Tillerson sets a lost State Department on the right course
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The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, were considered by many to be an attack not just on the United States but an attack on the world. The United States, the leader of the free world during the Cold War, undertook another leadership role bringing together the nations of the world in their quest for security against international terrorism.

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After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York, the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training stated in “‘The Worst Day’ — 9/11 and the International Response” that “The assaults on both the World Trade Center and the Pentagon stirred international outrage as the United States and the world mourned both the loss of life and the loss of security. French newspaper Le Monde released a front page article entitled Nous sommes tous Américains, ‘We are all Americans.’”

In his thesis “A Global Coalition against International Terrorism” published in a 2002 issue of “International Security” Jusuf Wanandi observed “Overall the United States has performed well since September 11. It has displayed a willingness to lead, a critical factor in maintaining the stability of the international system. …In addition, the United States appears to lead within a multilateral mode.”  

But did our last administration abdicate our world leadership role against terrorism when the world stood shoulder to shoulder with us after 9/11? Did we even have a view towards standing with the rest of the world against international terrorism? Did we take a leadership role on the stage of international diplomacy? Or is it as James Jay Carafano, PhD, articulates in his article for the Heritage Foundation that this “‘lead from behind’ strategy” has the U.S. in full retreat?

Joseph Cassidy in 2015’s “10 Ways to Fix America’s Ailing State Departmentobserved, “The State Department seems to lurch from disaster to distraction, responding to many crises but preventing few. Its influence in Washington, and American diplomatic influence globally, is waning.”

Michael Rubin delineated the United States diplomatic failures in Dec 2016 for AEIdeas. These include the “carnage in Syria, the Islamic State’s rise and persistence, the expansion of Russian influence just about everywhere, China’s moves in the South China Sea, North Korea’s nuclear work, and the decline of trust in the United States have continued despite if not been exacerbated by Kerry’s policies.”

The biggest indictment to support Cassidy’s and Rubin’s position comes from Eric Bradner’s 2015 report for CNN: “The heads of Great Britain, Germany and Israel were there… .But President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein Obama2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA Aren't delirious Democrats now accusing Team Obama of treason? Trump won't say if he'd endorse Pence in 2024 MORE didn't attend a unity march in Paris on Sunday, days after the deadly attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Nor did his secretary of state, John KerryJohn Forbes KerryOcasio-Cortez and Cruz's dialogue shows common ground isn't just for moderates 'Landslide' for Biden? A look at 40 years of inaccurate presidential polls Trump campaign considering making a play for blue state Oregon: report MORE, who has deep ties to France.” Conspicuously absent from this world event was “American diplomatic influence.”  

As Secretary of State, Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonBolton says Russia, China seeking to promote discord in Trump administration Bolton says Russia, China seeking to promote discord in Trump administration Trump's nastiest break-ups: A look at the president's most fiery feuds MORE must overcome the inertia of a State Department that has been not only “leading from behind” but actually losing stature and influence on the world stage. He has set the vision of a new course of world leadership for diplomacy in these turbulent times.

Evidence for this new course comes from various news reports:

Michele Kelemen reported for NPR that:

“While the Obama administration used to talk about the need to ‘degrade and destroy’ ISIS, the Trump administration speaks only of destroying and defeating the group. ‘Degradation of ISIS is not the end goal. We must defeat ISIS,’ Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the gathered officials.”

Carol Morello and Anne Gearan wrote in the Washington Post:

“Tillerson said the administration is 20 percent to 25 percent of its way into a strategy that includes preparing more sanctions against government officials and individuals, convincing other countries to apply existing U.N. sanctions more rigorously and ‘leaning hard’ on China to use its influence to get North Korea to change direction.”

Nick Wadhams reported in Bloomberg News:

“U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered an ‘emphatic’ message to foreign ministers from Southeast Asian nations that militarization and construction in the South China Sea must stop while territorial disputes in the area are worked out, a senior U.S. official said.”

“In surprisingly blunt language…Tillerson said Russia should use its influence with separatists in Ukraine's east to fully restore an oft-violated truce, end harassment and attacks on international monitors and pull back heavy weaponry to lines agreed upon under a two-year-old accord known as the Minsk Agreement.” as reported by Matthew Lee for AP.

“Tillerson recalled a 2013 agreement with Syria to hand over its chemical stockpile and for Russia to act as a monitor to ensure Assad did not renege on that deal. ‘Clearly, Russia has failed in its responsibility on that commitment,’ he said. ‘Either Russia has been complicit or has been incompetent on its ability to deliver.’” provided to us by the Washington Post

Despite numerous unsubstantiated and speculative reports of Tillerson looking for a way out, he told reporters last last month, “I'm not going anywhere,” and he plans to stay “As long as the president lets me.”

Does this not imply Tillerson’s commitment to remain until he is able to realign the course of the U.S. State Department to re-establish the leadership role of United States diplomacy?

John M. DeMaggio is a retired Special Agent in Charge and retired Captain in the U.S. Navy. The above is the opinion of the author and is not meant to reflect the opinion of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Government.


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