An international law expert is deeply alarmed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s apparent lack of understanding of his job and his own public responsibility.
Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, has hammered Tillerson for his refusal to speak to the press — but he’s aghast at the secretary of state’s comments to the one reporter he allowed to accompany him on a recent trip to Asia.
“I was wrong about encouraging Tillerson to speak with the press,” Drezner wrote for the Washington Post. “Tillerson should shut the heck up until he demonstrates that he knows what he’s talking about. This interview is terrifying, but not for the reason that Twitter focused on.”
Social media users reacted to Tillerson’s claim that he did not want to take the job, but did so at his wife’s urging, but Drezner was shocked that the former Exxon CEO had never met President Donald Trump until he asked him to become the nation’s top diplomat.
Tillerson explained that he preferred to keep his policy decisions quiet until they were ready for formal announcement, which Independent Journal Review reporter Erin McPike compared to a product unveiling by Apple — but Drezner said that displayed a profound misunderstanding of diplomacy.
“No doubt, there are diplomatic initiatives that fall under the category of, ‘let’s keep this quiet until almost everything has been worked out,'” Drezner wrote. “But if Tillerson thinks that is all the secretary of state does, then he’s rejecting more than half of his job description. Reassuring allies requires some public signaling. Credible commitments require even more public signaling. Promoting ideas like human rights or religious freedom through publicizing annual reports is a really super-inexpensive way of sending a message.”
Drezner said that’s where Tillerson’s total lack of government experience hurts him.
“None of this is rocket science to anyone who has spent some time in public policy,” he wrote. “Tillerson, of course, is completely new to this, being the first secretary of state without any government or military experience.”
Drezner was also dismayed at Tillerson’s rationale for cutting the State Department budget, especially given its role in the three-step process for defeating ISIS that he described to the IJR reporter.
“Well, gosh, it almost sounds like in this three-step process, there has to be a surge in diplomacy after a military drawdown,” Drezner wrote. “Which make sense, what with the failed states in Syria, Libya, etc. So I don’t see how solving conflicts leads to any reduced demand for diplomatic resources. If anything, there should be a surge in resources to make sure the transition and stability phases work as planned.”
Edit: An earlier version of this report described McPike as a conservative reporter, a description she disputes. More accurately, she reports for the conservative-leaning IJR.