Posted tagged ‘secretary of state’

Don’t Cry For Me, Mr Tillerson

March 13, 2018

The breaking news this morning was the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the naming of his replacement, CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Should anyone care?

The answer is either, yes – everyone should, or no, no one should. Hmmm.

Please unpack this statement.

The change has been long rumored and there have been multiple incidents where if Tillerson’s boss in the private sector had undercut him as President Trump has, Tillerson would have tendered his resignation and gone his own way. Given Tillerson’s preference for logic and a deliberate approach, Tillerson was bound to experience constant conflict with his boss. Trump’s strategic vision comprise plans for the moment and are subject to complete reversal if the President perceives a more desirable (for him) outcome which might be achieved with different tactics.

Our President is a win-lose deal maker. Trump wishes to win and doesn’t care what impact a loss has for the other person. In business, that may be fine, but in global relations, a deal where country Z may experience a loss,  the loss may multiple into political upheaval bringing on a new regime far more hostile to America’s interests.

Tillerson was at least one voice of reason and stability in Trump’s cabinet. Mike Pompeo is untested even with his short stay as the CIA Director. Pompeo may be too eager to please and with his rise in stature, susceptible to hubris in his new job. And with so many examples of an unmoored Trump (withdrawals from TPP and Paris Climate Agreement, entering North Korean negotiation without a plan, and driving a wedge between the US and its traditional allies by asserting tariffs and demanding renegotiations of existing treaties, one must reasonably conclude that losing Tillerson is a loss.

On the other hand, there is no evidence Mike Pompeo will bring anything new or different to the State Department. And there is even less evidence, Pompeo will put discipline into President Trump’s agenda. What you see is what you get. So it is arguable that no one should be worried because nothing substantive has changed.

So, don’t cry for me (and the American public), Mr Tillerson. Instead, recognize that you could have never succeeded at your post and for sure, never receive any credit. Mr. Tillerson, you should view your sacking as a result of the Stormy Davis effect. Standard Trump procedure is to change the subject and give the media something different to chase after, especially if the other subject was getting too close to home.

So, don’t cry for me, Mr Tillerson. You are now free to live a sensible life knowing you tried your best, in a no win situation, and did it with dignity and honor.

Hillary’s Legacy

February 3, 2013

It is interesting to see the care pundits are taking in assessing Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.  President Obama called it outstanding.  Others were quick to point out the one million miles of travel and all the countries she visited (is that praise?).  And of course, there are the usual suspects who see the last four years as a dismal failure.

Many critics have one eye on 2016 and the possibility that Hillary could be the first woman elected President (as well as the first spouse elected chief executive).  If that scares you, then Hillary probably did not do a great job.  If her Presidency is something you favor, well clearly she was brilliant.

Any real assessment of Hillary’s years will require much more in depth research.  How was Hillary as a team member with other cabinet secretaries?  What type of advise did she render the President?  How well did she carry out directives?  What really big ideas did she bring to the table?  How would you describe her foreign policy?  And, how would you say the US was better off because of her policies?

It should be obvious that time will be needed to both summarize Hillary’s years (what took place) and what were the consequences.  It should also be clear that it may be difficult to separate Hillary’s policies from those of President Obama.  If so, whose foreign policy was it?  Should we be looking at Hillary as an implementor or a policy creator?

The good old days of foreign policy ended with Reagan with the cold war closure.  Everything was so simple then.  Things were either this, or they were that.  Good guys wore western suits and smoked Malboros.  (This in part explains why President George W Bush and Condoleezza Rice were so ineffective, they were fighting the last war with a different enemy.)  

I think it can be safely said (with what we know today) that Hillary was an adequate Secretary of State and did much to restore the US image among modern countries.  Whether she deserves a statue or even credit towards a Presidential run remains to be seen. 

History will be the judge but History does not tip its hand easily. 


Role Reversals

October 1, 2009

The great Afghanistan policy debate underway in Washington shines a light on what inadequate or faulty policy decisions can mean when they mature. In this case, 8 years have been essentially wasted along with hundreds of billions of dollars. The US, as part of a NATO force, invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government in order to root out al Qaeda. So far, so good. Unfortunately that was as far as it went and where it stopped.

