineffective traditions over optimal outcomes.”

‘More Boxes’

He was even more explicit in his confirmation hearing, citing his time as an engineer and later chief executive officer at Exxon, the world’s largest energy company by market value, when asked whether he planned to eliminate redundancies.

“I’ve looked at organization charts from a few years ago to organization charts today and I’ve noticed there are a few more boxes,” he said. “Now, some of those may be for very good and valid reasons, but also, it appears to me that new issues which have been added may rightfully need to be placed back into the mission and integrated into the mission itself.”

Analysts agree there is room for change at the department, if only to reduce confusion. Cybersecurity matters, for example, are split between the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Information Resources Management. Plus there’s a coordinator for Cyber Issues.

Still, the hollowing out of entire levels of the diplomatic corps with the departure -- voluntary or forced -- of political appointees has alarmed groups that work with the State Department on issues around the globe.

“There are whole layers there that are empty at the political level -- the ones who can make decisions and drive resources to solve these kinds of problems,” said Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services. “That’s really the critical need.”

‘Condo Fees’

The department is slowly staffing up, with Trump deciding on choices for a NATO ambassador, State Department spokesman and ambassador to Russia in recent days.

But the question remains what Tillerson’s State Department will look like and whether it can do its job with its reach -- and its budget -- reduced.

“These are the condo fees of global leadership,” said Daniel Runde, a Republican who’s a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “We have a Republican Congress and a Republican executive branch, and we’re overdue for a strategic conversation for how we use our soft power in the world.”

10 Mar 17,, 19:00
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Quote Unquote

Rex Tillerson vs. The Enemy of The People: Inside The Media War At The State Department

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell being shut down for asking questions is just the most visible of a media shutdown at the State Department. Why is Rex Tillerson so scared of the spotlight?

Lloyd Grove
Lloyd Grove
03.10.17 12:38 PM ET

Twice during the past week at the U.S. State Department, NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, was ejected from photo ops when she had the unmitigated gall to ask questions of Rex Tillerson.

The 70-year-old journalism workhorse, a skillful creator of viral video moments during her long network television career, failed to get answers as frantic aides firmly ushered her out of the secretary of state’s ceremonial seventh-floor office.

But the confrontations produced some gripping optics that MSNBC, where Mitchell hosts a weekday show, deftly deployed in a promo touting her intrepid reporting style.

Mitchell’s encounters—which exploded on social media this week after Fox News’s resident troglodyte, Bill O’Reilly, called her “unruly” on Twitter—also highlighted a more serious issue: a secretary of state who refuses to engage or even acknowledge the press corps assigned to cover him.

It was only this week—nearly 50 days into Donald Trump’s administration—that deputy state department spokesman Mark Toner, a career foreign service officer, starting holding a regular on-camera briefing for correspondents, an event that occurred daily during past administrations. The new plan is to hold two televised briefings and two conference calls a week for beat reporters.

But after six weeks on the job since being confirmed by the Senate, Tillerson—who as chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil for a decade met the media only in highly controlled and orchestrated circumstances—has yet to answer a single question from the press corps at Foggy Bottom.

And when he leaves next Wednesday for a critical four-day trip to Japan, South Korea and China—a series of crucial consultations overshadowed by North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling—Tillerson will not even be taking a single pool reporter with him on the secretary of state’s plane.

P.J. Crowley, Barack Obama’s former assistant secretary for public affairs in charge of the state department’s media relations, drew a sharp intake of breath when informed of Secretary Tillerson’s travel arrangements.

“That,” he said after a lengthy pause, “is a very significant break with tradition.”

“It’s actually totally bizarre,” said the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, the newspaper’s state department correspondent during the tenures of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. “Watching this beginning by Tillerson, I’m actually pretty appalled by it.”

New York Times White House correspondent Mark Landler, who covered the state department under comparatively press-friendly Secretary Hillary Clinton, speculated that Tillerson might be staying out of the spotlight so as not to risk eclipsing a president who needs to be the center of attention.

“You have to wonder if there isn’t an element of worry that too high a profile, working for a president named Donald Trump, is a hazardous place to be,” Landler said. “Maybe he’s concluded that being low-profile is a wiser move. Don’t compete with the boss.”

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Former Time managing editor Richard Stengel, who served as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs during the Obama administration, cautioned that beyond risking negative media coverage—of which Tillerson has had plenty in recent weeks portraying him as a marginal foreign-policy player compared with presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon—the secretary of state’s press-averse M.O. is sending a dangerous signal to the world at large.

“It’s unfortunate for American policy, and it’s not just an American audience that’s looking at this,” Stengel told The Daily Beast. “It emboldens autocrats and dictators who don’t believe they ever have to talk to the press. ‘See? The Secretary of State of the United States doesn’t need to talk to the press, so why do I have to?’ It’s an unfortunate image that projects something that we don’t want to project around the world.”

In an embarrassing illustration of Stengel’s warning, Tillerson found himself being lectured on press freedoms during a visit to Bonn, Germany, last month by none other than Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the foreign policy czar of journalist-snuffing strong man Vladimir Putin.

“Why did you shush them out?” Lavrov demanded after Tillerson’s handlers ejected reporters from a bilateral meeting as the Secretary of State began to speak; Lavrov, who frequently travels with a full complement of journalists on his official plane, had already taken a press question. (Due to lack of witnesses from the Fourth Estate, Tillerson’s reply, if any, went unrecorded.)

“Seasoned diplomats like Lavrov are more likely to get the best of a diplomatic encounter with Rex Tillerson, and to sandbag him in some way, if there is no American press present or within earshot,” said Anne Gearan, the Washington Post’s current state department correspondent. “That means the first account of some of those meetings is going to be presented to the press of another country, and that might not go the way the U.S. wants it to go.”

Crowley, meanwhile, told The Daily Beast that a Secretary of State’s public engagement with journalists “is a very important dimension of American diplomacy, so that we are seen as practicing what we preach, that we value the First Amendment, and that the relationship between the United States Government and a free and vibrant media is essential to government accountability and transparency.

“But when we have a president who calls the media ‘enemies of the people,’” Crowley continued, “that is damaging to America’s standing in the world. And when we have a senior leader in government who appears to be retreating from this relationship, that gets noticed and it will have an impact.”

State Department Senior Adviser R.C. Hammond, a veteran Republican operative who describes his job as “chief cat-herder,” rejects the notion that Tillerson has confused his priorities by keeping the press at arm’s length.

Hammond said, however, that Tillerson intends to take questions from the press for his first time as secretary during next week’s Tokyo stop, and added many state department correspondents are arranging to fly commercial to be on hand for Tillerson’s visits to Japan, South Korea and China.

He added that U.S. reporters on the ground will be traveling in the secretary’s motorcade, with access to the department’s briefers, within the security bubble.

But why no pool reporter on the secretary’s plane?

“He’s traveling on a smaller plane this time, which won’t accommodate a pool,” Hammond said. “The pool can be accommodated as long as the plane is large enough; we cannot put them in luggage.”

But doesn’t the secretary of state normally fly in a government Boeing 757 that would have seated several journalists in the back—and wouldn’t such an aircraft have been available if requested?

“Not necessarily,” Hammond replied, adding that he isn’t sure what sort of plane the secretary is using.

Tillerson had a very brief off the record meet-and-greet with State Department correspondents last month, when he dropped by the “Bullpen,” as their cramped office space is nicknamed, and departed after around 10 minutes.

“Zero reporters asked him any significant questions about foreign policy,” Hammond said about that encounter. “They took their first opportunity to introduce themselves by making sure not to ask him anything about his job.”

Hammond, who displayed a taste for combat and a saturnine sense of humor when he was Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign press secretary during the 2012 primary race, denied making a quip after Tillerson left that a witness confirmed to The Daily Beast.

“All you guys seem to care about is getting a lift on a government plane,” Hammond is alleged to have retorted to journalists who were pressing him for more access.

“Every reporter is entitled to his gripes,” Hammond told The Daily Beast. “Some reporters are more interested in reporting about themselves than the issues that people care about. That’s true for Washington.”

