The State Department is in a state of confusion at the moment, with 2,000 jobs still be filled and the Trump administration planning to cut funds for diplomacy in favor of military spending.
Two more incidents transpired this week further hinting at a troubled State Department. First reports emerged that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wouldn’t be bringing any media on his upcoming trip to Asia — an unprecedented move.
“Going forward, the State Department will do everything it can to accommodate a contingent of traveling media on board the Secretary’s plane,” acting State spokesman Mark Toner told Reuters.
The move leads to questions over whether this was a calculated move by the State Department to further isolate the media— which the Trump administration has declared the “enemy of the people” — or if the empty halls of the department are missing anyone to instruct former Exxon CEO Tillerson on State Department protocol.
The other incident of the week that casts doubt over State’s health is Toner’s admission he didn’t know the Mexican foreign minister was in Washington, D.C.
Wowwowwow. State Dep't Acting Spox Mark Toner had zero idea the Mexican foreign minister was in Washington. DoS totally cut out. (!!!) pic.twitter.com/zYclfJIq6q
— Ankit Panda (@nktpnd) March 10, 2017
The message coming out of State has experts concerned.
“Things do not look good at State. The department didn’t hold a regular press briefing in January or February, nor has Secretary of State Rex Tillerson answered questions in public,” Peter Van Buren, the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, wrote for Reuters on Friday. “There may be little to talk about — a bad sign in these first 100 days. The briefings are also a tool to get America’s broader foreign policy message out to the globe, and for now that message is that no one is home at State.”
Trump’s plan has been to gut State and add to the Defense Department’s budget — even though State’s allotment is around 2 percent of the federal budget and Defense gets half of the cake, according to the LA Times. But even generals aren’t on board with this plan. Diplomacy is a vital cog in keeping the military from deploying, particularly in troubled parts of the globe. Without “soft power,” experts say, military action doesn’t make the same progress and could impede efforts to take out real threats.
“We could knock off all the ISIL and Boko Haram this afternoon; but by the end of the week, so to speak, those ranks would be filled,” Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, U.S. Africa Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. “Many people, especially those in uniform, have said we can’t kill our way to victory here.”
The belittling of State appears to be part of White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s plan to reshape American domestic and foreign policy.
“Tillerson was not allowed to pick his own deputy. His choice, Elliot Abrams, was nixed by Trump,” the LA Times reported. “Reports indicate that Bannon made sure the president was reminded of negative statements Abrams had made about Trump during the campaign.”
Tillerson was also reportedly left out of meetings with the leaders of Japan and Canada.