Cardin also blasted the secretary for the proposed decimation of the State Department budget. “Under the president’s proposal, Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance would be cut by 62%, and Diplomatic and Consular Programs would be cut by 14%,” he said. “The combined funding for bureaus that lead planning and implementation of diplomatic security-related activities, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations, would decline by approximately 13% relative to the FY2017 enacted level.” For all intents and purposes, it looks as though Tillerson is trying to miniaturize the staff, budget and mission of his department, thereby crippling our “soft power” capacity.
Cardin sent Tillerson a list of questions with a response deadline of Aug. 30. They included such basic queries as: “How are you ensuring that the current vacancies are not harming the Department’s ability to carry out its mission?” and “How does the Department plan to address all current security responsibilities worldwide when facing such a large budget shortfall compared to the last fiscal year?”
Cardin is not alone in expressing frustration and concern about a dysfunctional State Department. Members of both parties and outside foreign policy gurus are gobsmacked that there should be such paralysis and confusion seven months into an administration during a time of such upheaval and danger caused by multiple state and non-state actors. Tillerson and the administration are doing immense and possibly permanent damage. The loss of staff, expertise, institutional memory and consistency will mean less proactive diplomacy, more crises and more mistakes. It may take years to recover from the Tillerson train wreck.
It’s not clear whether Tillerson is deliberately hobbling his department or whether he is inadvertently — through incompetence, poor judgment and lack of understanding of the government and diplomacy — leading to the same result. In either case, the State Department is in deep trouble — which means the United States is as well.