The Weakness of Secretary Tillerson
Robert Jervis writes at Foreign Policy that Rex Tillerson Might Be the Weakest Secretary of State Ever:
Tillerson’s position here is very weak. President Donald Trump has shown his lack of faith in him by vetoing his choice for the No. 2 position in his department, Elliott Abrams. Tillerson has also been absent for most of Trump’s meetings with visiting leaders. He likewise does not seem to be playing a central role in the few foreign-policy decisions that the Trump administration has made: He does not appear to have been consulted before then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn took the White House podium to announce that Iran was now “on notice” not to conduct further provocative missile tests; there is no evidence that his advice was sought when Trump huddled with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in January after a North Korean missile launch; nor does he appear to have been involved in Trump’s equivocation on whether he still supported a two-state solution in the Middle East. Most dramatically, he has not been able to stave off Trump’s proposal for deep cuts in the budget for diplomacy and foreign aid.
Tillerson might compensate for this lack of support by strong backing from his department. This would not only arm him with information and arguments to make his voice heard but would show other audiences that he has earned the respect of diplomatic professionals. Tillerson unfortunately is weak here as well. News stories indicate that he remains distant from his officials, many of whom have been removed or have resigned, and convey dissatisfaction and negative evaluations of his performance by foreign service officers.
Indeed, Tillerson may go down in history in a competition with William T. Rogers, Nixon’s Secretary of State when Kissinger was National Security Advisor, as the most ineffective SoS in the post-WWII era:
William Rogers played only a small role in Richard Nixon’s foreign policy. But since Trump is not Nixon, and McMaster is not likely to become Henry Kissinger, under the current administration the result would likely be the diminution not only of the secretary of state but of diplomacy as well.