Trump’s foreign policy circus

October 8, 2017

Another day, another embarrassing foreign policy circus in the nation’s capital that can only further erode trust in American leadership at home and abroad.

At its center is Rex Tillerson, who traded his job as top dog at the oil giant ExxonMobil to become secretary of state, only to find himself substantively and personally undercut by President Trump as recently as Sunday on the issue of Korea, where Tillerson wanted negotiations as Trump threatened war.

Trump’s behavior has only served to undermine Tillerson and raise doubts among world leaders about whether he represents the president’s true intentions.
 Tensions with the president
On Wednesday, after NBC News reported that Tillerson was on the verge of resigning last summer, the secretary quickly called a news conference in which he asserted that he never considered doing so, though he did not personally deny a report that he had grown so disenchanted with the man in the Oval Office that he once called him a “moron” at a Pentagon meeting with the national security team and cabinet officials. Tillerson was said to be particularly upset by Trump’s highly politicized speech to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization the secretary once led. Various other Trump officials reportedly urged him to stay on at least until the end of the year, and Vice President Mike Pence counseled him on ways to ease tensions with the president.


The conflicts are numerous and mounting. Last week, in Beijing, Tillerson described efforts to explore contacts with North Korea over the nuclear issue, only to have Trump scorn the initiative as a waste of time, leaving the impression that he was focused mainly on military options. In June, Tillerson called on Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab states to ease their blockade of Qatar, only to have Trump endorse the crackdown. The Trump administration has twice certified that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal that was one of former President Barack Obama’s major diplomatic achievements. Trump has left little doubt about his contempt for the deal.


Domestic issues have also caused a wedge. Trump reportedly was furious when Tillerson distanced himself from the president’s disgraceful handling of the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Va., by saying the “president speaks for himself.”
To say the least, all of this has made matters difficult for Tillerson, while confusing American foreign policy. Secretaries of state must be seen as having the president’s personal trust and the clout to represent him authoritatively all over the world. Trump’s behavior has only served to undermine Tillerson and raise doubts among world leaders about whether he represents the president’s true intentions. Some appointees would find such humiliation intolerable, or, like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, would figure out how to disagree with and steer Trump without provoking his ire. Inexplicably, Tillerson seems to be ready to hang in, and Trump on Wednesday declared “total confidence” in him.


Tillerson certainly has his weaknesses. He has often seemed detached and remote and has advocated severe budget cuts that are decimating the State Department and threatening its operations abroad. But those weaknesses are nothing compared to those of an inexperienced, self-absorbed, bombastic and impulsive president.
(Source: The NYT)

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