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Rex Tillerson, former US secretary of state (SoS) tells about state of a state.

Tillerson’s seven-hour closed-door testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in May reveals facts related to an important arrangement of the state – a machine – he once represented. A few of these stories are amazing while a few astonishing and embarrassing; and the whole lot tell about an arrangement-disjointed.

Transcript of the congressional hearing has been released recently. However, large sections of it have been redacted.

Diplomacy

A revenant theme in the testimony was Tillerson’s frustration with Jared Kushner, the US president Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor to Trump, conducting his diplomacy.

Tillerson claimed, during his 13-month tenure as SoS, he was in the dark as the administration was wrestling with major foreign policy issues.

In a WashDC-restaurant

Tillerson’s meal in a Washington DC-restaurant was astounding!

The then-SoS incidentally found Kushner and Mexican then-foreign minister (FM) Luis Videgaray were having a private meal in the restaurant Tillerson went to have meal. Tillerson “could see the color go out” of the FM’s face when the SoS greeted them. The SoS was unaware that the FM was meeting Kushner in WashDC.

A private dinner and a blockade

Tillerson noted that Kushner “met often” with Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the Saudi crown prince.

The former SoS was not aware of the meetings between Arab leaders and Kushner.

Tillerson was asked about a private dinner Kushner, Trump’s then-adviser Stephen K. Bannon, MbS and an Emirate leader had on May 20, 2017. In that dinner, it was claimed, the foreign leaders outlined their plan to impose economic blockade on Qatar, HQ of the US Central Command. Tillerson had no idea of the dinner.

Tillerson said he, James Mattis, then Secretary of Defense, and others in the administration were caught off guard by the blockade. None of them knew Saudi-UAE plan to blockade their rival Qatar even though Kushner and Bannon had been told about it at the secret dinner.

Tillerson said he and Mattis learned about the blockade during a visit to Australia. They had to scramble to determine the extent of the crisis.

A false story

The White House (WH) disputed the claims.

“This story is false and a cheap attempt to rewrite history. The alleged ‘dinner’ to supposedly discuss the blockade never happened, and neither Jared, nor anyone in the White House, was involved in the blockade. The White House operated under the belief the Secretary of State at the time, Mr. Tillerson, would and should know what his own team was working on,” said Hogan Gidley, presidential spokesperson.

Foreign trips

Kushner’s foreign trips raised concerns, the former SoS said, because Kushner would coordinate with neither the State Department nor the embassy in the countries he visited. “On occasion the president’s senior adviser would make trips abroad and . . . was in charge of his own agenda,” he said.

Tillerson raised the issue with Kushner but “not much changed”. It made Tillerson’s job more difficult.

Tillerson asked Kushner to stop making trips overseas without consulting with the embassy or the State Department.

Well-prepared Putin

Tillerson described a key meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Trump in Hamburg in July 2017. Putin was well prepared.

The US side had expected a “fairly short” session for being acquainted. “We didn’t undertake that kind of preparation for the president, because we didn’t expect that that’s the way it was going to go now,” Tillerson said.

But, the meeting lasted hours, with no one in the room was taking notes.

The former SoS said Putin out-prepared Trump.

Property

Tillerson wasn’t told that the Kushner family had sought Qatari help refinancing a property they owned; learning only after media reported the financial ties. The refinancing effort came at the time of the Qatar blockade.

No liking to reading

The former SoS in a December 2018 interview said Trump is “pretty undisciplined”. That was months preceding the testimony, and nine months after he was fired.

Tillerson reaffirmed his description of a president who “doesn’t like to read things”.

The former SoS had to make briefings short and simple: “I had to adapt to the fact that it wasn’t going to be useful to give him something and say this is, you know, this is an article worth reading.”

Tillerson described the challenge of briefing a president who does not read briefing papers and often gets distracted by peripheral topics, noting he had to keep his message focused on a single topic.

“I learned to be much more concise with what I wanted to bring in front of him,” Tillerson told.

He stood by his earlier characterization – Trump does not dive deep into details. He learned not to give the president articles or long memos.

Never

Tillerson shed light on staffing.

According to Tillerson, the vetting process for senior State Department positions was complicated when the WH vetoed candidates for reasons Tillerson saw as insufficient, e.g., support for candidates other than Trump.

“If people signed the ‘Never Trump’ letter, that would oftentimes disqualify them,” Tillerson said. “If they had tweeted something or retweeted something that the White House office thought was inappropriate, then that might disqualify them. If they had a spouse that might have supported the other candidate, that would disqualify them.” These WH practices hampered him.

Tillerson struggled to fill senior positions in the department. He was frustrated that he could not pick his top people.

“And that spread pretty widely within town. People began to understand that. Moreover, the unfortunate effect of that is a lot of people then contacted me and said: ‘Hey . . . you can take my name off the list of consideration.’ It discouraged them from being considered,” he said.

Unique

Tillerson said it was a “unique situation” to have the president’s son-in-law as a WH adviser, saying, “there was not a real clear understanding” of Kushner’s role and responsibilities.

“No one really described what he was going to be doing,” he said. “I just knew what his title was.”

Not even a gas station

At times, Tillerson had no guidance from the WH. The former SoS said Kushner operated independently with powerful leaders around the world – no coordination with the State Department, Tillerson in the dark.

Tillerson tried but failed to change a number of processes at his department. He was startled that many career diplomats had no idea about their authority.

“I thought: This is nuts. I mean, this is crazy. You couldn’t run a corner gas station that way,” said Tillerson.

Dumb as rock

Trump had harsh words for his former SoS in December after Tillerson said in rare public remarks that the president was “undisciplined” and did not like to read briefing reports.

The president fired Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil chief executive, in March 2018, and on Twitter called him lazy and “dumb as a rock”.

A “dumb as a rock” once run an oil company! Really? Shall anyone believe?

Moron

Tillerson declined to answer questions about whether he expressed the sentiment that the president was a “moron,” as was publicly reported.

Dysfunction?

Isn’t the significant insight a picture of confusion and dysfunction of a part of a machine trying to trample the world?

What’s the source of this confusion and dysfunction?

How do its allies and persons in its payroll feel while making deal or carrying out plans in this confusing reality?

Note: Cited all parts are from the MSM.

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.


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