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Benghazi!! (Wait, What?): Tales from the State Department

 Via the NYT Diplomats Sound the Alarm as They Are Pushed Out in Droves.

Of all the State Department employees who might have been vulnerable in the staff reductions that Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has initiated as he reshapes the department, the one person who seemed least likely to be a target was the chief of security, Bill A. Miller.

Republicans pilloried Hillary Clinton for what they claimed was her inadequate attention to security as secretary of state in the months before the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Congress even passed legislation mandating that the department’s top security official have unrestricted access to the secretary of state.

But in his first nine months in office, Mr. Tillerson turned down repeated and sometimes urgent requests from the department’s security staff to brief him, according to several former top officials in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Finally, Mr. Miller, the acting assistant secretary for diplomatic security, was forced to cite the law’s requirement that he be allowed to speak to Mr. Tillerson.

Mr. Miller got just five minutes with the secretary of state, the former officials said. Afterward, Mr. Miller, a career Foreign Service officer, was pushed out, joining a parade of dismissals and early retirements that has decimated the State Department’s senior ranks. Mr. Miller declined to comment.

It’s as if all the talk about Benghazi and security by the GOP vis-a-vis the Secretary of State was nothing more than pointless grandstanding.

Beyond my snark, I would note that the piece is yet another detailing of the utter disaster that is the Tillerson State Department.

The number of those with the department’s top two ranks of career ambassador and career minister — equivalent to four- and three-star generals — will have been cut in half by Dec. 1, from 39 to 19. And of the 431 minister-counselors, who have two-star-equivalent ranks, 369 remain and another 14 have indicated that they will leave soon — an 18 percent drop — according to an accounting provided by the American Foreign Service Association.

The political appointees who normally join the department after a change in administration have not made up for those departures. So far, just 10 of the top 44 political positions in the department have been filled, and for most of the vacancies, Mr. Tillerson has not nominated anyone.

Two key quotes from the piece from former State officials:

“The United States is at the center of every crisis around the world, and you simply cannot be effective if you don’t have assistant secretaries and ambassadors in place,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat who was an under secretary of state for President George W. Bush. “It shows a disdain for diplomacy.”

Recently resigned Ambassador to Qatar,  Dana Shell Smith:

“These people either do not believe the U.S. should be a world leader, or they’re utterly incompetent,” she said. “Either way, having so many vacancies in essential places is a disaster waiting to happen.”

While it is certainly the case that any bureaucratic structure, whether in the public or private sectors, can use some shaking up from time to time, this is not the way to go about it.  Really, either the Secretary is being destructive on purpose, or is utterly incompetent (or both).

As Daniel Drezner, noted Tillerson critic, put it recently:

So, to sum up: An incompetent secretary of state has demoralized the diplomatic corps, demonstrated zero ability to reorganize the State Department beyond vacuous PowerPoint presentations, alienated Congress, alienated every foreign policy observer inside and outside the Beltway, and is, in essence, flying blind on all of the regions in which he has no experience.

Making American foreign policy great, or something.

Related Posts:

About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Let’s not assume that this is just hubris and incompetence. Tillerson is Putin’s closest American pal, even closer than Trump. Tillerson handed over security at the Moscow embassy to a Putin-connected security firm, despite the fiascos of earlier US Embassies in Moscow. That goes beyond incompetence. His actions thus far are those of a man who works not for the US, but for Russia. I think it reasonably likely that Tillerson is a traitor.

  2. SenyorDave says:

    @michael reynolds: Good points, Tillerson might be the worst of all of them. Nothing complicated, he’s selling out his country for money. And it is a pattern over his career.

  3. James in Bremerton says:

    The most charitable view of this is that man-baby’s administration will likely have, thankfully, disintegrated by this time next year.

    Another likely outcome is Mueller had people we’ve never heard of wearing wires, allowing us to hear Tillerson and higher commit felonies in their own voices.

    The GOP remains responsible for this widening disaster that has every stink of treason all over it.

  4. Tom Grant says:

    That PowerPoint…My God. It’s just a fatuous corporate “transformation” presentation, with a search and replace of “Exxon” with “Department Of State.”

  5. Gustopher says:

    While it is certainly the case that any bureaucratic structure, whether in the public or private sectors, can use some shaking up from time to time, this is not the way to go about it. Really, either the Secretary is being destructive on purpose, or is utterly incompetent (or both).

    It’s almost as if putting someone with no relevant experience in one of the most important positions in our government is an amazingly stupid idea with terrible consequences. (Where have we seen that elsewhere?)

    Or he’s just a traitor. Hard to tell.

    I don’t want to get mired in conspiracy theories about how the entire administration is filled with Russian stooges, when it’s easily explained by simple staggering incompetence though. And it’s not like we haven’t seen the precursors to this percolating on the right for years — negotiation is for weaklings, compromise is capitulation, so who needs so many diplomats?

  6. James Pearce says:

    @James in Bremerton:

    Another likely outcome is Mueller had people we’ve never heard of wearing wires

    The likeliest outcome is that Trump and Co will prevail in gutting the State Department, possibly permanently, and at the end of his second term, a much-diminished State Department will be the new status quo that his successors will work to maintain.

    This, it must be said, is not what I want. But it is what I think will happen.

  7. Slugger says:

    Mr. Tillerson has done an excellent job. Crude oil prices are the highest they have been in two years and well on the way of recovering from the sharp 2014 declines. The President and the Sec. State are hard at work to please our good friends in the Kremlin and in Riyadh.

  8. Lit3Bolt says:

    @James Pearce:

    I can hear it now. “SoS [Name] is working to expand the State Dept in 2024….”

    “BIG GOBMINT!!! DEEEEEEEEP STAAAAAAAAAATE!!”

    As for Tillerson:

    Enjoy your Chinese-Russian-Saudi world hegemony, you billionaire half-wit. Don’t be surprised when you and your family are first against the wall for speeding 1 km over the limit.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    The no-bid contract for embassy security in Moscow cannot be assumed to be incompetence. We have a long, painful history with Moscow embassies and no one could possibly imagine that placing Russian security personnel – who can be assumed to involve Russian military and intelligence people – on the premises of our embassy is a good idea.

    I’m a big fan of Occam and his razor, but the Russian stuff isn’t a filigree, it’s the underlying structure. Tillerson and Trump both have a history of dependence on Russian influence and Russian money. Without Russian money Trump might well be actually bankrupt instead of just playing bankrupt.

    This is way beyond ‘conspiracy theory,’ the ties between Putin and all things Trump or Tillerson are astoundingly numerous. It is absolutely clear that a jury could find Trump guilty right now of conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Russia case. He is without reasonable doubt, frantically covering up one or more underlying crimes involving illicit dealings with the Kremlin.

    I recognize that it all sounds like a Tom Clancy novel, but as improbable as it sounds, the President and the Secretary of State are traitors in service to Vladimir Putin.

  10. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds: I don’t think that Trump is taking orders from Putin — he doesn’t have the self-control — so he can’t be a traitor literally in service to Putin. I think the Russians helped him because he has so many ties, and is so very, very dumb.

    He lays his insecurities and his weaknesses bare every time he tweets and speaks. He’s brittle, self-deluded and terrified, and he turns this into anger and lashes out. He would bite the hand that feeds him if he could recognize it.

    He might realize that the things he has done could be viewed as treason (not that he would ever view them as such), but he thinks he’s smart for making use of what aid was available to him (perhaps what was deliberately made available to him) and that the accusers are just bitter losers but he’ll beat them. He — and he alone — has the smarts and the connections to reforge the world as an alliance of the great white empires. History is the story of Great Men, like himself and Putin, not some uppity negroes.

    He doesn’t realize that he is being played, and if he ever does he is going to lash out dangerously.

    Honestly, if he were a plain and simple traitor, it might be better. That lashing out is going to be bad.

    Tillerson is a cipher, since he is so private, sitting alone in his empty state department. He might be a traitor, but he could easily just be over his head and failing.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    I don’t think that fits the facts.

    First, read this: http://www.boomantribune.com/story/2017/11/24/23718/166

    Trump has been taking Russian money for a decade at least. The banks cut him off, so he took Russian money instead. In just the most egregious case, Trump sold a villa in Florida – a villa he could not unload at market price – to a Russian oligarch for multiples of its street value.

    That is pretty easy to grasp: Russian Money went to Trump at a time when he was desperate. All Russian money is Putin’s money. Putin bailed Trump out.

    He kept Flynn on despite explicit warnings from the FBI that he was compromised by the Russians and the Turks.

    He hired Manafort – deep in Putin’s pocket – despite the fact that Manafort was known to be a crook, and known to be Putin’s butt boy.

    From the start Trump has behaved like a guilty man with a great deal to hide. Why? He fired Comey explicitly so as to stop the FBI investigation into him. Why? He is furious at Sessions for failing to stop the investigation. Why? He attacks and criticizes everyone on earth with the sole exception of Putin. Why? He and Manafort insisted on changing the GOP’s position on Ukraine. Why?

    No, sorry, mere incompetence does not answer the questions. God knows there’s plenty of incompetence, but a great deal of that incompetence is focused on a single objective: covering up connections to Russia. Why? Why? Why?

  12. charon says:

    Russia began actively backing Trump for President 4 days after the 2012 election.

    BooMan post on this:

    Konstantin Rykov

    Somewhere in Russia, Konstantin Rykov saw Trump’s tweet pop up in his Twitter feed.

    Almost exactly four years later, on November 12th, 2016, Mr. Rykov explained what happened next in a pair of Facebook posts. In the first post, Rykov explained how he first made contact with Trump:

  13. charon says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Bobby Three Sticks must be aware of the stuff in BooMan’s post plus lots more.

    Pass the popcorn please.

  14. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds:

    the President and the Secretary of State are traitors in service to Vladimir Putin.

    I wish we’d get off this stuff. I mean, I think there’s no doubt in my mind that Trump and Co colluded with Russia to influence the election to his benefit. This would seem to put Trump in Putin’s debt.