Hammond went on: “In the long run, what you’ll see is a state department that is making an adjustment to increase broader access; more reporters will have access to the department than they had before. Relying on a D.C-centric system that only answers questions from a briefing is not serving the needs of the entire media.”

Hammond said that instead of focusing mainly on members of the State Department Correspondents Association—many of whom have been covering U.S. diplomacy through several administrations and bring institutional memory and historical perspective to their reporting—the department will be reaching out especially to media outlets that serve the 14 million people who live within 100 miles of the southern border with Mexico.

“The department will be building a stronger border relationship with our neighbor, Mexico, and for a lot of people this is a local issue,” Hammond said. “The local news outlets that don’t usually have access to the state department will be getting new opportunities, and we will have information to help them on their local reporting.”

Ironically, at the same moment that Hammond was talking about Mexico, that country’s foreign minister was reportedly meeting at the White House with Kushner, Bannon and others, but apparently saw no need to see his American counterpart. It was yet another indication that Tillerson’s low profile is damaging at least the perception of his influence.

As for Andrea Mitchell, who declined to comment for this story, she was kicked out of Tillerson’s meeting with Yukiya Amano, director of International Atomic Energy Agency, when she pressed the Secretary on the department’s staffing problems--"Do you think you'll have a deputy anytime soon, sir?"—and the draconian 30 percent budget cuts President Trump wants to impose on American diplomacy.

The scene was replayed on Tuesday when Tillerson and his guest, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, pretended not to hear her as she shouted questions about threats from China and the Trump administration’s ambiguous stance concerning Ukraine’s arch adversary, Putin.

“Do you think this gets better?” Brian Williams asked Mitchell Thursday night on his MSNBC program.

“I worry that it doesn’t,” she answered. “And I don’t think it’s good for the country.”

12 Mar 17,, 00:43
Fri Mar 10, 2017 | 1:33 AM EST
Commentary: Trump wants to gut the State Department. Not everyone thinks that’s a bad idea

By Peter Van Buren
Concerns around the State Department that President Donald Trump's transition was in chaos seem mistaken. What if it’s by design? What if Trump decided America doesn't need State and if he can't get away with closing it down, he can disable, deconstruct and defund it?

The question is not theoretical. Trump wants to cut government, shift money to infrastructure and other proposed programs, and views military force, or its threat, as a primary tool of global problem-solving. Never a favorite of conservatives, State seems an easy target for Trump. But he will quickly find out he'll need State to keep the lights on at embassies and consulates, and find some way to process visas. After that, there is a lot to cut few will miss.

While we can’t see into Trump’s mind, we may be able to gauge his intentions. Things do not look good at State. The department didn’t hold a regular press briefing in January or February, nor has Secretary of State Rex Tillerson answered questions in public. There may be little to talk about – a bad sign in these first 100 days. The briefings are also a tool to get America's broader foreign policy message out to the globe, and for now that message is that no one is home at State.

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Tillerson wasn't present, as is typical, at several White House meetings with foreign leaders, and has taken only two short trips abroad. (By March 6 of her term, Hillary Clinton had already visited nine countries, John Kerry, 10.) Of the 17 sets of official remarks Tillerson delivered, 12 were substance-free messages to countries on their national days.

Sources inside State say he is nowhere to be seen around the building, either in person or virtually via demands for information. State’s long hallways, which should be abuzz as new faces arrive with policy initiatives, and career staff work to bring them up to date on existing issues, are instead pretty quiet places.

Meanwhile, Trump has proposed devastating cuts to State's budget, already only about 1 percent of federal spending. The administration has left many of the 64 special representative and other ambassador-level domestic positions empty, with no sign anyone will fill them soon. Many of the jobs were already under scrutiny by Congress during Obama’s time, and the current administration is unlikely to defend them.

Tillerson also laid off a number of his own staff, some of whom were Obama-era holdovers, and has not rushed to replace them. These vacancies may show Trump’s intent to not rely on State for foreign policy opinion.

Already seen by many inside the Trump administration as too closely tied to the Hillary Clinton campaign (some senior State officials associated with Clinton were purged in late January), the State Department has done little to help itself via the leaked dissent memo aimed at Trump's first so-called Muslim ban, and the subsequent leaked memo admonishing State staffers to stop leaking.

Add in a Federal-wide hiring freeze, and the only good news at Foggy Bottom is that it's no longer hard to find a seat in the cafeteria.

So is this it? The end of the Department of State, founded alongside the republic in 1789, with Thomas Jefferson as its first leader? Is anyone going to miss most of it?

Maybe not. The actions described above refer to the “political” State Department, the traditional organ of diplomacy that once negotiated treaties and ended wars, but more and more since 9/11 (perhaps earlier) has been supplemented if not left behind by modern communications that allow Washington policymakers to deal directly with counterparts abroad.

There is also a lot of bloat in State, mostly via overlap with other government agencies. State does trade promotion, as do other parts of the government, specifically the U.S. Commercial Service. State’s economic and political reporting exist alongside that of the intelligence community. (The WikiLeaks cables, years of State Department effort, contained as much filler and gossip as they did cogent policy advice.)

Even within State, overlap grows like wild mushrooms. Large swaths of bureaucracy exist only to support other swaths of bureaucracy. And no one can really be sure what the Department’s Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region of Africa does.

Throw in the growing role of the military in international relations, and Trump’s opinion that nobody negotiates better than he does on his own, and you end up with far too much State Department.

So what will Trump need to hold on to?

Those 294 embassies and consulates State operates serve a function as America's concierge that cannot be easily replaced.

Dozens of U.S. government agencies rely on State's international real estate for office space and support to keep their costs down. Traveling American government VIPs need someone to arrange their security and get their hotels and receptions booked. Supporting CODELS (Congressional Delegations’ visits to foreign lands) is a right of passage for State Department employees. While stationed in London, I escorted so many Important Somebodies shopping I was named “Ambassador to Harrods Department Store” by my colleagues.

Never mind handling the logistics for a full-on presidential visit to a foreign country. Trump will need this side of State to stay.

Trump will also need to keep the function of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs somewhere inside government. Consular performs the traditional jobs of assisting Americans overseas when they're arrested, caught up in a natural disaster, or just need help with a new passport.

The big swinging bat of consular work, however, is visa issuance. Visas are what fills the American economy with tourists, Silicon Valley with engineers and universities with foreign students. Visas are the State Department's cash cow: in FY2015 Consular issued close to 11 million tourist, worker and student visas at a typical fee of $160. That's well over $1.7 billion in revenue in addition to the budget Congress allots State. Consular holds a cash surplus whose dollar amount is one of the most closely held non-national security secrets inside government.

Yet in a Trumpian calculus, what looks like a strength at Foggy Bottom might turn out to be a weakness. State fought viciously after 9/11 to hold on to consular work, even as the Bush administration sought to consolidate the function into the then-new Department of Homeland Security.

State won that bureaucratic fight in 2001, but if the Trump administration really wanted to wipe away most of the State Department proper, it could simply kick out the most profitable leg holding up the whole edifice, and it’s unclear Congress would even need to be involved. Like a Jenga tower, Trump can pick away at the top positions for media and political points, but if he really wants to see it all fall down, he'll attack the bottom.

Watch for it; it'll help tell you how serious this fight really is.

For more Reuters Commentary coverage of Trump’s first 100 days, click here.

(Peter Van Buren is the author of "We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.” His next book is “Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan.” @WeMeantWell The views presented here are the author’s own and do not represent those of the Department of State


15 Mar 17,, 17:39
I thought the media/HRC lakies came up with "fake news" post election...

Bringing some clown from wapo will bring down the PRC...

From ‘fake news’ to no news: Tillerson leaving press behind on Asia trip could send message to China


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is heading to Asia this week. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

By David Nakamura and Carol Morello

March 15 at 10:00 AM 

As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Asia on Wednesday for his first major trip, one of his loudest messages could be one that goes unspoken.

