Unrest Within US Diplomacy
By Manuel E. Yepe
Exclusive for the daily POR ESTO! of Merida, Mexico.
A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.
The multiple crises affecting Donald Trump’s administration from the day the real estate multi-billionaire entrepreneur arrived at the Oval Office of the White House has not spared the State Department.
An article by journalist Gardiner Harris, correspondent for the The New York Times at the White House, discusses the serious situation the diplomacy of the superpower has been going through since that day. He predicts it will tend to grow more serious in tune with the vices inherent in Trump’s administration, even when, in this case, it is Secretary of State, Rex W. Tillerson, the first-acting figure.
Harris describes what has been happening in the upper ranks of the State Department as “a parade of dismissals and early retirements”. Tillerson’s intense campaign to clean out the State Department has called upon each office of the Department to contribute to this goal.
The guarded optimism that greeted the arrival of Rex Tillerson to the post of Secretary of State soon gave way to concern about the lack of communication between the boss and his subordinates.
By midyear, Tillerson’s reiterated focus on issues such as inefficiency and the need to reorganize foreign policy provoked increasing anger and concern about his performance within the department.
Now, the estrangement is in the open. Diplomats going out the door are making their feelings known and a number of members of Congress have raised questions about the impact of these firings and resignations on US foreign policy.
In a recent message addressed to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Democratic members of the House Foreign Relations Committee of Representatives, citing what they said was the “exodus of more than 100 Senior Foreign Service Officers of the State Department since January “, expressed concern about what “appears to be the intentional hollowing out of our senior diplomatic ranks.”
Tillerson, a former chief executive of the EXXON corporation and a supporter of fundamentalist capitalism, has made no secret of his belief that the State Department is a bloated bureaucracy. He regards much of the day-to-day diplomacy that lower level US diplomats conduct (and he now leads) as unproductive.
Even before Tillerson’s appointment was confirmed by the Senate, his team of assistants fired 6 of the State Department’s top career diplomats, including some who had been appointed during governments headed by Republican presidents. None were given any reasons for their dismissals.
Secretary Tillerson announced a reorganization to be carried out in the following months. He stressed that this would be the most important action that he would do while in office. He hired two consulting companies to lead the process.
Since he announced, before arriving at the State Department, that he would slash its budget by 31%, many in the Department have always seen the reorganization as a smokescreen for drastic cuts.
Tillerson has frozen most hiring and offered $25,000 buyouts, hoping to get about 2,000 career diplomats and civil servants to leave their positions by October 2018.
His small group of assistants has managed to fire some diplomats and gotten others to resign by refusing them the assignments they wanted, or taking their duties away altogether.
Among those fired or sidelined there is a high proportion of Latino and African-American diplomats, as well as women. These were important to maintain the Department’s troubled diversity balance.
Gardiner Harris quotes Nancy McEldowney, a career diplomat and former ambassador who retired last June after 30 years as a US Foreign Service Officer, “There is a vacuum throughout the State Department and the junior people now working in these top jobs lack the confidence and credibility that comes from a presidential nomination and a Senate confirmation.”
An example of the trend being followed in the State Department was seeing during the farce against Cuba about “sonic attacks” (which never existed and were probably the result of Senator Marco Rubio’s initiative to promote his image as the probable future Republican president). One of the episode’s first outcomes was the reduction of the staff at the US Embassy in Havana to such an extent that it practically brought to a standstill the consular relations between both sides of the Florida Strait.
January 23, 2018.