Shadow Cabinet: State Department Kept in the Dark as Trump Son-in-Law Meets Foreign Minister
Is Trump Weakening the State Department?
Luis Videgaray, the Foreign Secretary of Mexico was in Washington D.C., and met with Donald Trump administration officials, Thursday. The Mexican government announced the visit. The U.S. State Department apparently had no idea he was there. The L.A. Times reported Thursday,
“Striking in its absence from that announcement was any mention of a meeting with officials from the State Department.
“It is customary for foreign secretaries from all nations to be received by their U.S. counterpart when in Washington, currently Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
“But when asked whether any sessions were scheduled at the State Department, the spokesman, Mark Toner, said he didn’t know Videgaray was in town. That disconnect suggested the State Department, under Trump, was being marginalized.”
Toner’s office later confirmed to reporters that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was aware of Videgaray’s meeting, but that Videgaray’s business in Washington required that he speak directly to the White House. Videgaray was sent to lodge formal complaints with the Trump administration for considering plans to separate children and their parents at the border, and to “dump” non-Mexican immigrants in Mexico. He also discussed the Mexican government’s ongoing extreme displeasure with the White House’s portrayal of Mexico and Mexicans.
So, if he didn’t speak with the State Department, who did he lodge his complaints to? Why, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, of course.
According to the L.A. Times,
“Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray met at the White House with President Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, along with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, a top financial aide, the Mexican government announced.”
So Mexico’s top diplomat met with the new National Security Adviser, Trump’s son-in-law and the National Economic Council Director who just left Goldman Sachs after 26 years. And they discussed immigration. And froze out the State Department. None of that makes any sense at all.
Even though the State Department later described this as normal, it may be a symptom of a more systematic sidelining of Tillerson and the State Department. On Friday, Robert Jervis published an analysis in Foreign Policy arguing that Tillerson “might be the weakest Secretary of State ever.” Tillerson, Jervis argues, has been thoroughly blocked from exercising any kind of meaningful influence in Washington, and his position is only likely to get weaker. A secretary of state gains influence not from legally codified powers, Jervis argues, but by cultivating a feedback loop of the perception of goodwill and backing among
“five sources: backing from the president, advice and support from his or her department’s career officials, admiration from and alliances with other leaders in the government, praise from the press and public, and positive evaluations of his or her competence and power by foreign diplomats.”
By every measure, Tillerson has no influence, and hardly any way to gain any. The president has already demonstrated a lack of faith in his own Secretary of State by nixing Elliot Abrams, Tillerson’s first choice for his deputy.
But weakening the State Department may be intentional. Trump proposed a massive budget cut of 37% to State, which even some Republicans balked at. At least four top State officials were forced to resign and have not been replaced. Tillerson had no public response to the savage cut proposal or the high level purge. In a recent segment analyzing Trump’s approach to State, MSNBC‘s Rachel Maddow noted that, “If you are Russia you would love what you are seeing.”
This raises the question of whether there is a secret de facto Cabinet. Many of Trump’s Cabinet picks were chosen because the hate the Department they were chosen to lead. If Rex Tillerson is not leading Trump’s foreign policy, but his job is to slowly smother it to death, who is leading Trump’s foreign policy? Jared Kushner? And is Kushner’s job shepherding America’s foreign policy interests, or expanding Trump’s private interests in the US government and in the world?
Weakening the State Department will certainly weaken the United States internationally. A great deal of America’s influence in the world is “soft power.” If Trump thinks the US can defend its interests in the world by using only stick and no carrot, he is likely to find himself friendless on the world stage very quickly. That raises another question: Is that incompetence, or is isolating the United States part of the plan?
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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