04/08/2017

Is Tillerson Being Sidelined By Jared Kushner?

John Fund, National Review

History suggests that the Trump administration should think twice before completely ignoring Foggy Bottom on key foreign-policy decisions.

Palace intrigue dominated news of the Trump White House this week, as rumors swirled that populist chief strategist Steve Bannon had lost influence to Gary Cohn, the registered Democrat who heads the National Economic Council. Now, elsewhere in the administration, another power play appears to be under way: Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, made a splash with a highly visible trip to Iraq on behalf of the White House, and is handling portfolios involving parts of U.S. policy toward China, the Middle East, and Mexico. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson looks increasingly marginalized.

This has happened before. For nearly five years, Richard Nixon kept his old friend Bill Rogers as his nominal secretary of state, while the real diplomatic clout was wielded by Henry Kissinger, the national-security adviser. It was Kissinger who arranged Nixon’s historic visit to China, successfully pursued nuclear-arms-reduction talks with the Soviet Union, and led negotiations with Hanoi to end the Vietnam War. Cynics dubbed Rogers the “secretary of the links” because of all the time he had to play golf. “You could walk through Rogers’ deepest influence on foreign policy and not get your ankles wet,” cracked the late Nixon speechwriter and columnist William Safire.

No one is suggesting that Tillerson, the type-A former CEO of ExxonMobil, will allow himself to be satisfied with a golf cart. But he certainly appears not to have a front-row seat on many foreign-policy issues. He was absent at President Trump’s meetings with the leaders of Israel, Canada, and Japan, and he wasn’t consulted on Trump’s botched executive order restricting non-citizen entry to the U.S. The White House overruled his pick of Elliott Abrams as the No. 2 man at State after Trump was made aware that Abrams had publicly criticized him during the 2016 campaign.

To date, Tillerson is Trump’s only political appointee at the State Department; two dozen other such posts remain unfilled, and the vacuum could have serious consequences. “The longer Tillerson is ‘home alone’ at State, the more he relies on Obama holdovers who don’t have the administration’s best interests at heart,” one former State Department official told me. “The more that happens, the less willing the White House is to give Tillerson the staff he wants.”

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