    But, and this should not be forgotten, Trump is a scam artist that doesn’t scrupulously pay his debts. I would expect him to screw over Putin like he’s screwed over everyone else in his miserable life.

    @Lit3Bolt:

    I can hear it now.

    Oh it could be much worse than that. Let me just put it this way: Either hope the dire predictions come true, or they they become much less dire.

  15. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    That or he’s just grossly incompetent. And in my experience incompetence is far more common than maliciousness.

  16. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    God knows there’s plenty of incompetence, but a great deal of that incompetence is focused on a single objective: covering up connections to Russia. Why? Why? Why?

    Actually there’s so much incompetence in Trump’s administration that it’d be odd if it wasn’t similarly incompetent in dealing with Russia and foreign affairs. Looking at the big picture, I’d say there isn’t any particular focus of incompetence in Trump’s admin, its very broad spectrum. I don’t think there’s an area of gov’t it hasn’t hit.

    Most of us have hired someone like that. They screw up everything they touch until you get rid of them. Sometimes we muse they’re secretly working for a competitor to drive us under, but the sad fact is most people who appear to be stupid simply are stupid.

  17. James Pearce says:

    @charon:

    Pass the popcorn please.

    No. Put the popcorn down. No more popcorn for anyone on the left.

    We have work to do.

  18. george says:

    More to that point, industrial spies are fairly common. They’re never as obviously incompetent as Trump’s admin. Putin was in the KGB, he’s a smart fellow. If he was going to put in a puppet, he’s going to put one in that looks competent. A smart traitor can do a lot more damage than a stupid one.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @george:

    Trump is on-track to publicly insult 650 people in his first term.

    The notable exception? Vladimir Putin.

    If stupidity were the answer, why is Putin exempt? 100%, completely, consistently, exempt from criticism. That’s not an accident, that is intentional, which brings us back to, “Why?”

    Even stupid people know when someone has them by the balls.

    Everyone is making a simple mistake: they assume it’s over, that whatever happened between Trump and Putin is in the past. I don’t think it is. I think without Putin’s money Trump is broke. I think without Putin’s money Trump’s entire business collapses, right now, today. And I think the old KGB agent is too smart to let the tables be turned and the debtor become the master. Putin isn’t a bank. Putin will have insurance.

    No, sorry, the ‘incompetent’ rationale fails. Not because Trump isn’t incompetent, God knows he is, but because his incompetence has a direction. The one thing he has focused on above all, the one thing for which he takes enormous risks, is covering up his submission to Putin. Why?

    Trump is not just cozy with Putin, he is owned. It’s the only answer that fits the available data. It’s the only answer that is consistent with Trump’s character.

  20. CSK says:

    @James Pearce:

    Of course Trump is a scam artist. But you have to remember that most of the people he’s fleeced–sub-contractors, property owners whose property he wants, writers who write things he doen’t like–have zero power to seek redress, much less retaliate. Remember what this great champion of the “little people” has said about those who sue him? “It costs me a few dollars and bankrupts them.”

    Putin is light years away from the usual kind of folks that Trump delights in crushing.

  21. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “We have work to do.”

    Great. What’s your first job? And nagging other people to do unnamed things you won’t do doesn’t count.

  22. @michael reynolds:

    Trump is on-track to publicly insult 650 people in his first term.

    The notable exception? Vladimir Putin.

    How about Xi, Duterte and Erdogan?

    He seems like autocrats.

    (Yes, he has insulted China, but has he insulted Xi?).

  23. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Which leaders of major countries has Trump publicly insulted? If he’s insulted the leaders of most of the major countries – China, Japan, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Canada, India, Brazil then not insulting Putin would stand out. If he’s only insulted one or two of them, then statistically not insulting Putin wouldn’t mean much.

    I won’t pretend to keep track of Trump’s tweets, but a quick Google search doesn’t come up with a lot of examples of him insulting leaders of the top economies since being elected (he was more active on that score before being elected, going after Merkel in particular). However, Trump has so consistently said and Tweeted stupid things that its hard to sift through it to find what he’s said about various leaders … what has he said about leaders of the other top ten economies?

  24. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: Nah, he’s not that sophisticated in his thinking. He’s only working on the bonus his severance package from Exxon/Mobil has for lifting the sanctions on drilling in Russia. Soon as he gets that, he’s gone.

  25. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds: Where you see a man recognizing that he is guilty of crimes trying to cover them up, I see a man who has convinced himself that he has done nothing wrong, that he has just done what anyone with any smarts and connections would have done, and is now convinced that he is is being unfairly persecuted for his brilliant success.

    He hired these people because he knew them (he’s knee deep in Russian ties) and theyflattered him, and he thought they could get the job done. Who put these people in a place where he would notice their flattery? Well, he is heavily entangled in Russia…

    Why hire Flynn, despite warnings from the intelligence community? Because no one can say no to Trump, that’s why. If he were under control of the Russians, they wouldn’t have let that happen because it was too obvious.

    When he calls the Russia story fake news, it is because he believes it is fake news. Here he is, the Great White President, turning Russia from an enemy to a friend, and people are talking about collusion and treason. We should be grateful, and instead we are persecuting him. Unfair. Sad.

    I have a higher estimation of Putin and Russian intelligence than to think that they are controlling this idiot and making him act like this. They would be more competent.

    Hollowing our the State Department, maybe. But the rest of it, that’s just too stupid to orchestrate.

  26. MBunge says:

    As much as he’s starting to resemble Alex Jones, I have to admit that Reynolds’ treason fantasies at least make more sense than the conclusion that the guy who ran Exxon for a decade is incompetent.

    Al Franken = So effective he’s allowed one free grope…or two or three or four, etc?

    Rex Tillerson = Can’t find his ass with a flashlight and a map?

    Mike

  27. James Pearce says:

    @CSK:

    Putin is light years away from the usual kind of folks that Trump delights in crushing.

    Granted he was in the KGB, but he is still the frog that gave the scorpion a ride. He’s always struck me as a little more strategic than that.

    @wr:

    What’s your first job?

    Arguing against progressive stupidity is quite a big job already. What more do you want me to do?

    Maybe I could go harass this coffee shop like the rest of Denver’s woke-ass liberals. What do you think?

  28. gVOR08 says:

    Per WIKI, ExxonMobil is the largest non-government oil company. They have revenue of 218 billion, with a b, 73,000 employees. Per NYT if it were a country,it’s GDP would exceed Ireland and has operations in 58 countries, and is notorious for pushing AGW delialism.

    Tillerson forged a close relationship with Putin negotiating a potentially 500 billion dollar oil deal with Russia. A deal shut down by US sanctions in respponse to Crimea. Sanctions Tillerson, as Exxon CEO, roundly criticized. Also per NYT Tillerson holds 218 million in Exxon stock. He’d spent his whole working life at Exxon. There’s no reason to assume he doesn’t have some “understanding” with Exxon in force.

    Decades ago J. K. Galbraith wrote that only two things could counter the power of major corporations, large unions and the government. They’ve pretty well neutered unions.

    There is a whole RW ideology that sees Russia as an ally, a bulwark of “Western” civilization. For Republicans the Cold War was only partly about Russia being an avowed enemy, it was that they were godless commies. Now they’re Russian Orthodox capitalists, and a model of oligarchy.

    There is no reason to not see the obvious. Tillerson’s primary allegiance is to Exxon and his own money, not in that order. He did not become CEO of Exxon without being very smart, working vary hard, and being a skilled and ruthless politician. None of this is happening through stupidity or inattention. He is purging State of people with the inclination and power to stand in the way of removing the Russia sanctions.

  29. charon says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Martin Longman (BooMan) also posted the same discussion at Washington Monthly.

    The comments thread at WM is pretty contentious and interesting:

    https://washingtonmonthly.com/2017/11/24/a-trumprussia-confession-in-plain-sight/#disqus_thread

  30. charon says:

    @charon:

    You need to scroll to get to the meat, as the oldest comments at WM are pretty troll infested.

  31. Gustopher says:

    @MBunge: Running a corporation is nothing like running the State Department. The goals of the State Department are a lot more ambiguous and harder to measure against — there’s no dollar value to compare, and nothing to compare it against.

    Tillerson doesn’t have deep ties to the diplomatic community, so he really is going to have a hard sell getting people to join Team Trump. An aspiring executive wants to join Exxon for money, but what does the State Department have to offer? Does Tillerson even speak their language? And what if they ever said anything bad about the Blithering Idiot President?

    And do career diplomats, who have their own expertise want to take orders from a man who wants to suddenly redefine the world in a different alignment with the US and Russia marching hand-in-hand? Or do they think that’s stupidly naive, and that they wouldn’t be able to do the job even if they wanted to?

    There is nothing in Tillerson’s background to suggest that he could build and run a successful State Department.

    And that is assuming he wants to, and that he isn’t a traitor — which I don’t think there is evidence to support (not saying that he is a traitor, just that there isn’t evidence to support it, just like there is no evidence to support claims that he is gay, or sneaks out at night to be an Uber driver to try to connect with people)

    Putting someone with Tillerson’s background at the State Department would be like having me bake a soufflé — maybe I would make a great soufflé, but there is no reason to think that my decades of experience with distributed systems would prepare me for it.

  32. wr says:

    @James Pearce: In other words, you’ve got nothing. As usual.

  33. James Pearce says:

    @wr: Considering I’m not protesting a coffee shop over a stupid sign, I guess you could say I have the ability to prioritize what’s important over what’s not.

    That’s not “nothing.”

  34. Matt Bernius says:

    @MBunge:

    As much as he’s starting to resemble Alex Jones, I have to admit that Reynolds’ treason fantasies at least make more sense than the conclusion that the guy who ran Exxon for a decade is incompetent.

    While I know this was the attempt at a joke, it really speaks volumes about the problem with “running the government like a business.”

    Tillerson’s failure at State (not unlike other failures within the administration) is a perfect example of the fact that running a corporation is fundamentally different than running a Government bureaucracy. Tillerson is failing in this position *because* he was a successful CEO not inspite of that fact.

    It’s also worth noting that (sadly) Trumps most successful nominee is Scott Pruitt (the EPA head) who has largely succeeded (god help us), because he’s a career bureaucrat.

