Tillerson’s priority has been getting on good terms with his boss, but as he’s been managing up, frustration has grown down below. He needs to act fast if he is to salvage the situation. Talk of a “trust deficit” has translated into an atmosphere of growing unease in which people walk documents over to their recipients because they’re afraid emails will get leaked. The secretary needs to reach out to career officers and the American public. He needs to explain what all the cuts are supposed to achieve.
An American jewel is at stake, a place where honorable patriots take an oath to the Constitution — that is to say, to the rule of law, representative governance and the democratic processes that, with conspicuous failings but equally conspicuous bravery, United States diplomats have sought to extend across the world. They have done so in the belief that humanity, in the long run, will benefit from freedom. Since 1945, liberty has extended its reach. But now, at a time of growing great-power rivalry, a diminished State Department leaves a vacuum Russia and China will fill.
Tillerson needs to acknowledge that his first months in office have cast doubt on America’s fundamental mission, and make clear that soft power — diplomacy consistent with our values — is as critical a part of the American arsenal as the military.
Stephenson, the Foreign Service Association president, said: “People are struggling with how to honor their oath. The basic question is: How do you serve this great institution in what is one of the most trying times for our Republic?” She has hosted informal sessions with colleagues devoted to this question.