Adrift State Department harming US interests abroad
© Getty Images

After months of mounting criticism during his tenure at the State Department, Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonNorth Korea looked to set up communications back channel through Kushner: report North America wins 2026 bid to host World Cup after lobbying from Trump Trump, Tillerson pledged to ease travel ban to win World Cup bid MORE is finally taking small steps to move the agency in a positive direction, promising to ease the hiring freeze that has crippled the agency and hindered important security clearances. These are welcome efforts, but if the secretary truly aims to put the department back on course, he must commit to fundamental reform that returns the agency to its original mission of supporting U.S. interests abroad.

Under President Obama, the State Department veered significantly off course by prioritizing international groups and social commitments, and in some cases, actively working against the security and prosperity of U.S. businesses operating overseas. The ill-impacts of this shift are clearly evident in Guatemala, where the recently departed U.S. Ambassador Todd Robinson sided with foreign radicals against a Nevada-based mining company. Now its flagship project, the Escobal mine, hangs in the balance and it is up to Secretary Tillerson and President TrumpDonald John Trump20 weeks out from midterms, Dems and GOP brace for surprises Sessions responds to Nazi comparisons: 'They were keeping the Jews from leaving' Kim Jong Un to visit Beijing this week MORE to revitalize the State Department and ensure American interests are once again protected.

ADVERTISEMENT
Boston University Professor J. Michael Waller has chronicled this leftward shift at the State Department, identifying an agenda of global egalitarianism and idealistic worldview, first embraced by the Bush administration and expanded aggressively under President Obama, which has led the agency away from its original purpose.

In place of the Monroe Doctrine, which had been a cornerstone of strong American leadership for centuries, came the Kerry Doctrine, which effectively sought to make the U.S. government the world’s community organizer. According to Waller, this misguided attempt to build civil society and foster peace and prosperity everywhere has opened the door for anti-US, anti-capitalist organizations to exploit American officials and damage U.S. economic interests.

This is certainly the case in Guatemala.

Through its operation of the Escobal silver mine, Nevada-based Tahoe Resources has poured more than one billion dollars into the developing nation only to see foreign service officers intervene and side with radical environmental activists who want the mine closed. 

This project is the second largest private U.S. investment in Guatemala and a major economic driver in the region. Escobal provides wages and employment to thousands of Guatemalans and returns millions of dollars to the country’s economy by way of taxes to local governments in addition to millions of dollars invested in community social programs.

The mine has been a frequent target for social activists and protestors, who make false and unsubstantiated claims about indigenous rights. This spring, activists won a temporary victory in the form of a suspension of mine activity after filing a lawsuit. The courts have since ruled that operations can resume, but activists have not relented and protestors have blocked road access to the mine and resorted to violence. 

Faced with this growing threat against a major American development project in Guatemala, then-U.S. Ambassador Todd Robinson chose to support anti-mining extremists, even going so far as aiding their legal complaints by incentivizing politicians to appoint a judge to the country’s highest court who he knew would rule against U.S. economic interests. This, frankly, is an outrage.

The Trump administration now has the task of restoring the integrity of the State Department and fortunately there are signs of progress underway in Guatemala. Just a few months ago, Luis Arreaga was sworn in as the new ambassador, replacing Robinson. Arreaga has already signaled his support for Escobal and U.S. interests in the country.

It is imperative that the U.S. government works on behalf of American businesses, not against them. The administration can start by eschewing ideological and social commitments in favor of smart, strategic diplomacy grounded in traditional economic interests.

While more work is necessary, the appointment of Arreaga is a promising start that will provide much-needed new direction from the State Department regarding a key American interest in Guatemala, and hopefully this is but one change of many to come.

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty.