secretary of state
Philip Seib reflects on the U.S secretary of state's relatively short tenure, surveys the damage from his departure and offers some advice to his successor.
The latest incident saw Secretary Tillerson and the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al Jubeir, taking questions about the president’s visit to Saudi Arabia from a group of international journalists that did not include members of the American press corps. U.S. journalists complained that they weren’t even given a head’s up about the briefing, a shocking breach of norms that took place in one of the least press-friendly countries on Earth—a place where a servile media parrots the government’s line at almost all times and where bloggers are given lashes for speaking out.
Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact. On his first three foreign trips, Tillerson skipped visits with State Department employees and their families, embassy stops that were standard morale-boosters under other secretaries of state.
This function of the press in no way comports with Tillerson’s experience at ExxonMobil. [...] Oil is not an especially popular product, and its production generates manifold controversies, yet just about everybody needs oil, at least for now, so well-run corporations in the industry can be as durable as public utilities, no matter what consumers think. Some time ago, ExxonMobil executives concluded that they were better off avoiding journalists to the extent that it was possible, and putting out what little they had to say on their own Web site.
These professionals need Tillerson just as Tillerson will need these professionals to conduct America’s foreign relations and to repair the damage done to relationships in the past several weeks. America’s newest face to the world will need to present a more reassuring diplomacy than that conducted most recently. In banning visas for all citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, Trump played to the fears of his nativist political base.
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The exchange, related by a senior State Department official with direct knowledge of the Oct. 18 meeting, marked a turning point in the Obama administration’s efforts to get the world’s two biggest polluters to commit to lowering the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.