Tag Archives: State Department

The cascade continues

I’ll admit to not knowing anything about Brett McGurk . . . until today.

That’s when I learned that our nation’s leading envoy in the fight to eradicate the Islamic State has decided to quit early. He is angry with Donald J. Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria, to abandon the fight against ISIS in that country. It was a decision that prompted Defense Secretary James Mattis to quit.

Now it’s McGurk who’s hitting the road.

This is a big deal, too.

McGurk had planned to leave in February, but decided to submit his resignation to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

McGurk joined the George W. Bush administration and stayed on through the Obama administration, where he was appointed to his current post.

Two years into the Trump administration, McGurk seems to have had enough.

As NBC News reported: Trump’s decision left McGurk flat-footed, unable to explain to U.S. allies who have been fighting ISIS with the United States why they were neither consulted nor informed in advance. Nor have senior Trump administration officials been able to tell allies and Kurdish forces whether U.S. air strikes will continue in Syria to support the mission against ISIS.

Mattis was quite clear in his resignation letter that part of where he differed with Trump is in the treatment of our allies. They cannot trust us to be faithful to our pledges and commitments.

Neither can key administration operatives who are charged with doing the most serious work possible. In McGurk’s case, it is the task of working with allies in the fight to defeat the monstrous terrorists known as the Islamic State.

The chaos is showing signs of taking a terrible toll on U.S. influence in a world that has grown accustomed to what we once touted as our national indispensability.

No longer can we make that make assertion.

Danger still lurks in Syria, Mr. POTUS

Donald Trump, the self-described “stable genius,” has given us yet another demonstration of why he is so damn dangerous as commander in chief of history’s greatest military machine.

With all the combat-experienced officers surrounding him, he either (a) ignored their advice or (b) never consulted with them prior to announcing a decision to pull all 2,000 or so troops out of Syria.

Trump declared that the Islamic State in Syria “has been defeated.” Really? Has it? Do we believe this president’s simple declaration? Do we take anything he says about such matters as a statement of irrefutable fact? I certainly do not!

The Pentagon got a major surprise Wednesday when the president tweeted a decision to pull the troops out. So did the State Department. Same with the CIA and the director of national intelligence.

No one saw it coming, according to reports.

One theory being kicked around is that Turkey’s president talked the president into pulling out of Syria. What do you suppose might have prompted that request? It might be that the Turks wanted our forces out of the way so they can deal more aggressively with Kurdish forces along the Turkey-Syria border; the Turks, you see, hate the Kurds and want to eliminate the threat posed by the Kurds — who have been fighting against the Syrian government — to the Turkish government.

Let’s not forget another party that is happy with this decision: That would be Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Enough said about that one, yes?

To be clear, Trump acted within his presidential authority. He is the commander in chief. He possesses broad executive authority to do what he did.

It’s the so-called “wisdom” of the decision that has riled so many observers in Congress, most notably many of the president’s supposed “allies” within the Republican caucus in both congressional chambers. Congressional Democrats, of course, are shaking their heads in astonishment.

They, too, were surprised. The president didn’t consult with them, either.

Many of the president’s more ardent critics point out another curious dichotomy. It is that a New York attorney general has ordered the shuttering of the Trump Foundation because of what is alleged to be misuse of charitable donations, but still . . . the creator of that foundation maintains control of the nation’s nuclear launch codes.

Is this how you make America great again?

I think not.

Tillerson isn’t ‘dumb’; however, POTUS might be another matter

Rex Tillerson shouldn’t have served as secretary of state.

He didn’t have the foreign policy chops one would expect in such a sensitive diplomatic post. However, he isn’t “dumb as a rock,” as the president has said in a tweet. Nor is he “lazy as hell.”

Tillerson is an accomplished Texas business mogul. He also was surrounded by a legal team at State that told him that Donald John “Stable Genius” Trump was making demands that violated the law.

So that’s what Tillerson said this week, incurring the Twitter wrath of the president.

Sigh. I hasten to add that if there is any dumbness to be found inside the Trump administration, I believe it can be seen in the man who runs the show. Seriously, man.

The nonsensical idiocy that flows from his Twitter account tells me that the president of the United States — the elected head of state — is deficient in (a) the use of the English language and (b) any sense of propriety for the high office to which he was elected.

He should refrain from calling anyone “dumb.”

However, he won’t.

‘Dumb as a rock’? Seriously, Mr. POTUS?

Donald J. Trump, president of the United States, has just posted a Twitter message about a man he nominated to become the secretary of state, the nation’s top foreign service officer.

Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!