  35. SenyorDave says:

    @george: He’s done pretty well insulting our allies:

    Here’s Trump in Japan

    In reference to the Japanese economy he said, “I don’t know if it’s as good as ours, I think not. Ok? And we’re going to try and keep it that way, but you’ll be second.”

    Then there’s this stupidity,coming after a terror attack

    The repeated attacks, he lamented, had hindered his friend’s annual vacations.
    “Take a look at Nice and Paris,” Trump said in February. “I have a friend, he’s a very, very substantial guy. He loves the City of Lights, he loves Paris.
    “For years, every year during the summer, he would go to Paris. Hadn’t seen him in a while, and I said, ‘Jim let me ask you a question: How’s Paris doing?’”
    “Paris? I don’t go there anymore,” Jim replied, according to Trump. “Paris is no longer Paris.” (An Associated Press report released Thursday concluded that Jim likely does not exist.)

    London, after a terror attack when he took a partial quote from the mayor totally out of context

    At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is “no reason to be alarmed!”

    Germany:

    Now, two of Germany’s leading newspapers are reporting that in a meeting with the EU’s top leadership he insulted Germany, threatened to cut off its car imports to the US, and displayed a stunning lack of knowledge about basic trade policy.

    The moron thought we had different trade policies with Germany and Belgium, apparently never heard of the EU.

    All in all I think Trump’s been pretty evenhanded in his insults toward our allies

  36. DrDaveT says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    While I know this was the attempt at a joke

    Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Bunge really does fawn over corporate executives as if they somehow earned their princely salaries, and were demonstrably superior to mortal men. He really does think that being rich — even inherited wealth and position — is proof of superior intellect and merit. He is a Janissary of the wealthy.

  37. An Interested Party says:

    I wish we’d get off this stuff.

    Why, especially if you think that Trump and Co colluded with Russia to influence the election to his benefit…who cares if he is a scam artist, collusion is collusion, which could lead to treason…

    We have work to do.

    Indeed, like criticizing everyone else on the left for what they are and/or aren’t doing…

    As much as he’s starting to resemble Alex Jones, I have to admit that Reynolds’ treason fantasies at least make more sense than the conclusion that the guy who ran Exxon for a decade is incompetent.

    You should really take a leave of absence from being Trump’s personal fluffer so that you can think clearly and look at all the evidence that is available…

  38. gVOR08 says:

    Will someone explain to me why Republicans get a presuption of seriousness and patriotism? No one believes what Reagan and co. did in Iran/Contra because they weren’t the sort of people who would do what they in fact did. No one believes Nixon was a traitor despite his treasonous sabotage of Johnson’s peace talks. And why is it so hard to face up to the fact that Trump and Tillerson are deliberately gutting the State Dept.?

  39. John430 says:

    The number of those with the department’s top two ranks of career ambassador and career minister — equivalent to four- and three-star generals — will have been cut in half by Dec. 1, from 39 to 19. And of the 431 minister-counselors, who have two-star-equivalent ranks, 369 remain and another 14 have indicated that they will leave soon — an 18 percent drop — according to an accounting provided by the American Foreign Service Association.

    You say this like it’s a bad thing. Have you ever met a bloated bureaucracy that you didn’t like?

  40. grumpy realist says:

    @John430: Dearie, how do you know that the State Department “is a bloated bureaucracy”? Or are you thinking “yeah, we’ll just cut the number of ambassadors in half….have them double up. Because China and Japan are the same anyway, aren’t they?”

    What event will convince you that you are wrong? When China and the EU turn out to be the main global players? When the US gets dropped from trade agreements? When no one wants to have our diplomats visit any more? How far is too far?

  41. gVOR08 says:

    @grumpy realist: In John430’s mind that will all be Obama’s fault.

  42. george says:

    @SenyorDave:

    But no personal insults against any of the leaders?

    Again, I think Trump shouldn’t be allowed any elected post higher than local dog catcher. But his no insulting Putin doesn’t seem to stand out, in that he doesn’t seem to have personally insulted the majority (or even any?) of the leaders of the top ten economies. In fact, if he’d personally insulted Putin it’d stand out as an anomaly. If I were Putin and Trump was my puppet, I’d have him insulting me on occasion just to throw people off the trail – and the insults would only help Putin at home, since antagonism between America and Russia has a long history and people would support Putin against foreign criticism. If anything, Putin will be disappointed that Trump hasn’t sent angry Tweets his way.

    Some people think that if you can run one large corporation you can run any of them, or the gov’t. Its all human relation skills at that level, or so the theory goes. But in practice skills simply don’t cross over that way. It was a fad a couple of decades ago in tech and engineering, especially among startups, to hire successful managers from non-tech businesses, because it was felt their general business smarts would transfer and they could pick up technical knowledge when (and if) needed. It rarely worked out, and now most tech companies hire managers who’ve worked in the field. I suspect the same is true for other industries.

    Being a successful leader of Exon doesn’t mean you’re not going to be a competent leader of say Apple or Intel – or of the state department. And running a real estate company won’t transfer over any better.