State Department officials said Tillerson’s focus during meetings in Japan, South Korea and China will be on North Korea’s nuclear threat, as well as trade and economics. But his aversion to dealing with U.S. journalists — and his decision to initially bar them from his traveling party before granting a seat to a reporter for a conservative website at the last minute — have added to growing questions about the Trump administration’s commitment to a free press and transparent government.

For the nation’s top diplomat, the approach cuts sharply against the practice of his predecessors in both Republican and Democratic administrations who have allowed reporters on their planes as an expression of American values — and as a tool to help pressure authoritarian regimes toward political reforms and greater openness.

Tillerson’s abrupt change of direction comes at a time when his boss, President Trump, and other senior White House officials have referred to mainstream media outlets as “fake news,” “the opposition party” and “the enemy of the people,” and the White House has restricted access to some news briefings.

Foreign capitals have taken notice. Tamaki Tsukada, spokesman for the Japanese embassy in Washington, said “there is an elevated concern in the Japanese media about that level of control” that Trump is trying to exert on the U.S. news media.

The Trump administration’s posture also has been noted in Beijing, where Communist Party leaders have appropriated Trump’s own rhetoric as they continue a years-long effort to tighten government control of news and information. That effort has included restricting public access to the Internet, jailing Chinese journalists and denying visas to American reporters.

This month, Xinhua, a state-run news agency, attacked foreign news outlets for writing “fake news” full of “cleverly orchestrated lies” in their reports of the torture of a human rights lawyer by government agents.

“We’re in a period where Chinese government pressure on journalists is as great as it’s been since the 1980s, so having a secretary who raises the importance of a free press and the treatment of journalists is important,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, a former journalist based in Beijing who oversees a project at the New America think tank that examines digital privacy rights and free expression.

“It’s been a key part of our foreign policy for decades for Republicans and Democrats,” MacKinnon said. “If that changes or if the message is not conveyed … that sends a message not just to the world and the Chinese government, but also to Chinese journalists, human rights lawyers and activists.”

Tillerson, who regularly traveled with a single aide while serving as chief executive of ExxonMobil, is said to be uncomfortable with the large entourage of U.S. officials, reporters and security personnel that typically accompanies the secretary of state. This is his third trip abroad on a small plane, with less space for staff and for reporters. State Department officials have characterized it as a cost-cutting measure, though news organizations pay for their own expenses.

Tillerson’s aides emphasized that they have made arrangements to permit American reporters, who travel on their own or are based abroad, to cover his stops in each capital. And they said he will participate in his first news conference during a joint appearance with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Thursday.

The only journalist on the plane is Erin McPike, a reporter for the Independent Journal Review, an Alexandria-based website founded by two former Republican operatives. “We take this responsibility seriously,” the publication’s founder, Alex Skatell, said in a statement, expressing confidence in her coverage. McPike, who is listed on the website as a White House correspondent, was invited by the State Department to cover the trip, Skatell said.

Trump administration officials rejected the suggestion that the Chinese would view Tillerson’s exclusion of other reporters as a signal that the administration would tacitly endorse — or choose to overlook — their intimidation tactics against journalists.

“Taking the American press corps to Beijing has not over the course of 40 years, to my knowledge, particularly changed the conditions for Chinese media,” said Victoria Coates, a senior director for strategic communications at the National Security Council. “It demonstrates solidarity, but it does not achieve anything.”

Nevertheless, Tillerson is being watched closely at home and abroad for signals of how the Trump administration, which has proposed slashing the budget of the State Department, intends to engage the world. His early approach represents a sharp departure from his predecessor, John F. Kerry, who served as secretary of state during former president Barack Obama’s second term.

In private meetings and in public, Kerry often spoke out about the values of a free and independent press. During a visit to Beijing in 2014, he met with Chinese bloggers in a roundtable arranged by the U.S. Embassy and photographed by American reporters traveling with him.

It came at a time when Beijing was clamping down on political dissent, and the bloggers asked Kerry to help “tear down” the Great Firewall of censorship blocking what citizens can read online. Kerry told them he had raised the matter with Chinese officials, prompting the foreign ministry to label his views “naive.”

Kerry wasn’t the only Obama administration official to pressure the Chinese. Former Vice President Joseph Biden met with a group of Beijing-based reporters from the New York Times and Bloomberg News during a trip to China in Dec. 2013.

Those organizations were being threatened by the government after stories that exposed a network of secret wealth of relatives of Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Communist leaders. Biden said he raised their concerns in a private meeting with Xi.

“Media organizations that were having difficulties with visas sought assistance, and we were open to that because we always seek fair treatment for U.S. journalists working abroad,” said Jeff Prescott, a former Obama and Biden aide who helped arrange the vice president’s Asia trip. “In-depth reporting is critical to how Americans understand developments in a place like China. The fact that journalists faced visa challenges at the time of a high-level visit presented an opportunity to highlight the issue and provided leverage to help address it.”

A year later, during Obama’s state visit to Beijing, the U.S. delegation negotiated with the Chinese to ensure that Xi took a question from an American reporter at a news conference. Obama used the opportunity to call on a New York Times correspondent, who promptly asked the Chinese leader about his efforts to deny visas to foreign reporters.

Former Obama aides acknowledged that their efforts paid limited dividends in China. But they emphasized that the messaging resonated throughout the region, including in Southeast Asia, where the United States had positioned itself as a democratic alternative to China’s growing influence.

It is not known if Tillerson will raise human rights, including press freedoms, during his stop in Beijing. A State Department official who briefed reporters before the trip did not mention it being on the agenda.

“I’m just always wary of predicting exactly what will be on the agenda of any meeting, but I can guarantee that it is a concern,” said Mark Toner, the agency’s acting spokesman. “We recognize there are challenges there. Human rights is one of those challenges and freedom of the press is an essential part of that.”

16 Mar 17,, 16:24
So let's eviscerate State and while we are at it let's eviscerate the Coast Guard at the same time. That is truly making America Great again and safe.

We must keep America safe!

But not from environmental disasters, disease outbreaks or epidemics.

The terrorists manage to kill an average of 74 Americans per year! With some years spiking as high as ~3000 deaths! Influenza and Pneumonia only kill around 55,000 Americans per year so that's no big deal. CDC clearly doesn't need this funding...

Those Americans who risked or sacrificed their lives working in horrible conditions to contain Ebola in Africa? Fuck em, they're on their own.


16 Mar 17,, 17:05
Notice how all these budget cuts are of items that affect the lives of many Americans except one for sure. None of these programs affect the life of Trump in any shape, manner or form. I continually say that Trump has always and will always only care about himself first. No normal person says I am the only one who knows all the answers. Frankly, if I had to place a bet on the chance that Trump would decide in favor of the country or sell it down the river to protect his position, when push came to shove, I would have to place it on selling out.

16 Mar 17,, 18:04
Frankly, if I had to place a bet on the chance that Trump would decide in favor of the country or sell it down the river to protect his position, when push came to shove, I would have to place it on selling out.

Missed the chance to bet on it. He already did.

16 Mar 17,, 20:46
I continually say that Trump has always and will always only care about himself first.

I get the feeling that in his worldview there are winners and losers, and his narcissism precludes him from understanding the idea of sacrifice for the greater good.

This kind of explains his disdain for John McCain as a POW, the Gold Star family, and CDC workers fighting Ebola. According to Trump, if they suffered or died, it was because they made a bad decision and "lost", therefore they deserve ridicule.

16 Mar 17,, 21:32
In days past, like my father's generation growing up in NYC during the 30's and 40's, the term used by his like would be "suckers".

His disdain for McCain also shows him to be a paper patriot.

19 Mar 17,, 03:54
Rex Tillerson threatens to withdraw from UN Human Rights Council to improve human rights

Secretary of State is deciding where and how to cut $10 billion of US funding to the UN
Rachael Revesz |
@RachaelRevesz |

Click to follow
The Independent US

Mr Tillerson has reportedly been given flexibility to decide how the cuts are implemented Reuters

Donald Trump’s administration has threatened to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council, arguing that the US wants to improve global human rights and defend Israel.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote in a letter to nine UN advocates and human rights groups that the council must undergo “considerable reform for us [the US] to participate” and that the US “continues to evaluate” the council's effectiveness.

