Destroying the State Department

Daniel Drezner has a horrifying piece in the Post about the damage Tillerson is doing – on purpose – to the State Department. He’s gutting it, not carelessly but as a matter of policy.

Did Trump even run on that? Were we ever told that a Trump administration would gut the State Department?

Tillerson’s emphasis on reorganization has resulted in the hemorrhaging of human capital from the State Department. There are myriad examples of top-notch Foreign Service officers retiring rather than having to endure the caprice of Tillerson’s obsession with reorganization. A month ago, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen collected some astonishing on-the-record quotes from recently departed Foreign Service officers:

An exodus is underway. Those who have departed include Nancy McEldowney, the director of the Foreign Service Institute until she retired last month, who described to me “a toxic, troubled environment and organization”; Dana Shell Smith, the former ambassador to Qatar, who said what was most striking was the “complete and utter disdain for our expertise”; and Jake Walles, a former ambassador to Tunisia with some 35 years of experience. “There’s just a slow unraveling of the institution,” he told me.

Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer note in Foreign Policy that one of Foggy Bottom’s top lawyers stepped down this week. Lynch and Gramer’s story is devastating to any defense of Tillerson’s management acumen:

Veteran employees have been leaving in droves since January, when the Trump administration forced the State Department’s top career diplomats, including Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management, and Tom Countryman, the acting undersecretary for arms control, to pack their bags. “This is extraordinary…I’ve never seen anything like it,” said one senior career State Department official….

“When serious hardcore professional diplomats that have records of exemplary service serving both Republicans and Democrats are deciding to head for the door rather than stick it out, something is very wrong,” said Reuben Brigety, dean of George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and former U.S. ambassador to the African Union.

“If you wanted to actually set out to break American diplomacy, this is how you’d do it,” Brigety said.

Just as State’s most senior staff is leaving, Tillerson has halted the pipeline of any fresh infusion of human capital. State’s hiring freeze has been extended to fellowship programs designed to entice the best of the best to consider a career in diplomacy.

This is “draining the swamp” with a vengeance…and with a very twisted interpretation of “the swamp.”

Tillerson is such a bad manager that he has spurned both free money and free talent. The State Department has not spent $80 million authorized by Congress to fight misinformation and Russian propaganda. According to Politico, “Tillerson aide R.C. Hammond suggested the money is unwelcome because any extra funding for programs to counter Russian media influence would anger Moscow, according to a former senior State Department official.” Furthermore, State has spurned all of the Council on Foreign Relations’ International Affairs Fellows. This is a program that makes talented scholars freely available to U.S. foreign affairs agencies for a year. Council president Richard Haass confirmed to me that State has not accepted any of this year’s fellows, despite the fact that they come with zero cost.

Let’s be very clear: Rex Tillerson is purposefully downsizing the State Department.

Last month, the American Conservative’s Daniel Larisonexplained why the crippling of the State Department would be a long-run catastrophe:

Trump and Tillerson are not only hamstringing this administration’s foreign policy in another example of self-sabotage, but they are ensuring that future administrations will inherit a diminished, dysfunctional department. They are going to make it harder to secure U.S. interests abroad in the near term, and they are practically guaranteeing the erosion of U.S. influence everywhere. Insofar as the State Department is the chief institution responsible for American “soft” power, weakening the institution simply makes it easier for an already intervention-prone Washington to rely on “hard” power to respond to crises and conflicts. That means more unnecessary wars, at least some of which might have otherwise been avoided.

That makes my blood run cold.

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