  43. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Tillerson is failing in this position

    That may depend on what his goal is. If the goal is to make the State Department more capable of its work in statecraft, definitely. If, for example on the other hand, his goal was to get the sanctions lifted so he could cash in, that’s a work in progress. I don’t think he can get the sanctions lifted, but it’s not for failure as SoS, it’s because he doesn’t seem to be able to read Congress.

    In the big picture sense, Tillerson is failing at his position, but I’m cynical enough to think that he’s never really been working at being Secretary of State in the first place. If he had been, he’s smart enough to know that taking the job is out of his skill set.

  44. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @gVOR08:

    And why is it so hard to face up to the fact that Trump and Tillerson are deliberately gutting the State Dept.?

    Not a leap for me, but I do wonder about the reason for doing it, I can’t see the bottom line for gutting State. It doesn’t actually get you any closer to lifting sanctions–only Congress can do that, and Congress isn’t resisting lifting sanctions out of any motive other than animus toward and distrust of Putin.

  45. al-Ameda says:

    @MBunge:

    Al Franken = So effective he’s allowed one free grope…or two or three or four, etc?
    Rex Tillerson = Can’t find his ass with a flashlight and a map?

    I’ve got to ask, why didn’t you blame Hillary or Obama for this?

  46. CSK says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    I don’t see the reason for it, either, except to placate the Trumpkins, who view it as “draining the swamp.”

  47. Barry says:

    @george: “Putin was in the KGB, he’s a smart fellow. If he was going to put in a puppet, he’s going to put one in that looks competent. A smart traitor can do a lot more damage than a stupid one.”

    Putin works with the material he has. And given that he’s got his crew in charge of his chief enemy’s government, he’s done good.

  48. Barry says:

    @MBunge: “I have to admit that Reynolds’ treason fantasies at least make more sense than the conclusion that the guy who ran Exxon for a decade is incompetent.”

    And who worked his way up from grunt engineer. Tillerson is not one of many, many guys who was born on third base and thinks that he hit a triple.

  49. A few thoughts:

    1) It is not at all hard to believe that Tillerson would have taken the job based on ego, sense of obligation, and simply the fact that who could turn down such an opportunity.

    2) It is not at all hard to believe that a successful oil executive would be lousy at government, let alone lousy at one of the hardest jobs in said government,

    3) I would note that success in one endeavor does not always translate into another. A really successful CEO or military officer would be a terrible NFL head coach. Heck, the best NBA head coach could not be a successful NFL HC. There is, nonetheless, a weird fetish that successful businessmen or generals can do anything. This is not the case.

    4) John430 shows, however, the thinking of Trump: bureaucracies are bloated, so cutting is all you need to do! Easy peasy.

  50. I don’t, BTW, think conscious collusion with Russia is necessary to explain Tillerson’s stint at State.

  51. Daryl's other brother Daryll says:

    @James Pearce:

    I would expect him to screw over Putin like he’s screwed over everyone else in his miserable life

    Do you really think Putin is the same as a drywall contractor from Staten Island?
    The fat orange blob owes Putin and Putin ain’t gonna let it slide.
    Cheeto-dick is Putin’s cuckold. Tillerson is selling out for money. Dumb Don is already owned.

  52. Mikey says:

    @John430: These aren’t the rank-and-file bureaucrats, they’re the people at the tip of the statecraft spear, those who interface and interact directly with counterparts in foreign nations.

    You might be able to cut some admin staff, maybe farm out some lower-level jobs or get rid of them altogether, but taking an axe to the people who perform vital functions in the process of keeping America safe and prosperous is beyond stupid. And doing so with no more thought than “bureaucracy, therefore bloated” is even further beyond that.

  53. Gustopher says:

    @Barry: Tillerson is obviously a man with a fairly wide skill set, but he’s also doing a piss-poor job at building a State Department by any objective measure. And that does leave a question: is he doing a very good job at deliberately hollowing out the State Department, or has he found an area where he doesn’t have the skills?

    People are arrogant. They think that if they are good at one thing, that they are therefore good at others. People have to learn that this isn’t true the hard way. And when they are good at lots of things, they won’t always learn this until later in life.

    I think there was an effort to remove a lot of the career diplomats, the “deep state,” so they could be replaced with Trump loyalists — a plan the rebuild the State Department — and that this went horribly awry at the rebuild phase, creating a situation where no one wants to stay.

    I’ve seen a similar thing happen at a smaller scale several times at companies I’ve worked for when new, heavy-handed management moves in with a new set of priorities. They push out the people resistant to their ideas, and then the departures cascade.

    In this case it happens to benefit the Russians, but it also benefits the Chinese, and it would benefit the EU if they had their act together.

    It doesn’t require a grand conspiracy to explain this.

    Tillerson is very pro-Russian. But there’s no evidence that he is pro-Russian because he is compromised. He was pro-Russian before he got the job, and was picked because he was pro-Russian. And then he screws up rebuilding.

  54. charon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    If an outcome can reasonably be foreseen as the result of a behavior, it is reasonable to suppose that that outcome may well be intended by that behavior.