Mr Tillerson, who has been given authority as to how and when the US executes its funding cuts to the UN, said he was concerned about the human rights record of other countries in the 47-member council, such as China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

He said the US will remain a member for the time being to “reiterate our strong principled objection to the Human Rights Council’s biased agenda against Israel.”

“We may not share a common view on this, given the makeup of the membership,” he added.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner told journalists this week that he would not get into details about the letter, first obtained by Foreign Policy.

“It’s fair to say we’re having discussions about — and that’s internal discussions, meaning within the State Department, but also with some of our partners — about how to increase transparency and accountability in human rights,” Mr Toner said.

Former President George W Bush refused to join the council in 2006 due to its treatment of Israel, but the decision was reversed by President Barack Obama in 2009, who said it would be better to have a seat at the table.

Congress was reportedly preparing legislation last month to defund the UN after the organisation voted to condemn Israeli settlement building in the Occupied Territories.

President Donald Trump has long expressed his view that the US paid too much towards the UN, which amounts to about $10 billion currently.

He also compared the UN to a "country club" where people were having "a good time".

In January he was reportedly preparing to sign an executive order which would reduce US funding of the UN by 40 per cent, as well as repeal certain multilateral treaties and scrap the landmark Paris climate change agreement.

Trump Compares United Nations to 'Country Club'

The order says that funding will be taken away from any organisation that is "controlled or substantially influenced by any state that sponsors terrorism" or is behind the persecution of marginalised groups or systematic violation of human rights.

Read more

US Republicans consider ending American funding of United Nations
There will only be one loser after Obama's attack on Israel
Trump: UN is just a 'good time' club and I've brought hope to world

Foreign Policy reported this week that State Department officials were ordered to cut US funding to the UN by up to 50 per cent.

Peacekeeping operations and the United Nations Population Fund, which fights violence against women and gender inequality, are set to be hit the hardest.

First details of the billion-dollar cuts to the UN could be revealed this week in the US budget for the year ahead, as the President explains how he will expand the military without raising taxes


Press corps blasts Tillerson for cherry-picking reporters

State Department invites right-wing outlet on trip to Asia, snubbing the regular pool.

By Hadas Gold
| 03/15/17 07:09 PM EDT
| Updated 03/15/17 10:30 PM EDT

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The Trump administration’s efforts to rewrite the rules for media coverage reached a furious peak on Wednesday as veteran State Department reporters expressed outrage over Secretary Rex Tillerson’s decision to take only a reporter from a conservative website on his first trip to Asia.

“The State Department is the beacon of press freedom around the world. The message now to China in particular when he gets to Beijing is that press freedom doesn’t matter,” MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who is following Tillerson’s trip and broadcasting from Tokyo, said in a recent appearance on air. "Up until now, secretaries of state have made it a key demand that our press corps gets into meetings … that there be access for the media … A key component of foreign policy is being undercut by this.”

Tillerson’s move caught most of the media off guard, in part because he has more to gain than lose by courting the diplomatic press corps, which has enjoyed generally good relations with all secretaries of state going back to the Reagan administration. Indeed, of all the branches of the Washington press corps, the State Department's is widely considered the most staid and serious, the type who actually care about policy versus palace intrigue.

But those same reporters are now furious, frustrated and, in some cases, disgusted by what’s been deemed a violation of tradition and a public trust, with Tillerson’s decision to bring only Erin McPike of Independent Journal Review, a conservative news outlet which made its name with lighthearted videos featuring politicians and viral stories.

McPike has been with IJR for only a few weeks and doesn’t even cover the State Department: She’s its White House reporter and is often in the briefings. McPike won’t be acting as a pool reporter for the rest of the diplomatic press corps, meaning she won’t be sharing information about the trip with other reporters, which is what would normally happen if there were limited space for reporters and only a few were chosen.

"Is this really the message they want to send to the public, as well as other nations? Really? They must, on some level, realize that no one is fooled by the explanations,” said CNN’s senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.

Mitchell and Kosinski are just two of many reporters who have strongly protested the decision, which also drew the ire of many Washington bureau chiefs and the State Department Correspondents’ Association.

"The State Department Correspondents' Association is disappointed that Secretary Tillerson chose to travel this week to North Asia without a full contingent of the diplomatic press corps or even a pool reporter,” the association said in a statement.

In the past when the State Department invited a particular reporter on the secretary’s plane, there was always a pool report to keep other reporters aware of what transpired.

This time, however, the State Department initially said it would not be letting any reporters on the trip, meaning that anyone covering the trip would have to make their own travel arrangements and would have no assurance of access to the secretary. The reason, the State Department said, was to save money by using a smaller plane with fewer staff — though reporters noted that past secretaries and officials have traveled on the same plane and brought media along.

But then on Tuesday it was revealed — not initially by the State Department — that McPike had been invited. The decision, State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement, was made “as part of an effort to include a broader representation of U.S. media.”



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By Austin Wright

But at the daily news briefing on Wednesday, reporters hammered Toner for the department’s handling of the situation. Toner, a career State Department official, deflected some of the blame, saying he wasn’t involved in the decision- making and wouldn’t go on the trip.

“With respect to this decision, I wouldn’t extrapolate that there’s some intent to ostracize the media in this room,” Toner said, adding that the media will have some access to Tillerson during the trip and that this was an effort to “look at outside-the-box approaches” to how they handle coverage of the secretary. “I can say going forward that every effort will be made to accommodate the press contingent on board the plane.”

But many in the State Department press corps remained aghast at the decision to invite a reporter with little foreign policy experience from news outlet with a clear ideological bent.

IJR was founded in 2012 by Alex Skatell, a former Republican operative, and is owned by Media Group of America, which is co-owned by Phil Musser, a former executive director of the Republican Governors Association who has ties to Vice President Mike Pence.

IJR’s goal has been to fill a void it believes exists in social and mobile-first news, aimed at a young, millennial conservative audience. The site has picked up steam in the past few years, gaining traffic with funny videos of presidential candidates and other viral content. The rising profile paid off with the site co-sponsoring one of the Republican primary debates last year.

The site has made investments in original journalism, though a dozen of its staffers, several of them reporters, have left the site in the past year. IJR says they’ve hired replacements, but former staffers said those who left were more traditional journalists — including Justin Green, Michelle Jaconi, Hunter Schwartz and Kate Glassman Bennett.

Some former employees of the site, speaking on background, said it’s become “more right wing” and the change in tone made it difficult for them to do their jobs.

In response, Skatell, IJR's founder, said in a statement: "We take our responsibility as a news organization on the board of News Media Alliance, Digital Content Next and the Trust Project seriously. I'm proud of our reporting team, past and present, and just as we've done since we were one writer and a handful of readers, we will continue to invest time and energy into strengthening our team and process."

Recently, IJR scored a major scoop, reporting hours before it was officially announced that Neil Gorsuch would be Trump’s nominee for the open Supreme Court spot. But few other media organizations picked it up or cited IJR — a reflection, perhaps, of the media establishment not yet taking the site seriously.

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In another coup of sorts, IJR was tipped off about a dinner Trump was going to have at his D.C. hotel, while the presidential press pool — the group of reporters who travel with the president at all times — was not told of his destination.

But there was Independent Journal Review’s Benny Johnson, camped out a table prepared to provide an exhaustive nearly minute-by-minute account of the dinner.

Both scoops were based on informed sources, something that both reports made clear. But some former staffers said they were uncomfortable with the site waving its banner about scoring scoops and making its journalistic mark while they said its tone has become too pro-administration.

One of the site’s current reporters, Joe Perticone, rejected this notion, noting on Twitter in response to a tweet calling IJR “state-run media” by saying that his most recent sit-down was with a Democrat who was very critical of Trump.

Skatell defended the decision to send McPike, saying in a statement, "We don’t take this opportunity lightly and recognize the controversy surrounding press access for the trip,” while defending McPike as a “tenacious” reporter who has spent “over a decade of reporting for some of the largest, most respected outlets in Washington” such as CNN, RealClearPolitics and National Journal.

