Opinion | Morgan Liddick: All in a tizzy about Tillerson
On Your Right
Two days hence marks the 76th anniversary of the most significant military defeat in US history and the beginning of events which utterly changed the world. At 7:55 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941, an Aichi D3A dive bomber painted with the Hinomaru symbol of Imperial Japan burst through the cloud deck over Pearl Harbor and loosed its payload. It was followed by 350 other Japanese warplanes in a vicious attack that, three hours later, had crippled much of the US Pacific Fleet and left 3,600 American soldiers, sailors and airmen dead or wounded.
The attack was only a surprise in its exact location and timing. For weeks the Roosevelt administration had known our diplomatic efforts with Japan were failing. For months, we had been fighting an undeclared war with Nazi submarines in the Atlantic. War was inexorably dragging America toward it. But ineptitude, bureaucratic inertia, laziness and breathtaking unwillingness to face facts allowed much of America to hide from reality until it came calling that Sunday 76 years ago.
History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes.
Our world today is itching for an excuse to burst into flames. Russia gobbles up pieces of its neighbors and casts about for new victims. China builds artificial island fortresses in major shipping lanes and envisions a new world order of Mandarins and peasant automatons. Rogue regimes experimenting with nuclear weapons are protected by cynical powers who think trouble and slaughter will bedevil only their foes. And militant Islamists spread visions of a perfect world built on the corpses of unbelievers. That’s “everyone else,” if one is unclear.
America’s power elites respond by complaining about etiquette and hurt feelings. Nothing illustrates this better than the ongoing uproar caused by Rex Tillerson at the Department of State.
The State Department is a central element of America’s interaction with the world. It represents our country to other governments, creates and maintains alliances, monitors threats to national security, aids commerce and is instrumental to the flow of people into and out of this country. It is one of the two oldest departments in government, one of the most vital, and the most gripped by infectious elitism.
One can see this in the drumbeat of complaints about Secretary Tillerson: he doesn’t listen; he’s pursuing Trump’s misguided agenda; he wants to reduce the Department’s size; he’s “hollowing out” State by creating an atmosphere forcing “high level expertise” to flee for the territories. A recent op-ed piece by former Secretary Madeline Albright gave voice to all of these, and more. As a maudlin whine of an ignored former “expert,” it deserves attention.
Leaving aside the hypocrisy of a complaint about personnel cuts from she who cooperated with the late Senator Jessie Helms in dismembering two non-State Department foreign service agencies, one might focus on the flight of Senior Foreign Service officers. Secretary Albright and others wring their hands over this, without mentioning that these are the people who — among other things — thought deposing Muammar Gaddafi was a good idea. Who were silent or ineffective when Vlad the Terrible gobbled up Crimea. Who spoke not peep one when Barack the Great abandoned the Syrian opposition to Vlad and his pal, Bashar the Butcher. Whose reaction to the attack on Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi was to go for coffee and lie about it later. Who argued that Iran having nukes in ten years was a great idea. Whose response to North Korea’s nuclear blackmail was always to throw more money at ‘em. And who thought in 2012 that three U.S. ambassadors at once in Afghanistan was one too few. Good riddance.
The State Department has crippled itself with clubbable cliquishness; even today it is overwhelmingly, to quote “Foreign Policy” magazine, “male and Yale.” Or more broadly, Ivy League, including Georgetown University at which Ms. Albright teaches. Like its British cousin on which it has consciously or unconsciously imprinted, one’s success lies in one’s family, one’s school and one’s connections rather than on skills and accomplishments. In the course of a 26-year stint in the Foreign Service, I saw good people sidetracked and toadies elevated; incisive but uncomfortable counsel dismissed and ego-soothing platitudes swallowed whole; accurate analysis rejected for wishful thinking. Secretary Tillerson can’t flush that quickly enough.
Because, as in 1941, it’s not about connections. It’s about competence, efficiency and the ability to make sense of fact, to protect the nation and its citizens — all on the dime of taxpayers tired of public servants who seem confused about who is supposed to be serving whom.
So, sorry Madeline. We must get our bureaucracy straightened up and focused on its job, before history rhymes again.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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