    Gutting the State Department of its most talented and effective people hurts America while advantaging America’s adversaries. That outcome may have been Tillerson’s intent, it is at least very probably welcomed by Tillerson’s boss, the orange Putin friend who is at best a “useful idiot.”

  55. charon says:

    Slightly OT: At this link, can find links to a couple of PDF files that organize what we know about the Steele dossier.

    https://www.balloon-juice.com/2017/11/26/steele-dossier-claims-updated/

  56. Gustopher says:

    @charon: My money is on “mildly-treasonous, semi-useful full-fledged-idiot” for the Ferret Topped Mango.

  57. An Interested Party says:

    Speaking of the Steele dossier, has anyone heard about this? Before it’s all over, I suspect a lot of people who have been downplaying Trump’s connections to Russia will be eating a lot of crow…

  58. Guarneri says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Sing along with me…………”still crazy after all these years……”

  59. Guarneri says:

    “There is, nonetheless, a weird fetish that successful businessmen or generals can do anything.”

    And there is a similar weird fetish, held primarily by Democrats, that government types can do anything. BTW – How well has government been functioning the past 50 years, other than driving us to the brink of insolvency, endless wars, endless corruption, endless regulatory capture, mindless tax policy, bizarre regulatory schemes, a failing public education system, hollowing out the middle class……….?

    It is quite a sparkling record, isn’t it?

    Any wonder Tillerson wants to clean out a bloated, self important, self serving bunch of bureaucrats?

  60. Davebo says:

    @Guarneri:

    How well has government been functioning the past 50 years

    Pretty freaking well. Politicians over that period have been a mixed lot but the nuts and bolts of government have been pretty capable.

  61. Daryl's other brother Daryll says:

    @Guarneri:
    The party you blindly follow is behind most of what you complain about.
    Hollowing our the middle class? That’s been all the Republican Party has been about for 30 years.
    Your lack of self-awareness is awe-inspiring.

  62. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @michael reynolds: You forgot Eminem…..he refuses to attack Eminem

  63. Lit3Bolt says:

    @gVOR08:

    The desire for a “Daddy” overrides all concerns in some people. Maybe most.

  64. Lit3Bolt says:

    @James Pearce:

    See you almost start to make sense, and then you make the false equivalence of “rando lib #58667 on Twitter offended me and this makes me sympathetic to Nazism, feckless billionaires, gross incompetence, malicious misgovernance, and possible treason by the highest level Republicans and their media sycophants. American politics must obey my every whim or I will take my ball and go home.”

    Who know rando lib #58667 wielded such unstoppable power? Trump and Putin cower before his/her gender-neutral woke protests! This is exactly the same as a pedophile running for the Senate! Both sides!

  65. Lit3Bolt says:

    @Guarneri:

    So you approve of the Benghazi terrorists cutting costs at the State Department? I’m sure we saved a bunch on overhead…

  66. @Guarneri: Your response is a non sequitur/straw man.

    Beyond that, so you are stating that Tillerson’s moves make sense to you?

  67. Jen says:

    Anyone who is okay with the exodus at the State Department doesn’t understand the role of diplomacy, nor do they understand what it means to be a global power.

    This weakens America. Significantly. If you are rooting for this dismantling of State, you are rooting against your own country.

  68. Franklin says:

    I haven’t waded into this thread, but I’ll offer my opinion. I think that Tillerson, despite knowing that his boss is a dumbass, still generally agrees with the administration’s position that we should burn it all down and start over.

    I feel this best explains his behavior without resorting to nefarious intent (well, nothing more nefarious than trying to reduce the size of government in a reckless manner). I will not similarly discount the possibility that he is incompetent, however. He’s certainly not qualified for his position by his CV, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some transferable skills.

  69. al-Ameda says:

    @Guarneri:

    Sing along with me…………”still crazy after all these years……”

    Sing along with Trump family and friends:

    Oh, flew in from Miami Beach B.O.A.C.
    Didn’t get to bed last night
    On the way the paper bag was on my knee
    Man I had a dreadful flight
    I’m back in the U.S.S.R.
    You don’t know how lucky you are boy
    Back in the U.S.S.R.

  70. John430 says:

    @grumpy realist: Dealing with your delusions takes soooo much time. Ambassadorships to major nations such as the two that you mentioned are political appointees. Career diplomats do fill many other slots but it is worth noting that the State Dept having 431 people with the equivalent rank of a 2 star general beats the number of 2 star generals of the Army and Marines combined, with them having a mere 290.

  71. charon says:

    @Franklin:

    I feel this best explains his behavior without resorting to nefarious intent.

    You, nor I, nor Steven Taylor are mind readers, so none of us can know his intent. So, we all just speculate based on what we each do know.

    I think both he and his boss want to stay on good terms with Putin, and benefit from Putin’s forbearance, Diminishing America’s influence in the world is certainly compatible with that.

  72. george says:

    @charon:

    But if not insulting leaders is the definition of staying on good terms then Trump is equally interested in staying on good terms with China, Japan, India, Canada, Italy, Great Britiain … and in fact most of the world’s leader.

    Is he being run by a committee of every world leader he hasn’t insulted?