But Skatell has made clear in the past that he and his newsroom are different from the mainstream media. Speaking at a POLITICO panel in January, Skatell wouldn’t say whether IJR would defend other news sites if they were banned by the incoming president. Instead, he said, the onus should be on television news to stand up and make an impact.

“I think it depends how you [the banned outlet] reacted, what the community thought,” Skatell said.

Now, many eyes will be watching for McPike’s report from the trip, and some reporters suggested IJR’s credibility is at stake.

"Remarkable. Huge responsibility if anything goes sideways,” Yahoo White House correspondent Olivier Knox wrote on Twitter.

19 Mar 17,, 04:16
Tillerson rebuts 'fatigue' reports: South Korea 'never invited us for dinner'

By Rebecca Morin
| 03/18/17 09:06 AM EDT

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denied reports in South Korean media outlets that he did not dine with the country's officials due to "fatigue" on a leg of his Asia trip, according to an interview published Saturday.

"They never invited us for dinner, then at the last minute they realized that optically it wasn’t playing very well in public for them, so they put out a statement that we didn’t have dinner because I was tired," Tillerson told Independent Journal Review's Erin McPike during a sit-down interview in which Tillerson also said he's "not a big media press access person."


The State Department was criticized after it initially announced no reporters from U.S. outlets would be traveling with Tillerson on his trip to South Korea, Japan and China. It was later revealed that McPike would be traveling with Tillerson. But McPike was not considered a pool reporter and did not provide regular updates.

A report Friday in the Korea Herald said that Tillerson "shortened diplomatic consultations and public events in Seoul." The former Exxon Mobil executive also did not dine with Hwang Kyo-ahn, the South Korean acting president, and Yun Byung-se, the country’s foreign minister.

The Korea Herald cited Seoul officials saying that Tillerson opted not to dine with the officials as a result of "fatigue."

When asked whether the Seoul officials lied, Tillerson said "it was just their explanation."

The secretary of state went on to say that he did have dinner that night, but did not disclose with whom.

"The host country decides whether we are going to do things or not," Tillerson told McPike. "We didn’t decide that."

The Korea Herald noted that during Tillerson's visit to Japan, he spent several hours meeting with Japanese officials, which included dinner meetings. Tillerson also cited a transitional government in Seoul — following the recent impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye — as a reason for lesser contact with officials there.

Tillerson also said during the interview with McPike that he is "not a big media press access person."

"I’m not a big media press access person. I personally don’t need it," Tillerson told McPike. "I understand it’s important to get the message of what we’re doing out, but I also think there’s only a purpose in getting the message out when there’s something to be done."

Tillerson said that when the State Department is "ready to talk about what we’re trying to do, I will be available to talk to people."

"But doing daily availability, I don’t have this appetite or hunger to be that, have a lot of things, have a lot of quotes in the paper or be more visible with the media," Tillerson said. "I view that the relationship that I want to have with the media, is the media is very important to help me communicate not just to the American people, but to others in the world that are listening.

"And when I have something important and useful to say, I know where everybody is and I know how to go out there and say it."

19 Mar 17,, 17:25
well, the silly fatigue stuff i won't discuss, but this is worth bringing up.


things you notice as a China-watcher:

- SECSTATE is now using official Chinese talking points
- SECSTATE, or at least his speechwriter, is not getting input from State Dept's many China specialists

Triple C
19 Mar 17,, 19:01
That, at the same time of "more and better" arms for Taiwan, plus saber-rattling at NK. Makes one wonder if somebody isn't dozing on the wheel.

20 Mar 17,, 08:20
Well I'm enjoying the self importance of the media


Rex Tillerson’s Hope for a Media-Free Bubble May Burst
A Chinese paramilitary police officer stood guard by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s plane in Beijing on Sunday. Mr. Tillerson allowed only one reporter on the plane for his trip to Asia.
MARCH 19, 2017
SEOUL, South Korea — Rex W. Tillerson, the new secretary of state, offered the diplomatic understatement of the month on Saturday when he told the sole reporter he permitted on his airplane: “I’m not a big media press access person. I personally don’t need it.”

Perhaps, by breaking with a half-century of past practice and flying off without the regular State Department correspondents on board, Mr. Tillerson was hoping to continue to operate in a style that worked well for him as chief executive of Exxon Mobil. In that job, he could negotiate complex oil and gas deals behind closed doors and then inform his board of directors and shareholders afterward.

Certainly, his predecessors at the State Department have all wished for more time, space and secrecy to work through some of the world’s knottiest problems. The North Korea crisis that dominated this trip is a prime example of one that, if mishandled, could easily veer into war.

Yet long experience teaches that foreign policy is rarely made in the kind of media-free bubble that Mr. Tillerson wants. Maybe John Hay had that luxury as secretary of state under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, when the United States was just emerging as a global power. But in the modern era, everyone from Dean Acheson to John Kerry has found that superpower diplomacy abhors a news vacuum.

When America’s top diplomats create one, adversaries and allies usually fill it with their own narrative of events, their own proposals, their own accounts of encounters with Washington.

Sure, there have occasionally been secret deals — Henry Kissinger’s mission to China when he was President Richard M. Nixon’s national security adviser, for example — but they are rare. And American diplomats generally have little luck presenting the world with faits accompli.

Both at home and abroad, public diplomacy is about persuading the world that a particular solution is in the global interest, not just the American interest. And that often means building an argument while the diplomacy is in progress, or else risking a loss of influence and control of the narrative. That, and ego, are usually what make a secretary of state a “media press access person.”

Mr. Tillerson got a brief taste of this reality even before beginning his somewhat rocky first outing in Asia. China tried to box him in by reviving an old proposal for a “freeze” of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in return for an American-led freeze of all military exercises with South Korea.

It is one of those ideas that sound eminently sensible at first hearing. Who would oppose a diplomatic timeout for North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, which are escalating toward demonstration of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could splash down off Seattle or Los Angeles?

After all, that’s how diplomacy with Iran began six years ago, ultimately leading to a nuclear deal that, love it or hate it, took an apparently imminent military conflict and defused it for a decade or so. Doing something similar with North Korea is an idea that some American proliferation experts embrace as the least-bad option on a menu of nothing but bad options.

At a brief news conference in Seoul, Mr. Tillerson did use the words “imminent threat” to describe the North Korean program, and accurately noted that a freeze “would leave North Korea with significant capabilities that would represent a true threat, not just to the region, but to American forces.” But other than that, he never grappled head-on with the Chinese arguments in favor of their proposal — which left the door open for his Chinese counterpart to restate his case in Beijing.

As a senior South Korean official told me after Mr. Tillerson’s meeting, “there are South Korean politicians” — including one or two who could become president after a snap election next month — “who may find the Chinese approach preferable to the risk of a conflict.”

The Chinese example here is a small one, but it is telling. In past administrations, the State Department would have used the long flight to Asia to give reporters a sense of its arguments and long-term strategy. The secretary of state would have wandered back to the press seats on the plane and offered, on “background,” the administration’s thinking about the major issue of the day.

Mr. Kissinger was a master of this spin; James A. Baker III, Colin L. Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton were no novices, either. And often, it is more than spin: It is a way for the secretary to test whether an idea has a half-life longer than the plane ride.

“It’s not about access. It’s about context,” John Kirby, who has served as spokesman for both the Pentagon and the State Department and is considered one of the best at navigating the process, wrote on Twitter in response to Mr. Tillerson’s declarations.

Mr. Kirby is right: The most important paragraphs in most articles about diplomatic news are the explanatory ones that lay out the administration’s strategy and assess whether it is tenable in light of history, or the facts on the ground, or other realities that the secretary of state may not want to discuss.

As Mr. Kirby himself has noted, State Department correspondents work a bit differently from those at the White House. They do not often shout their questions, and television cameras are absent from many of the most important briefings. “Many have covered the beat for decades,” he noted over the weekend. “They know the complexities, the history.” (Not all of us took the “decades” part as a compliment.)