The Bush Administration set the policy objective of pursuing al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents with one hand and helped set up a new central Afghan government with the other, both on a shoe string. That was a lot to do, yet early into the Afghan effort, Bush and Cheney decided to invade and occupy Iraq, and that was not necessary.  In the country where terrorists thrived,  poppies grew and government bribes were collected as a matter of daily business in Afghanistan, and life went on. Is there a question why the situation today is so fragile?

The US military command has now come forward with a policy of sorts. Focus on protecting the population or risk losing control of Afghanistan. Presumably protection includes eradicating poppy fields and ending the widespread graft and corruption too. This policy proposal raises all sorts of questions.

  • Why should the Military be recommending a policy that seems so obvious and so much the normal product of the State Department?
  • Why should we expect the US to succeed in Afghanistan when no outside force has before, including the Russians and the colonial English?
  • How can the US support an indeterminate effort while facing a $10 trillion deficit over the next 10 years?
  • Why should the US care about Afghan’s future government and most importantly, why is this America’s problem anyways?

Poppies, unbridled extremism, and regional instability are all sure to follow an American withdrawal. But aren’t these, all nation’s problems?

The Real Problem with Green House Gases

July 20, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton drew the short straw over the weekend and made the request to India to agree to limits on carbon emissions. Clinton asked India to limit its emission on the basis of the entire country. While India is a significant emitter, it still lags behind the US but is catching up quickly. India, of course, said “no way”.

India’s rationale was simple. It has too many citizens living in poverty and needs to raise their living standards. What would you expect any responsible government to do?

The ironic aspect of this request and answer is that the US is the a largest emitter on a per capita basis (and second to China as a nation), and if any country needs to step forward and set strict limits, it is the US. Simply setting limits and not fundamentally altering how the US produces and uses energy will require either a drastic lowering of our living standards or a dramatic adoption of alternate energy sources.

You can take it to the bank that India and China (read 2 and 1/2 billion people) will not agree to any limits for years to come, if ever. You can also be sure that Indonesia or any other populous emerging nation will self destruct by agreeing to limits. If you can see where this is going, you can see that this is not a pretty picture for global warming.

This is the time for President Obama to announce, not a return to the moon, but a dedication to adopting non-fossil fuels for 50% or more of the US energy consumption by 2035. The key to this is sound application of science, math, and engineering backed up by the necessary financial investment in a new infrastructure. A break through in solar energy (conversion from light to energy, and effective battery storage) could free us of the geopolitical bounds of fossil fuels and at the same time provide a route for all countries to wean themselves from green house polluters. This is the equivalent to a “man to the moon” project but the rewards will keep on giving.

The real problem with green house gases today is that there is no way to make the numbers work unless there is a huge change in what sources of energy are used.

Speak Softly

May 27, 2009

North Korea is either the victim of very more translations of the leaders’ speeches or they are plain dysfunctional. North Korea is a dirt poor country surrounding by relatively rich, and comparatively open societies (China, South Korea, and Japan). What is it about life in general that they do not get?

So this weekend, North Korea chose to detonate another nuclear device only weeks following their test launch of an ICBM. Their citizens starve while their Government squanders millions on “defensive” weapons with no practical purpose. Some experts say that North Korea’s behavior represents the effects of internal political struggles where the successor of Kim Jong Il is being debated. While that may be true, North Korea has in the past been implicated in the export of nuclear technology and materials. For North Korea, the detonation and missile launch are effective advertising and sale of this know-how represents a source of hard currency. Business is business.

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton lives for situations such as this. A bad acting North Korea allows Bolton to mount his high horse and deliver great speeches that threaten North Korea with practically annihilation. Bolton the patriot, Bolton the chicken hawk, ready to send other people’s children to war, always ready and waiting for North Korea.

Fortunately this time around there is a new Administration that does not follow the whistle of the neoconservatives. President Obama may not be fully ready for this flare up but he has his pieces almost in position. South Korea has now signed the International Agreement that provides for boarding vessels in International waters that are suspected of carrying nuclear contraband. China is not at all pleased with North Korea’s behavior and Japan is quite worried that the crazies in North Korea may think it is “pay back time” for Japan.  International cooperation seems possible, so what should President Obama do?