    Trump is more than incompetent enough to explain what’s happening without treason. And given that Tillerson has no previous experience in gov’t, thinking he’d automatically be competent to run the state department is like thinking Hillary (who did a reasonable job as Secretary of State) would be competent to run Exon. The skill overlap is much smaller than people think. There’s a reason companies like Intel and Apple aren’t going to oil companies to look for their CEO’s, or vice-versa.

    Its the same reason NBA teams aren’t looking at NFL coaches for their next coach, or vice-versa. Leadership skills aren’t nearly as transferable as many think.

  73. grumpy realist says:

    @John430: But I’ve noticed you haven’t put forth any evidence that I am wrong.

    By the way, please go ahead and cut the number of government bureaucrats in half. Just don’t whine when everything takes at least twice as long. And forget about getting patents or trademarks in a reasonable amount of time.

  74. charon says:

    @george:

    Trump is more than incompetent enough to explain what’s happening without treason.

    Most of the high level people in this administration have had contact with the Russians. Many have behaved in skeevy ways. The Trump family has massive financial Russian ties.

    The amount of information I have filed away is too massive to post here, but this could get you started:

    https://nucleardiner.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/steele-dossier-breakdown-171126.pdf

    https://www.balloon-juice.com/2017/11/26/steele-dossier-claims-updated/

    Occam’s Razor says the most likely explanation is that Trump is controlled by Russia.

  75. george says:

    @charon:

    Occam’s Razor also suggests that he’s being controlled by China, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Canada, UK and Israel, since he’s as friendly or more so to those countries than he is to Russia.

    As I said, perhaps he’s being controlled by committee? Its not unreasonable, after his various huge business losses he probably owes money around the world.

    Though I suspect he’s just a loose canon.

  76. Lit3Bolt says:

    @george:

    Well, the rich, they’re not like you and me.

    They don’t believe in nations or borders or laws…

    They really do think of themselves, and attempt to describe themselves, as world citizens. That’s why Tom Friedman can have dinner with dictators and laugh at their pop culture references and commiserate with them about their portfolios and how their favorite vacation home was recently sold.

    Trump I think believes he’s just making “deals” by selling himself, his influence, his own brilliance. Thus the scuttling of TPP in exchange for Chinese “favors.” Thus the fawning before Putin, Erdogen, and the Saudis. All he knows is that they can do a great deal for him, and they just need to tell him what to do in return.

  77. John430 says:

    @grumpy realist: Last time I looked, the State Dept. didn’t issue patents or register trademarks. That’s the trouble with leftists, you take one small example and try to make it into a general, worldwide statement of truth.

  78. gVOR08 says:

    @John430: Grumpy was quite clear he was talking about gov’t bureaucrats generally.

  79. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @grumpy realist: The likelihood that John430 will ever need a patent in a timely manner is small enough that it probably wouldn’t trouble him if the only US patent office were on Mars and was only staffed one day a week. .

  80. John430 says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: True. Being fully retired with time and money to travel is good enough. But, on the other hand…tell me about your home on Mars.

  81. charon says:
  82. al-Ameda says:

    @grumpy realist:
    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    The likelihood that John430 will ever need a patent in a timely manner is small enough that it probably wouldn’t trouble him if the only US patent office were on Mars and was only staffed one day a week. .

    All he needs in these Trump days are Russian-made patent leather ‘handcuffs’

  83. Jen says:

    OT: James O’Keefe of Project “veritas” just got his backside handed to him by the Washington Post.

  84. charon says:

    @Jen:

    some more discussion at nymag, adds some interesting other O;Keefe stuff …

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/11/conservative-fails-to-prove-washington-post-is-fake-news.html

  85. John430 says:

    @al-Ameda: Russian-made patent leather ‘handcuffs

    What? And deprive you of your boyfriends tools of affection?’

  86. SC_Birdflyte says:

    This reminds me of a saying I heard years ago, slightly modified: Generations to build, months to destroy – out of pique.

  87. al-Ameda says:

    @John430:

    What? And deprive you of your boyfriends tools of affection?’

    Comrade John, why are conservatives obsessed with gay men?
    My wife and daughters don’t understand this.

  88. george says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    Trump I think believes he’s just making “deals” by selling himself, his influence, his own brilliance. Thus the scuttling of TPP in exchange for Chinese “favors.” Thus the fawning before Putin, Erdogen, and the Saudis. All he knows is that they can do a great deal for him, and they just need to tell him what to do in return.

    Yup, like I said, he’s being run by a committee. There’s nothing special about the way he treats Russia, he likes everyone who has or potentially will help him monetarily. Focusing on Russia is blurring the (well, actually, one of many) wider problem with him.

    Though scuttling TPP was a good thing – there’s a pretty strong (mainly from the left) backlash against it in Canada for a variety of reasons. Which goes to show, Trump isn’t following any ideology except “Trump comes first. And second. And third. After that he doesn’t care.”

  89. John430 says:

    @al-Ameda: Well, you did make a feeble attempt to come on to me with your “dearie” salutation. I don’t want anyone’s unwanted sexual gestures. Try Kevin Spacey.