The group that has covered the State Department is heavy with former foreign correspondents and war correspondents who have lived around the world, have sources in foreign capitals and write books about the global challenges the country faces. Their hotel-bar conversations have been known to run to wonkish topics like deterrence theory.

So it might not be surprising that Mr. Tillerson doesn’t want them in the back of his airplane, talking to his staff and probing how the new administration’s approach to North Korea and China might differ from what predecessors tried. As he said in that interview with the one journalist he brought along — a reporter from the Independent Journal Review, a conservative-leaning website that had never covered a State Department trip before — Mr. Tillerson has something more one-way in mind.

“I view that relationship that I want to have with the media, is the media is very important to help me communicate not just to the American people, but to others in the world that are listening,” Mr. Tillerson was quoted as saying. “And when I have something important and useful to say, I know where everybody is, and I know how to go out there and say it.”

There is something to be said for his approach. Clearly, Mr. Tillerson wants to shake up the foreign policy elite, and that starts with a press corps that feeds in the very swamp this administration says it wants to drain. He also says he is saving money by using a smaller plane (though news organizations pay steeply for each employee who flies with the secretary).

This early in Mr. Trump’s tenure, many policy decisions have not yet been debated thoroughly within his administration, so as Mr. Tillerson noted on Saturday, there is not much for him to say. And there would be considerable risk in getting out ahead of his sometimes mercurial boss. (That boss, Mr. Tillerson conceded, went ahead and posted a Twitter message complaining that “China has done little to help!” without running it past him first.)

Yet there is something else that Mr. Tillerson’s policy forgoes: the often useful symbolism of top American officials’ being seen to travel with a free and intrusive press asking questions that leaders do not want to hear.

When Mr. Kerry was in Bahrain last year, the visit gave the State Department press corps a chance to publicly interrogate his very uncomfortable Bahraini counterpart about some specific human rights abuses in the country. (“I’m glad you asked that,” Mr. Kerry told correspondents later on his plane, making it clear that he knew local reporters could not have done so.)

When President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt barred the State Department press pool last year, the State Department itself lodged an objection.

None of those considerations mattered much when Mr. Tillerson traveled on behalf of the world’s largest oil company. As he said, he personally did not need reporters then, and he doesn’t now.

But as secretary of state, he now has 320 million shareholders, and many of them have a stake in how he conducts America’s day-to-day business around the world

Albany Rifles
20 Mar 17,, 19:42
well, the silly fatigue stuff i won't discuss, but this is worth bringing up.


things you notice as a China-watcher:

- SECSTATE is now using official Chinese talking points
- SECSTATE, or at least his speechwriter, is not getting input from State Dept's many China specialists

That very much is a bad thing.

22 Mar 17,, 18:23
Trump's Diplomat

How Rex Tillerson Is Translating 'America First' Into Foreign Policy

By Erin McPike

March 21, 2017


When it comes to taking on the world, the two words the Trump administration swears by are “America First.”

And the man charged with carrying out that policy around the globe didn’t even want the job in the first place. For Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who until now spent the entirety of his career at ExxonMobil, the challenge he faced on a headline-grabbing trip to Asia was how to translate President Donald Trump’s mandate into a workable foreign policy.

“America First” now functions as his business charter.

It’s a starting point for Tillerson’s negotiations with his foreign counterparts who understand he has to act in the best interest of American national security and economic security. Although it may seem awkward for a diplomat trying to forge positive relationships with a host of other countries, the politically charged motto comes at a time when countries on every continent are turning toward nationalism in the face of rapid globalization.

He doesn’t think “America First” is a contradiction in conducting diplomacy.

“In Bonn, it came up in every discussion I had,” Tillerson acknowledged to Independent Journal Review in the second part of his first sit-down interview since taking office. He was referring to a series of meetings he had with foreign ministers from a Group of 20 summit last month.

“Looking at the leadership from the past 30 to 40 years [in the United States], the last administration was a dramatic shift,” he said from behind his desk in the back cabin of the State Department’s Boeing 737 jet making its way home from Beijing. A chocolate chip cookie was sitting on a napkin on the corner of that desk, perhaps a small prize waiting for him upon completion of his first extended interaction with a member of the Beltway press — obviously the part of the job he’s been dreading. He went on to explain that other countries grasp the kind of leadership the Trump administration is trying to assert, and they understand that’s why Donald Trump won the presidential election.

Back home, Tillerson's first two months in office have been as roundly criticized as Trump’s but for diametrically opposed reasons. Where Trump is quick and impulsive, Tillerson is slow and deliberate. While Trump can't help but make news, Tillerson has stayed strikingly mum. The reasoning is with no government experience to draw upon, his aides say candidly that he’s learning on the job.

“I would hope that people can maintain their patience in these early days and recognize I’ve only been at it six weeks,” he said in the first part of the interview, when his aircraft was traveling from Seoul to Beijing.

Still, of all the unanswered questions swirling about how the new regime in Washington will change the way the U.S. government does business, probably the biggest is what lies ahead for the State Department and its missions around the world.

And that’s in part because the White House signaled it wants to wipe out 28 percent of its budget. Tillerson takes the challenge on willingly.

“In the context of the budget, the fiscal year 2017 was a record high for the State Department,” he said. “Looking at ongoing conflicts, if we accept that we’re just going to continue to never solve any of these conflicts, then the budget should stay at the current level.”

He went on to explain that, as the president has been arguing, the United States needs to be smarter about where it intervenes so that it can provide more value in certain spots while taking care of its own security.

“One can say it’s not going to happen in one year, and it’s not,” he conceded to criticism, a little.

Among his first tasks is assisting Defense Secretary James Mattis in developing and carrying out a plan to defeat ISIS.

The verb “defeat” alone is significant.

“We can’t get to deconflicting the rest of the region with ISIS in the way,” he said, adding that he is puzzling through the policy steps that will come once that goal is reached and anticipating the next points of conflict.

On Wednesday, Tillerson will host representatives from the 68 member nations in the coalition to defeat ISIS at the State Department to walk through the Trump administration’s latest plans. As he explained it to IJR, it’s a three-step process beginning with a military campaign, followed by a transition phase, and ending with a stability program.

It’s a significant moment for the administration as it approaches all terrorist threats stemming from the tumultuous Middle East, particularly considering how the issue stalled the previous few administrations and caused each one to overcorrect from the one before.

In Bob Woodward’s book, Bush at War, he describes George W. Bush’s belief that Bill Clinton’s approach to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda was “so weak as to be provocative.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld played on that judgment to say during National Security Council meetings that when executing the war in Iraq, they shouldn’t go about just “pounding sand,” meaning sending cruise missiles into terrorist camp tents. Instead, the administration sent troops bounding into Iraq with evolving strategies and declared victory long before it was imminent.

Erin McPike/Independent Journal Review

President Obama then was criticized for trying to remove troops from Iraq too quickly. Broaching the next iteration of the problem, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria that filled the vacuum, Obama did the opposite of Bush and said in a refreshingly honest, if ill-advised, moment that Democratic pollsters pinpoint to be when the bottom fell out for the party headed into the 2014 midterm elections: “We have no strategy yet.”

Tillerson spurns that more cautious approach, but he doesn’t think this administration is in danger of overcorrecting.

“It’s simply bringing back to a point where you can believe once and for all that you can win,” he said, adding, “Every administration knows it only has so much time.” He blasted the Obama administration for never having a legitimate effort to defeat ISIS and pointed out that his original word was “degrade.”

“All that did was drag out the agony for everyone,” he said.

Former Obama officials pushed back that the verbs “defeat” and “destroy” were used plenty. It’s also important to point out that during the Trump transition, the Obama administration got little notice for significantly increasing airstrikes in the region in a way that’s accelerating the terrorist group’s collapse and has likely set the Trump administration on a much better path toward success.

Jon Finer, chief of staff at the State Department under the previous secretary of state, John Kerry, added, “Honestly, tough talk is the easy part. Developing the right plan to address the threat is a lot harder and more important. Our approach included strong and effective military action, but also a range of other efforts to undermine ISIS's ideology, dry up its financing, and counter its public narrative, and put it on the path to defeat in Iraq and Syria. The best evidence that we were on the right track is that the same administration that so often criticized us seems to largely be following it.”

