An invisible foreign minister, a state department on the sidelines and threatened to be cut off by a third of its budget: US military, politicians and diplomats fear a “catastrophic” loss of influence from the world’s The direction of Donald Trump.
When ex-CEO ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson became the 69th Secretary of State on February 1, executives from his influential ministry were whispering that it would be quite the opposite of his predecessor John Kerry. In fact, this discreet 64-year-old Texan engineer, low voice and dragging accent, is as vexing as the high media and professional politics John Kerry was prolix. In one month, Mr. Tillerson spoke only three times in public, but almost without saying anything about his diplomatic priorities.
During two short trips abroad, accompanied by two or three accredited journalists, he spoke only a few words about the US-Russian relationship at a G20 meeting in Germany. It was not much clearer on the diplomatic crisis between the United States and Mexico during a visit of barely 24 hours last week in Mexico City, where he was eclipsed by his colleague in Homeland Security John Kelly.
His talks at the State Department with his foreign counterparts are reduced in front of the cameras to the bare minimum of handshakes and politeness and the press releases, which are usually counted by dozens every day, fall from now on in the dropper.
In addition, as with all political changes in Washington, hundreds of diplomatic posts are vacant. But the delays this year to fill them is abnormally long.
Rex Tillerson was even deprived by the White House of a veteran deputy whom he coveted and he must be satisfied with still-working colleagues who served the previous administration.
No SARCO-saint briefing
There has also been no sacrosanct briefing of the ministry spokesman since January 19, the eve of the departure of Barack Obama’s government.
This daily news item, broadcast on television, which is devouring social networks, and which for decades has allowed American diplomacy to clarify its positions on the crises of the planet, must resume on 6 March.
Historically in the United States, the White House and its National Security Council (NSC) outline foreign policy. It was then charged to the Secretary of State and his State Department with 70,000 employees and 250 embassies and consulates to put them to music.
The 45th American president, elected on a nationalist and isolationist program, is not immune to tradition and has seized diplomatic files, although the outlines of his policy remain unclear. He is supported by Stephen Bannon, his far-right strategy advisor, who sits on the NSC and has promised these days to “deconstruct the administrative state”.
It is in this context that Mr. Trump announced Monday a project of “historic increase” of $ 54 billion for Defense in 2018, a 9% increase in US military spending.
Less than 37%
To finance this rise, the White House would consider cutting down on international aid managed by the State Department and its USAID development agency. Washington rumors a plan to cut 37 percent of the US $ 50-billion annual budget of the Foreign Ministry.
The US federal budget proposal for 2018 – nearly $ 4 trillion – will not be done for months, however, and there will be multiple round trips between the executive and Congress.
But the figures have been the effect of a bomb in Washington, even among Republicans supporters of Donald Trump
“It will not happen (…) it would be a disaster,” thundered on NBC Senator Lindsey Graham, while his peer Marco Rubio warned that “international aid (representative) less than 1% of the federal budget ) Was fundamental to our national security. “
A hundred and twenty retired generals and admirals have even just written to the Congress and the White House urging them to preserve the budgets of diplomacy and development aid “crucial to preventing conflict”.
These clear cutbacks at the US State Department and USAID “would be particularly devastating,” says Ilan Goldenberg, an expert at the Center for a New American Security and a former official in the Foreign and Defense Ministries.