Yep, that’s our president, the guy who sought to present the United States’ foreign policy statements through its secretary of state.

Now he calls the man he fired earlier this year “dumb as a rock.”

I don’t believe Rex Tillerson is “dumb as a rock.” He ran ExxonMobil oil company before he took the job as the nation’s top diplomat. I don’t believe he was well-suited for the job at State.

It is simply astonishing, though, that the president — our head of state, our commander in chief, the leader of the free world — would resort to the kind of language he is using to denigrate someone he hired for this most sensitive of jobs.

And we’re expected to take the president seriously?

Ivanka: not your run-of-the-mill presidential kin

I know this doesn’t really need to be said, but I’ll offer it anyway.

Ivanka Trump is not your run-of-the-mill presidential family member who is “off limits” from intense media scrutiny. Ivanka is a key member of the president’s team of advisers. He’s a “senior” adviser, in fact, although I don’t know what in the world qualifies her as “senior” anything.

Donald Trump no doubt sees any media inquiry, for example, into her use of a personal e-mail account to conduct government business as an intrusion into a “private matter.” It’s far from it.

Ivanka Trump needs to steel herself for an intense look by Democrats who will run the House of Representatives. So should her dad, the president. So should her brothers, Eric and Don Jr.

So should we all.

Indeed, the only children of Donald Trump who should be exempt from media scrutiny are Tiffany, his daughter with his second wife, Marla Maples, and young Barron, who lives in the White House with the president and first lady Melania Trump.

Daddy Trump says there’s no comparison between what Ivanka has done and what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did when she used her personal e-mail account while she ran the State Department.

But . . . what Ivanka Trump has allegedly done is worth a careful look by Congress. She should be called to testify before, say, the House Oversight Committee and forced to answer questions under oath about what she put out there for all the world to see.

She’s not just a “first daughter” who deserves to be left alone. She’s part of the president’s inner circle, a cog in Donald Trump’s “fine-tuned machine.”

Don’t go anywhere, Mad Dog … please!

As the president of the United States tries to clean up the wreckage of that hideous meeting with Vladimir Putin and the press availability the two of them had, I have a request to make of some key members of the president’s Cabinet.

I still expect to see some members of the administration team to resign. I want to plead for Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis to stay put.

He is one of the rare grownups hired by Trump.

For that matter, I think I’ll offer the same request to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He’s another adult in the room. He managed to cobble together that summit with Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Pompeo doesn’t deserve brickbats for the result of that Trump-Kim fiasco.

I’m still expecting White House chief of staff John Kelly to go; then again, he’s been on the bubble anyhow. The charade that Trump put on with Putin in Helsinki well might hasten his departure. I also wouldn’t be surprised to know that U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman will hit the road.

Perhaps, too, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, whose assessment of Russian meddling was challenged directly by Trump on Monday, might see fit to quit. Coats has acquitted himself well, too.

However, my favorite Trump Cabinet appointee remains the guy with the “Mad Dog” nickname.

Stay put, Secretary Mattis. We need you now … more than ever!

Rex T breaks his silence in a big way

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is now a private citizen. He isn’t a silent citizen, though.

Here is what he told graduating cadets at Virginia Military Institute: When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth even on what may seem the most trivial of matters, we go wobbly on America.”

Who in the world do you think Tillerson is referring to when he said we “go wobbly on the truth”?

He didn’t mention Donald J. Trump by name, but Tillerson appears to be unsheathing his rhetorical weaponry at the president.

He talked about accepting “alternate realities.” Which reminds me of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway’s priceless coining of the term “alternative facts.”

Tillerson’s tenure at State didn’t go well from the beginning. It ended when Trump fired him and then replaced him with CIA director Mike Pompeo. Tillerson left the agency quietly, but to his credit he is not remaining quiet.

“If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders in both private and public sector, and regrettably at times even the nonprofit sector, then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years,” Tillerson said to the VMI cadets.

Yes, we are witnessing an epidemic of “crisis of ethics and integrity in our society.” I believe its source of late has been in the halls of power at the highest levels of our government. I also believe that Rex Tillerson knows that to be true as well.

I am glad his voice is being heard once again. The former chief diplomat has an important message to deliver.

Foreign policy no longer a bipartisan effort

It once was thought that “politics stopped at the water’s edge,” meaning that Democrats and Republicans locked arms when facing the rest of the world, setting aside their partisan differences.

A couple of events this week have demonstrated that the late Republican U.S. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg’s words of wisdom no longer apply.