There’s another lesson taken from the past couple of administrations in this arena. During the waning months of Obama’s tenure, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter were not on particularly good terms, in large part due to disagreements over how to fight ISIS. In the previous administration, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the secretary of state at the time, General Colin Powell, were at war over the war in Iraq.

And that is why Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis are making a positive relationship a priority, along with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

“Tillerson and Mattis get along like gin and vermouth,” said Tillerson’s top policy aide.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker told IJR that anything presented in a National Security Council meeting has to be approved by both men, and that they’re focused on a cohesive, strategic vision in a way he hasn’t seen since joining Congress in 2007.

To be fair, Mattis is on stronger terrain than Tillerson, because the Pentagon under him is likely to enjoy a massive budget hike, as the State Department suffers from a budget cutback. Nevertheless, the Pentagon is beginning to take on water for a lack of high-level staffing, a public relations and organizational problem Tillerson has been dealing with for weeks.

Even so, and even though Tillerson said he talks to Trump daily and has an open invitation to visit him at the White House whenever he chooses, he said they haven’t yet talked about what a dramatically different State Department will look like or how he will staff it.

His eyes darted down to his desk when he said, “We haven’t gotten that far yet,” as though he realized he had been caught.

Tillerson is spending his early days in Foggy Bottom “whiteboarding,” a businessy term for mapping out and remapping out org charts, strategies, and plans.

And that’s one area where he believes he can make an impact.

He asserted that his experience as CEO of Exxon translates perfectly to what he’s doing now. When he was at the helm, he said the company’s workforce dropped from 100,000 strong to 75,000 while becoming a bigger and more complex business. He even corrected me at one point to make sure I knew that during his tenure Exxon reached No. 1 on the Fortune 500.

Now he believes he’s primed for a unique opportunity to reform the State Department and make it more effective and efficient.

Tillerson said he hopes eventually, “The people at the State Department will find their jobs much more rewarding.” And despite some of the commentary being bandied about, he thinks there’s been a lot of energy since the day he got started there.

From Ross Perot to Steve Forbes to Mitt Romney, businessmen have been pressing the case for decades that only they have the skills to rescue and streamline the federal government and then make it hum again. It never really translated in their campaigns, and Trump arguably won because of his unapologetic style rather than an elegant presentation in which he smartly explained how he would overlay business acumen atop government.

We’ll still get to see if the experiment works, now that Washington is grappling with the charge to deconstruct the administrative state. Tillerson’s transformation of the State Department will become a fascinating case study in whether effective corporatizing of the government can work.

Broadly, now that Trump’s in office, witness how business background melded with style has upended global dialogue about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the large European and North American military alliance. Trump’s messaging has bounced around with respect to how committed the United States will be if other countries don’t comply, but the underlying notice served hasn’t changed: member countries had better up their defense spending to two percent of their GDP and meet that agreed upon requirement. (Recently the president showed a lack of understanding on how NATO actually works via his Twitter feed.)

“The president said it in a way that embarrassed them.” He repeated, “He embarrassed them into increasing their spending.”

Not only did Tillerson support the overall message, he also defended the way it was delivered.

He acknowledged Trump’s predecessors have urged other countries to step up but complained, “They were so polite about how they asked.” This time, he said, “The president said it in a way that embarrassed them.” He repeated, “He embarrassed them into increasing their spending.”

And then he actually said, “It’s the difference in his style.”

He explained that Trump was laying groundwork, showing other countries that if they can’t meet their end of the bargain on a security relationship, why should the United States come to the table on economic issues like trade?

“He was saying, ‘You can’t protect your own people so you want me to do it,’” Tillerson said.

“Every country stopped to think about it. In my discussions, they have indicated they get it.”

It’s this penchant for negotiating that may undergird whatever bond ultimately develops between Tillerson and Trump, because Tillerson, too, relishes talking about the deals he’s done.

“The risks are much higher in what I’m doing now,” he told me. “The whole weight of it is a heavier lift.”

He rattled off the exact number of days, people, and pages it took to do a deal in Yemen, where he lived for a couple of years more than two decades ago, telling me he would never forget it as long as he lives.

“The risks are much higher in what I’m doing now,” he told me. “The whole weight of it is a heavier lift.”

He allowed that in his business deals and transactions, he enjoyed a certain degree of control, whereas in government and global deals, unexpected issues pop up with some frequency.

It’s a distinction the president hasn’t really acknowledged himself yet, which may speak to the difference in their business backgrounds. Trump is flashy, likes attention, and made his living off of commercial real estate, whereas Tillerson has long operated as a more subdued, though quite successful, business leader.

Another big difference between the two surfaced at Tillerson’s Senate confirmation hearing. He referred to his engineer’s predilection to gather facts first and follow where they lead, and declared his intention to apply that same logic to international affairs. His boss obviously employs a different line of thinking.

Getty Images/Song Kyung-Seok-Pool

When considering options to deal with the increasingly grave threat North Korea’s nuclear program poses following an increase in missile testing, there are a handful of facts: the likely next president of South Korea, the liberal Moon Jae-in, and Chinese officials are pushing to pursue engagement with North Korea. But Tillerson picked the hard data as the facts driving him, including that the United States has spent 20 years and $1.35 billion in a failed attempt to engage the North Koreans.

And he’s results-driven.

Already he has two strikes against him in the court of public opinion on human rights from a refusal to call Saudi Arabia a human rights violator during his confirmation hearing to a decision last month not to personally publicize the annual Human Rights Report, which Democrats and Republicans alike called an unforced error. But the reason, aides said, is that it carries no implementation or enforcement mechanism and therefore has no teeth. He’s looking for other ways to work on the issue.

Still, he is moving slowly through the transition from Exxon, where he could function as a unilateral decision maker whose success was measured by profits, to a head of policy, where he’ll be measured by his ability to create new plans and approaches.

“You have to bring constituencies with you to do that,” said Rudy deLeon, a former deputy secretary of defense and now Senior Vice President of National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress. For Tillerson, those include the press corps, the American people, Congress, and his counterparts in allied countries.

He certainly has work to do with Congress, but he’s on higher ground there than with some of the other contingents. A week from now, he has a meeting scheduled with Senator Corker, the Republican in charge of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to delve deeply into what the budget looks like.

So far, it’s no secret that Tillerson lacks the press as a constituency, and by extension, the public. It’s safe to say the press strategy for the Asia trip was an abject failure considering the firestorm caused when his staff decided to allow just one reporter — me — on board.

Critics say it was a misstep that he went into China, a country that does not support a free press, without taking a press corps along. But such things matter little to Tillerson, who admitted he doesn’t yearn for the spotlight.

He stands by the decision and told me that, in general, the way the last administration operated in being so public with its goals was not helpful to them.

“It was a huge mistake and put them at a huge disadvantage,” he said sternly, the only time his emotion wavered, though it was still a long way from anger.

“We’ve got a lot going on inside the State Department, and we’re not talking about it until we’re ready, and that’s driving a lot of people nuts,” he said. He was so cagey when Russia came up, for example, that his answer wasn’t even worthy of inclusion.

In a way, it mirrors the kind of strategy you might see at a big business like Apple. Tech consumers might know a new version of an iPhone is forthcoming, but they don’t get the details until the day of the release, when Apple is fully prepared for the big reveal.

Finer, Kerry’s chief of staff, pushed back on the larger point.

“We didn't see public diplomacy and giving access to reporters as a disadvantage. We saw them as part of the responsibility you have in a democracy to keep the public informed about decisions being made in their name,” he said. “We saw them as opportunities to explain and advance our agenda. And we saw them as an important example to set for parts of the world where such transparency is unfortunately rare. In other words, we didn't see these things as weaknesses, but as a source of strength."

What seems to make Tillerson, with his Texas drawl, different from secretaries past is his relative disinterest in the pomp and circumstance that some seem to believe is part and parcel of the job.