In my opinion, President Obama should do nothing publicly. He should instruct his Secretary of State to plan (behind the public spotlight) with China steps to cut off land supply of materials useful for weapons production and limit food and humanitarian land imports to cash payments. All ships leaving North Korea should be followed and if nuclear contraband is suspect, they should be boarded. The US should give China absolute assurance that it will neither interfere with North Korea’s internal politics nor will it support unilateral military force against North Korea. The US need not waste its time with direct talks with North Korea but rather deal with its behavior through the good offices of North Korea’s neighbors. North Korea is a threat to its neighbors far more than the US.  Taking the US sail out of North Korea’s wind is the right move at this time.

Looking Into Eyes

May 7, 2009

Remember that now famous (and indicative) phrase, “I looked into his eyes and saw his soul…” President Bush will long be known for that amateurish and frankly arrogantly lazy approach to world politics and politicians. There was no need to spit in President Putin’s face but these comments were equally inappropriate and unnecessary.

Yesterday we saw a real President act in Presidential manner with two heads of State while deftly allowing Secretary of State Clinton to share the spot light and conduct discussions as an empowered Secretary should. America could see a first class approach from a first class team. With respect to the team, operating quietly behind the Washington scenes was Special Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke is a realist who has both the seasoning and personality to work credibly with both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to be trusted by the US military and CIA.

Consider how little public grandstanding the Obama Administration undertook before the Pakistani Government rolled out their military and started beating back the Taliban. The problems facing Afghanistan and much of Pakistan are as deep and historic as any one might find. A complete solution to those problems (… and they lived happily ever after) is not in the cards. Never the less, the example being set by the current US Government should improve matters and provide a working example to other nations of how a serious and purposeful US Government will conduct foreign policy. The rest of the world will find the Obama approach long over due, and may have difficulties matching the purposefulness themselves.

China First

February 11, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to Asia and one of her principle stops will be with China.  She will meet first with Japan and Taiwan to ensure that they are not left out of the information loop and begin worrying about what the US and China might be discussing.  She is not going to South America, Europe, or Russia first.  But why China first and so early in the Obama Administration?

Simply stated China is the key to resolving the current world “disorder”.

Follow the dominos.  Hamas shoots rockets at Israel and Israel tries to bomb the Palestinians into the rock ages.  Where do the rockets come from?  Who supports the Iranian regime and as a consequence enable Iran to support Hezbollah and Hamas?  Who supports North Korea and can bring influence, positive or negative, on Pyongyang?  Who supports Pakistan and indirectly the Taliban?  Who is large enough to counter the latent territorial ambitions of Russia?  Which country is the most populated in the world with over 1 1/2 billion citizens?  Who has a manufacturing juggernaut and produces about 80% of all toys purchased in the US?  Who owns about half of US debt?

In one way or another, the answer to these questions is China.

China is also, in comparison to Russia, ready and emotionally suited to assume a larger world leadership role.  The Chinese  are hard working people who value both the family and education.  They have a long history and can claim greatness dating back thousands of years.  The Chinese have, however, their hands full in simply trying to raise the standard of living for their poorer citizens.  It would be in their best interest to enjoy good relations with the US and other Western Countries since this would put their Government leadership in a very good light with their people, and allow them more time to concentrate on 1 1/2 billion mouths.

But we must also be careful about China.  It has a one party system with no direct vote by its citizens.  China has its right wing conservatives just like other countries and there is always a behind the scenes struggle with progressive forces pitted against the conservatives.  Just look at China’s behavior towards Taiwan and Tibet.  For Chinese leaders, military power is very alluring and the use of third country surrogates to execute foreign policy (like North Korea tying down US troops and support dollars) is an old habit that is hard to break.

So engaging China first is a wise step by the Obama Administration.  The Chinese are a critical player in the world economic scene, an important behind the scenes “surrogate actor” in foreign policy, and hold the potential to become a functioning democracy in 1-2 generations.  Solving the Middle East mess would become far more plausible if Russia and China were aligned in with holding military and nuclear support from Iran.  Start with China, build from there.    There is no better place to begin.