Event No. 1: Mike Pompeo received a partisan vote of confirmation by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to become the next secretary of state. The full Senate now figures to confirm Pompeo, with only a couple of Democrats crossing over to cast affirmative votes.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who had been thought to be a “no” vote on Pompeo, changed his mind after receiving assurances from Donald Trump about Pompeo’s view regarding the Iraq War, which Paul opposed.

Event No. 2: The president is going to play host this week to a state dinner honoring French President Emmanuel Macron. But here’s the catch: Trump didn’t invite a single Democrat to the White House gala, which is starkly against presidential tradition.

Presidents of both parties traditionally reach across the aisle for these state dinners, which feature sumptuous menus, lots of fine music, toasts and expressions of good wishes.

Not this time, which happens to be the president’s first such state dinner since taking office. What’s more, Macron is head of state of our nation’s oldest international ally. After all, France fought side by side with us while our forebears revolted against Britain’s King George III.

As for the upcoming secretary of state vote, I feel compelled to remind everyone that the office of nation’s top diplomat needs to come in with a semblance of a mandate from the legislative branch of government. It sends the world a message that we remain united in the cause of furthering our nation’s interests.

Former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry, for instance, all received unanimous or near-unanimous votes of confirmation by the Senate.

Politics must end at the our water’s edge. It’s not just a quaint notion. It’s real and it’s vital in the conduct of foreign policy.

Pompeo to become diplomat with thin backing

Mike Pompeo is likely to be confirmed as the nation’s next secretary of state, but he’ll take strange route on his way to leading the nation’s diplomatic corps.

Pompeo is the CIA director whom Donald Trump selected to succeed Rex Tillerson at the State Department. He has run into trouble on his way to confirmation: Pompeo won’t have the blessing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which conducted confirmation hearings on Pompeo’s nomination.

A Republican committee member, Rand Paul of Kentucky, is going to vote against Pompeo’s nomination. That will result more than likely in a vote of no confidence from the panel.

That won’t derail his confirmation. The full Senate will get to vote on it, but Pompeo will gain the support of Senate Democrats who might be in trouble in states that Trump carried in the 2016 presidential election. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe  Manchin of West Virginia come to mind; let’s toss in Bill Nelson of Florida while we’re at it. They’re all running for re-election, which seems to give Pompeo a leg up in this strange journey toward confirmation.

Actually, I hope Pompeo does get confirmed. The State Department needs a steady hand and I think Pompeo can provide it … if only the president will allow him to lead the agency.

Tillerson had to fight the occasional battle against being undercut by the president. Tillerson would make a pronouncement and then Trump would countermand him. I don’t want that to happen with the new secretary of state, who’s got a big job awaiting him immediately — which happens to be the preparation for the planned summit between Donald Trump and North Korean despot Kim Jong Un.

What’s more, as head of the CIA, Pompeo has joined other U.S. intelligence officials in confirming the obvious: that the Russians meddled in our 2016 election.

This man needs to be our secretary of state.

Tillerson for UT chancellor? Hey, why not?

This will sound like I’m damning someone with faint praise, but that’s not my intent. The Texas Tribune is reporting that Rex Tillerson, the soon-to-depart secretary of state might be under consideration to  become chancellor of the University of Texas System.

To which I would add: Why not pick Tillerson? He’s worked already inside arguably the most dysfunctional government system on Earth; that would be the executive branch of the U.S. government. He’s cut his teeth on chaos, confusion and controversy. So, whatever troubles afflicting the UT System Board of Regents would be easy for him to handle.

The UT Board of Regents has had its fill of its own brand of chaos of late. One of the regents had been targeted for possible ouster because of alleged meddling in the affairs of the UT-Austin campus. The board at times has seemed as though its members don’t get along, don’t work cohesively.

The current chancellor, William McRaven, is set to retire for health reasons. I wish McRaven could stay on. I like the man’s background: U.S. Navy admiral, SEAL, former commander of the U.S. Special Forces Command. He’s a no-nonsense flag officer, who happened to oppose legislation approved last year to allow guns on college and university campuses.

Tillerson bleeds burnt orange. He graduated from UT before heading off to pursue a highly successful business career that culminated in his becoming CEO of ExxonMobil. Then he got the call from Donald Trump to become secretary of state. That gig didn’t work out too well.

I don’t blame Tillerson so much as I blame the president for the dysfunction that highlighted (or lowlighted) Tillerson’s tenure at State.

A Texas university system chancellor’s main job is to raise money for the system. Tillerson is well-positioned to fatten the UT System’s already bulging cache of endowments. Plus, he’s been baptized already in a system that exudes dysfunction.

Hey, the UT job would be a piece of cake!