When he deplaned in Tokyo on Wednesday night, he appeared ever so slightly uncomfortable to have to walk through the throng of media and others there to greet him.

At every one of his bilateral meetings over four days in East Asia, Tillerson shook hands and posed for cameras as part of the chore he knew he had to muddle through. He dutifully stood for photos in the Korean Demilitarized Zone but seemed to most enjoy several intense, close, face-to-face conversations with Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, Commander of U.S. Forces Korea, Combined Forces Command, and United Nations Command.

“I was supposed to retire in March, this month. I was going to go to the ranch to be with my grandkids.”

So why, then, did he want the gig?

“I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job.” He paused to let that sink in.

A beat or two passed before an aide piped up to ask him why he said yes.

“My wife told me I’m supposed to do this.”

After watching the contortions of my face as I tried to figure out what to say next, he humbly explained that he had never met the president before the election. As president-elect, Trump wanted to have a conversation with Tillerson “about the world” given what he gleaned from the complex global issues he dealt with as CEO of ExxonMobil.

“When he asked me at the end of that conversation to be secretary of state, I was stunned.”

When Tillerson got home and told his wife, Renda St. Clair, she shook her finger in his face and said, “I told you God’s not through with you.”

With a half-worn smile, he said, “I was supposed to retire in March, this month. I was going to go to the ranch to be with my grandkids.”

And that may be why the criticism he’s endured hasn’t pushed him to change course. This is not a man who sees a U.S. president in the mirror every morning, which is the kind of personality Washington, D.C., is used to dealing with in such a prestigious and sought-after job. And he does not have patience for the games we’re used to playing here.

Tillerson, who will be 65 on Thursday, senses an opportunity to systematize the State Department and rack up some wins, and he seems intent upon removing emotion from the process. There aren’t likely to be goosebump-inducing, soaring speeches. It’s business.

Will he stick around for the whole term?

In a sign he’s picking up on the lingo, he crossed his arms and said just a little wryly, “I serve at the pleasure of the president.” It doesn’t seem like he regrets accepting the job.

“My wife convinced me. She was right. I’m supposed to do this.”

23 Mar 17,, 23:53
I am enjoying the melt down of useless hangers on and other clowns mad the tree is getting shook. From reporters mad about losing special perks and useless side entities which the taxpayers give money for no good reason.

However much money we spend on the IACHR is too much and should be zeroed out.

The US State Department has no time for your pesky international institutions

Ana Campoy

"America First"
March 22, 2017

International organizations are having trouble getting on US secretary of state Rex Tillerson’s schedule.

The State Department ditched a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on March 21, citing legal reasons. A day before, the agency said Tillerson would not be attending a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in April due to prior commitments.

The State Department’s decision to bow out of the international meetings has been described by experts as unprecedented and worrisome. That disregard for international organizations, which is emerging as a key tenet of Trump’s foreign policy, is not only insulting to other countries, but could come back to bite the US itself.

Until Trump, the US was a regular at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an international body that monitors human right violations from Canada to Chile. (It’s part of the Organization of American States.) While it doesn’t have the power to force member countries to change their policies, it can shine an international spotlight on human rights abuses that national governments refuse to confront.

IACHR had asked the US to appear at several public hearings during its most recent gathering, held March 15-22 in Washington DC. It wanted the US to address Trump’s executive orders on immigration, including one that seeks to bar citizens from six majority-Muslim countries from traveling to the US.

The US declined, saying that speaking publicly about that order could affect pending court cases against it. A State Department spokesman assured reporters at a press briefing the US has “tremendous respect” for the commission’s role in safeguarding human rights.

But as some critics have pointed out, other US presidents, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama, had dispatched officials to the commission to defend policies contested by lawsuits. There were also other, unrelated items on the IACHR agenda, including hearings on the US’s internment of Latin Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. The US skipped those, too.

IACHR called the no-show troubling. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the parties that spoke out against Trump’s travel ban during the hearings, was harsher. The group’s human rights director, Jamil Dakwar, called the US’s absence “a dangerous precedent that mirrors the behavior of authoritarian regimes and will only serve to embolden them.”

If avoiding IACHR erodes the US’s goodwill reserves among its neighbors in the Americas, it is mostly symbolic loss. Disengaging with NATO could have more serious consequences.

Missing the alliance’s meeting would signal that the US is downgrading its ties with NATO members—in favor, many suspect, of Russia, where Tillerson plans to make a trip in April.

The State Department says Tillerson could end up attending the NATO summit if the dates are changed to fit his schedule. But that signaling of priorities is alone enough to ruffle feathers. The next time the US is in the midst of an international crisis, it might find its traditional European allies less willing to back it up.

30 Mar 17,, 06:01
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Donald Trump is right to cut the State Department’s budget
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson waits for a
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson waits for a meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland at the Department of State on Feb. 8, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Brendan Smialowski)
Updated March 26, 2017 12:23 PM
By Ted R. Bromund

Trimming back the State Department is a reasonable step toward returning our focus where it belongs.
President Donald Trump’s budget proposes a 28 percent cut, worth $17.3 billion, in the budget of the State Department and our foreign aid. Inevitably, liberals are opposed, but even some conservatives have expressed doubts. Yet if you believe in diplomacy, cuts are a good first step.

Recognize, first, that the 28 percent cut won’t happen. Presidential budget proposals bear only a vague connection to what we end up spending. At most, they indicate a direction of travel. They’re usually described as “dead on arrival,” and I doubt Trump’s budget will be different.

Financially, we should recognize, the State Department has had an excellent decade. As my colleague Brett Schaefer points out, the overall U.S. international affairs budget in 2015 was 60 percent higher, after inflation, than it was in 2005.

By contrast, defense spending — after a spike centered in 2010 — is now no higher than it was in 2005. We have not fed our military at the expense of our diplomats. If anyone has been starved for funds since 2010, it has been the Pentagon, not the State Department.

But that never stops the true believers, on both sides of the aisle, from claiming that the State Department doesn’t have enough money.


Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) calls the proposed cuts “extremely dangerous and short-sighted.” Nothing has changed: In 2013, General James Mattis, now the secretary of defense, said, “if you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”

The problem with this argument is that we have been funding the State Department very fully, and yet we still need to buy more ammunition. If you look around the world today, it’s hard to see how the large increases in our international affairs budget have paid dividends.

Part of the problem is that, while the U.S. military conducts after-action reviews, State doesn’t. Claims that giving State more money produces better results rest on hopes and anecdotes, not serious studies.

Our military does make mistakes, but it tries to learn from them. State needs to develop a similar culture of critical self-assessment. Today, it has a culture of budgetary entitlement, coupled with a lack of emphasis on rigorous, on-going training.

The other problem starts with the fact that State is largely divided into two sections: one that deals with regions (like East Asia) and one that deals with functions (like arms control).

Since 2005, the regional bureaus have shrunk, often drastically. East Asia is down from 1,582 people to 905 in 2015, and the Western Hemisphere from 2,230 to 1,063. That has entailed a serious loss of expertise in the affairs of other nations.

Yet over that time, State has grown by about 5,000 people – in part because the “functional” bureaus have multiplied. This is partly Congress’s fault: it loves mandating new missions. This failing was criticized as long ago as 2001 by the bipartisan Hart-Rudman Commission, and it has only become worse as State’s budget has risen.

And then there are our foreign-aid programs. As historian Mark Moyar argues, long-term foreign aid programs that emphasize educating future foreign leaders in the United States can be valuable.

But that is not what our aid budget does. And under President Barack Obama, U.S. assistance too often drifted into areas — like promoting transgender rights in Guatemala — that have no connection to our interests. Indeed, these efforts are likely to be gratuitously offensive in other cultures.

State needs to be adequately funded. But it also needs a cultural change and to return to its core business of bilateral diplomacy. Aid, meanwhile, needs to drop the trendy causes and focus on what works.

Cuts alone won’t make that happen. But trimming back some excesses funded by the recent spending spree is a reasonable first step toward returning our focus where it belongs: on the serious business of using our diplomacy and foreign aid to benefit the United States.

Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Thatcher Center for Freedo