Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spends his first weeks isolated from an anxious bureaucracy


Secretary Tillerson is uncomfortable with the size of the State Department.  And the State Department isn't comfortable with him:

Many have expressed alarm that Tillerson has not fought harder for the department that he now leads.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tillerson called him after the proposed cuts were announced. Engel said Tillerson seemed to share Engel’s concern that the cuts are “draconian” and counterproductive. But Engel said Tillerson seemed to signal his acquiescence when he called them “a glidepath to what was about to happen.”

“I’m chagrined by what’s happening, or not happening,” Engel said.

“When you put it all together, it certainly seems they’re trying to downsize the State Department and make it irrelevant. I’m at a loss for words. Why would Tillerson take the job if he was not going to defend his agency?”

Tillerson’s low profile reflects his desire to do his job without fanfare, said a senior aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment frankly.

As an oil executive, Tillerson traveled the world negotiating deals behind closed doors, with just one or two aides accompanying him. Tillerson’s current aide said the secretary thinks that model served him well.

British Ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch brushed off the concerns about staff vacancies, confusion and a clamp on information. His country’s dealings with the Trump administration have gone well starting with Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to the White House just days after Trump took office, Darroch said.

“We are having absolutely no problem, I promise you, with access or accessibility” at the State Department or White House, Darroch said.

Still, the secretary of state is visibly uncomfortable with the vast infrastructure and expectations of public diplomacy that come with his new role.

Tillerson’s slow start has rattled other foreign diplomats. Some complain that with assistant secretary of state positions occupied only by “acting” deputies, they have no one of authority to contact. Tillerson remains the only Senate-confirmed official selected by Trump anywhere inside the State Department building. Weeks after the White House embarrassed Tillerson by rejecting the seasoned foreign policy hand Tillerson had selected for a deputy, Republican lawyer John J. Sullivan is the leading candidate. Sullivan held senior jobs in the George W. Bush administration but has no direct experience in the State Department.

Some diplomats have begun meeting with each other to swap notes on how to decipher the fledgling administration’s policies.

“We’re rowing against the current, and the current has a Twitter account,” said a foreign diplomat posted in Washington about how information relayed by State Department diplomats can be undercut by a presidential tweet.

Current and recently departed State Department officials — all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid assessments of what one called the “benching” of the oldest Cabinet department — said Tillerson is paying a price.

Tillerson’s political advisers have little foreign policy experience and little pull at the White House, current and former officials said. Their dealings with the department staff have sometimes been testy and unpleasant.

“Part of it is a deep distrust of bureaucracy,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. “It sets a command climate that makes people cautious and paranoid. These folks, in their political-commissar roles, take that to an extreme. Everything we have heard is about how small the aperture is for information coming in and going out of the secretary’s office. That is not a recipe for success.”

You can read the rest at the Washington Post.

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