Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has failed to accomplish the founding mission of the U.S. Department of State, and his solutions to fix the bureaucratic apparatus will do little or nothing to repair the broken institution. To fix the State Department, its highest-ranking official must reestablish its founding goal of preserving and protecting American interests abroad. But in order to complete that objective successfully, the diplomatic institution needs a leader who can identify what those interests are and how to properly advance them.
It’s not an efficiency problem
The secretary of state wants to remake his department into a fine-tuned machine that gets maximal value out of the government agency. Tillerson has hired two prominent consulting firms to help him restructure the organization. In an interview with The New York Times, Tillerson confided that he believes the State Department is not calibrated to an appropriate level. “It’s largely not a highly disciplined organization, decision-making is fragmented and sometimes people don’t want to take decisions; coordination is difficult through the interagency,” Tillerson said of his department in the interview. While it’s hard to argue against auditing and restructuring a low-functioning State Department, critiques of Foggy Bottom hardly start or end with complaints about the efficiency of the institution. Through the years, the State Department has lost touch with its fundamental mission to advance the interests of the United States. Instead of promoting American values, the department continues as an institution that preaches moral relativism. Instead of advancing American interests, State protects the status quo. Instead of coming up with new approaches to preserve the American mission, State hangs on to old ideas that lack the power to advance our interests.
Morally and intellectually bankrupt
Tillerson has failed to identify the most pressing issue with the State Department: its moral and intellectual bankruptcy.
Today’s State Department seemingly can’t tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. All too often, its leaders fail to recognize, or understand, what motivates the bad guys to do bad things. They fail to distinguish between our allies and our adversaries. And the department cannot define what is and is not in the interests of the United States.
The State Department under Tillerson seems to engage in diplomacy for the sake of diplomacy. In recent weeks, there seemed to be no particular goal or agenda advanced as a result of the actions taken by top department heads.
Arguably, the most pressing issue of Tillerson’s diplomatic tenure involves the ongoing crisis in the Gulf. America’s Gulf allies are putting extensive pressure on the rogue nation of Qatar to end its terrorist financing. They’ve made demands upon the leaders at Doha — such as asking them to stop dealing with Iran and Turkey and terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda — that align quite well with American interests. Nonetheless, Tillerson has decided to engage in endless rounds of “shuttle diplomacy” without a particular agenda in mind other than to resolve the dispute for the sake of resolving disputes. Tillerson has even gone as far as to demand that our allies back off of their pressure campaign against the terror-friendly Qatar, where the former ExxonMobil CEO has extensive ties.
State has taken a morally absent approach to resolving the most recent Islamic supremacist flare-up against Israel. Last week, an Arab terrorist gunned down two Israeli policemen in the old city of Jerusalem, forcing Israel to take extra security measures and install metal detectors outside the famous Al-Aqsa mosque. Islamic radicals responded by rioting and targeting Israel and its Jewish population, resulting in the brutal killing of a Jewish family and other acts of horrific Islamic violence. Instead of standing by America’s closest Middle East ally, the State Department went to social media and released the vacuous statement: “Violence is not the answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
In the debate over whether to recertify the Iran deal, Tillerson was reported as a proponent for recertification. But when top White House officials confronted Tillerson, challenging him and asking why he chose to support recertification, the secretary of state had no answer for his executive branch colleagues.
Replenishing the Swamp
Tillerson has failed to make good on President Trump’s campaign promise to “drain the swamp” of the Washington establishment in his department. The State Department is notorious as a place for fringe leftists who fail to prioritize American interests. Unfortunately, those Obama- and Clinton-friendly staffers remain embedded in the State Department’s highest-ranking positions. State Department holdovers include officials who are publicly mocking the current president on social media, a man who lied to the American people about the “merits” of the Iran deal, and a man described as “the Iran deal czar,” who consistently advocated for a pro-Tehran posture. Shockingly, Tillerson has tasked two of the State Department’s biggest Iran deal proponents — Stephen Mull and Chris Backemeyer — with verifying Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal.
And instead of evacuating Foggy Bottom of the ideologue leftists in its ranks, Tillerson went to bat for them, sometimes going to the president personally to protect their positions, according to reports.
An early exit?
Given Tillerson’s failure to reform the State Department into an “America-first” agency that promotes U.S. interests abroad and stands with our allies, it might not come as a surprise that the secretary of state is reportedly pondering an early exit from government service. Sources close to Tillerson are speculating that a “Rexit” may come sooner rather than later.
Tillerson has failed to drain the swamp at Foggy Bottom. But that doesn’t mean that the next man (or woman) up can’t tackle the bureaucratic establishment there. President Trump needs a secretary of state who understands the State Department’s founding vision of ferociously protecting and advancing American interests, morals, and values throughout the world.
Jordan Schachtel is the national security correspondent for Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @JordanSchachtel.