While Rex Tillerson is on his first overseas trip as Secretary of State, his aides laid off staff at the State Department. Much of seventh-floor staff, widely known as the “shadow government” who work for the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and the Counselor offices, were told today that their services were no longer needed.
These staffers, in particular, are often the conduit between the secretary’s office to the country bureaus, where the regional expertise is centered. Inside the State Department, some officials fear that this is a politically-minded purge that cuts out much-needed expertise from the policy-making, rather than simply reorganizing the bureaucracy.
There are clear signals being sent that many key foreign policy portfolios will be controlled directly by the White House, rather than through the professional diplomats.
Not a single State Department official was included in the White House meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner – who has no regional expertise or diplomatic experience – had a greater role in the meeting than the Senate-confirmed secretary of State.
Rex Tillerson was absent Wednesday but did join Kushner and Netanyahu for dinner the night before. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Tom Shannon was on the official schedule to take his place but was then shut out of the White House meeting.
In an emailed statement to CBS News, a State Department official explained that the decision to modify the meeting was made at the White House to “allow for a more personal discussion.” That presumably is a reference to the long-standing friendship between Trump, Kushner, and Netanyahu.
That particular incident was disheartening to many State Department officials who hope that Mr. Tillerson – who had a long career as Exxon Mobil’s CEO – will bring his worldly experience and management to a building that has been demoralized by the Trump administration’s antipathy toward multilateralism and cavalier approach to diplomacy.
Two sources also told CBS News that Ambassador Kristie Kenney, the Counselor of the State Department and one of the last remaining senior officials, was informed that she will be let go. She is a career foreign service officer who had served as an ambassador under Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton. Her staff was told that Secretary Tillerson does not intend to fill the counselor’s position anytime soon.
While positions are often reshuffled during transitions and those perceived as politically-oriented are moved aside, the departures leave the positions vacant at a time of global instability.
In Thursday’s presser, President Trump referred to “mass instability overseas, no matter where you look.” “The middle east is a disaster,” he complained. “North Korea – we’ll take care of it folks. We’re going to take care of it all. I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess.”
“A major part of that mess was the US State Department, which completely disregards the needs, wants and desires of the American People and, instead, proceeds with a Globalist agenda. That is now coming to an abrupt end.”