Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Tillerson Perplex

Complex negotiations between the United States, North Korea and China have now become even more complex. After signing on to two United Nations Security Council resolutions placing new sanctions on North Korea the Chinese government followed up two weeks ago by telling its banks to stop doing business with the hermit kingdom.

By now, everyone understands that such declarations cannot be taken at face value, but it appears to show an intention to cooperate in the international effort to rein in Kim Jong-un.

Some say that China does not want the region to be destabilized and certainly does not want a reunified Korean peninsula. And yet, on the other hand the boy leader of North Korea seems to have gone off on his own, thereby embarrassing China. Whatever it can accept, China will not long accept looking impotent in its own backyard.

We must not fail to mention that the weak-kneed diplomats from the Obama administration, led by John Kerry, have been denouncing the Trump administration for talking too tough about North Korea. But, when North Korea acquired and tested nuclear weapons during previous administrations, American leaders decided to do nothing. When you have failed to contain or to disarm North Korea you should have the decency to shut up and not offer advice.

Anyway, the situation has recently been overshadowed by a now open conflict between the Trump administration and its Secretary of State Tillerson. Last weekend Tillerson announced that the United States was engaged in back channel communications with North Korea. Apparently, Tillerson was taking an initiative on his own. President Trump undermined him by declaring that Tillerson was wasting his time.

The world, and especially the foreign policy intelligentsia, was aghast. How dare the president undercut his own Secretary of State?

Peter Beinart, well known for his willingness to sell out Israeli interests, was all over the story. He decided that it showed Trump’s personality disorder.

He wrote:

Why, on Sunday morning, did Donald Trump humiliate his secretary of state by tweeting that Rex Tillerson “is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man”? In policy terms, it makes no sense. If Trump wants to break off diplomatic discussions with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (which is in itself lunatic, but that’s a different column), why not inform Tillerson privately? Why destroy Tillerson’s already meager credibility and thus render him useless as a negotiator in the future?

But, how does Beinart know whether Tillerson was authorized to open talks with anyone? What if Tillerson is running a rogue operation out of foggy bottom, doing what he pleases without coordinating his actions with the White House? What if Trump was showing Tillerson and the world who was in charge? 

By now, everyone suspects that Tillerson’s days at State are numbered and that Nikki Haley is waiting in the wings to take over. Many of us thought that Tillerson was an inspired choice for the State Department. By now  we know that appointing Tillerson was a major mistake.

Beinart cannot see this, but Beinart does not see very much very clearly anyway. Vanity Fair’s Abigail Tracy has a far better take on what is happening:

In his low-key way, Rex Tillerson has been going rogue. In recent weeks, the embattled secretary of state has adopted a seemingly deliberate independent streak, increasingly adopting a tone and taking positions on key foreign-policy issues in opposition to those of his boss—a dynamic that has hastened the diminution of his already inconspicuous profile on the world stage. The list includes the financial sanctions the Trump administration leveled against the Venezuelan government to punish President Nicol├ís Maduro in August; the recertification of the controversial Iran nuclear accord; and the growing North Korean nuclear threat.

One man’s independent streak is another’s insubordination. Tillerson has also tried to undermine an arms deal that Trump signed with Saudi Arabia in Riyadh. The alliance between America and Sunni Arabs is clearly of major importance in the war on terror, but Tillerson has been taking Qatar's side of Qatar in a dispute over funding terrorism. 

He might very well have his reasons, since Qatar is the home of an important U. S. Naval base, but still the appearance of an administration talking out of both sides of its mouth does not facilitate diplomacy. And besides, does anyone doubt that Qatar has been funding terrorism and cozying up with the Iranians?

Tracy explains:

When Tillerson was tapped to lead the State Department, his relationships in the Middle East—forged during his tenure as the C.E.O. of ExxonMobil—were seen as a major asset, and he pushed for the U.S. to take a neutral position in the region. But in June, the dissonance between the Trump and his top diplomat spilled into the open when the president threw his weight behind Saudi Arabia in a series of Twitter missives wherein he labeled Qatar a funder of terrorism and undercut statements Tillerson made days earlier, while also potentially alienating a key military ally.

Soon to be ex-senator Bob Corker has also placed a hold on some aspects of the deal, but Tillerson’s “slow walking” especially appalled the White House:

Though Corker has taken some fire, Tillerson’s slow-walking of the deal has especially galled the White House, where his actions have been perceived as the secretary overstepping his authority, undermining the president and holding up American production jobs—adding further strain to his already frayed relationship with the president. “They see the [Saudi deal] as their big achievement and Tillerson is trying to be pragmatic about it because they have over-promised . . . and so I think it is drawing the ire,” the current State Department staffer said.

Being openly rebuked by the president has diminished Tillerson’s ability to conduct policy on the world stage. On the one hand you can say that Trump should not undercut his Secretary of State. On the other hand you can say that Tillerson should not undercut the president by pretending that he is in charge.

Tracy writes:

As the apparent distance between Tillerson and Trump grows, his influence on the world stage has continued to dwindle. As Brett Bruen, a former foreign-service officer who also served as the White House director of global engagement under Barack Obama, told me in a recent interview, “He is increasingly not seen as the most authoritative and influential voice on world affairs.” Trump’s tweets over the weekend about North Korea only supported the growing narrative that Tillerson—who has weathered intense criticism for his divisive plan to restructure the 75,000-person State Department—has lost influence with the president and, despite his title, does not speak for America on foreign policy.

Anyway, Tillerson’s days seem clearly to be numbered. Trump has made it nearly impossible for Tillerson to do his job. Then again, Tillerson does not seem to understand what his job is. He does not seem to understand that he is running administration policy, not his own policy. Strangely enough, Tillerson's policies seem more consonant with the Obama administration than the Trump administration.

[Since writing this post, I have learned more details about the conflict between Trump and Tillerson... including Tillerson's calling Trump a "moron" and threatening to resign. Here is a link to Tyler Durden's report.}


Ares Olympus said...

Lots of opinions, but this conclusion seems true. The Trump administration can have no tolerance for effort that reduced the possibility of war.

Stuart: Anyway, Tillerson’s days seem clearly to be numbered. Trump has made it nearly impossible for Tillerson to do his job. Then again, Tillerson does not seem to understand what his job is. He does not seem to understand that he is running administration policy, not his own policy. Strangely enough, Tillerson's policies seem more consonant with the Obama administration than the Trump administration.

And to the other disaster, Puerto Rico, Trump is now promising to wipe out $74 billion in debt, although you imagine it will look more like foreclosure and liquidation to the highest bidder than debt forgiveness. But first we still have to keep 3+ million people alive long enough to transfer ownership of their souls to their new overlords.

Uncle Max said...

It's a thankless job and I think TRex is serving a purpose. He's not undoing anything that the President can't undo with a tweet. TRex is sitting on top of the most converged and compromised agencies,... chock full of globalist-lefties. So there is that to consider.. and TRex knows very well that the ship hes' trying to steer has a stuck rudder to port.

There is also the good cop/ bad cop aspect and as long as the principles TRUST one another and know what their scheme is, it can work well. TRex took this gig instead of retiring. I'd say, let him buy Trump 2 years to vet who won't sell him out ( by their actions ) so when TRex is ready to step aside, Trump will have a good idea who he's putting in there. ( ie, did they make crack remarks whenever rough patches were experienced in the press ).

Lastly. .. I believe ZERO about the"moron" comment or anything else leaked to provide grist for the msm narratives. Screw that. Judge 'em all by what they're doing. TRex is doing ok, and he's buying time. The State Department is surely doing everything they can to interrupt, leak, signal and slow-down anything that Trump or TRex want done. Keep that in mind.

Kansas Scout said...

My take on this is that we should not take things at face value. There is more going on than meets the eye. They could be playing good cop bad cop. Or not.