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Tillerson and the Trump Administration’s Disdain for Diplomacy

Rex Tillerson attempts to defend [1] the Trump administration’s diplomatic record in a new op-ed. The section on North Korea shows why his larger argument shouldn’t be taken seriously:

We hope that this international isolation will pressure the regime into serious negotiations on the abandonment of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. A door to dialogue remains open, but we have made it clear that the regime must earn its way back to the negotiating table. Until denuclearization occurs, the pressure will continue.

Whatever Trump administration officials may “hope” will happen, there is no reason to think that the North Korean government can be pressured into abandoning programs that it has said repeatedly that it will never give up. Tillerson’s “door to dialogue” doesn’t offer North Korea anything if the condition for dialogue requires North Korea to concede everything in advance. Tillerson is effectively saying that the U.S. pressure campaign will go on forever. That isn’t going to succeed. Denuclearization isn’t going to happen, and it should already be obvious that it won’t. North Korea considers its nuclear weapons to be essential for the regime’s survival, and there is no amount of economic and diplomatic pressure that can be brought to bear that will make them abandon something that important. It is a measure of how unrealistic the administration’s North Korea policy is that top U.S. officials keep making a demand that we all know will never be met.

Tillerson claims later in the op-ed that he remains “optimistic about the power of diplomacy to resolve conflicts and advance American interests,” but the administration’s handling of this issue shows that it places no value on diplomacy except as a tool for imposing futile punitive measures. The administration’s approach to North Korea entails a rejection of any diplomatic solution that doesn’t achieve the impossible. There is nothing about this that should make Tillerson proud, and this op-ed gives his critics another reason to be embarrassed that Tillerson remains our Secretary of State.

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4 Comments To "Tillerson and the Trump Administration’s Disdain for Diplomacy"

#1 Comment By SteveM On December 28, 2017 @ 11:29 am

After so many years at Exxon dealing with smart and savvy suppliers and customers you’d think that Tillerson’s intrinsic strategy for engagement would be win-win negotiations. His intuitive skill in that arena was no doubt a key capability that got him into the CEO chair.

The fact that Tillerson has abandoned the methods that got him so far is his professional life is another testament to the warped seductive power of the “Generals” who are almost exclusively calling the foreign policy shots.

At this point, Trump is being played as an ignorant fop by the Pentagon/Neocon apparatus. Examples:

Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, “There’s a war coming…”


And CentCom commander General Joseph Votel planning to mix it up militarily across the massive African and Eurasian land masses:


With McMaster, Kelly, Mattis and West Point Neocon Pompeo as his buffers, that is what Trump hears and apparently absorbs without question

While Tillerson is reduced to getting along by going along.


#2 Comment By rayray On December 28, 2017 @ 12:24 pm

As many smarter people than me have pointed out on this site, there is always a tremendous amount of military pressure that falls on the civilian executive in our country. Almost all of them capitulate to some degree. In the modern era, really the only one (and it was minimal, let’s be honest) that pushed back at all was Obama. Clinton, Bush, etc. were nearly complete tools of the military complex.

And Trump, who is by far the weakest, intellectually, morally, and personally, than all of the above, will prove to be their best tool.

#3 Comment By Whine Merchant On December 28, 2017 @ 4:51 pm

rayray posts: “And Trump, who is by far the weakest, intellectually, morally, and personally, than all of the above, will prove to be their best tool.”

As long as Trump gets to march at the front of the parade, he can make-believe he is their ‘leader’.

#4 Comment By Clyde Schechter On December 28, 2017 @ 7:22 pm

I think that when this administration talks about trying to use diplomacy to solve a problem, they mean having our diplomats try to persuade or bully other countries into going along with applying economic or other non-military pressure against our adversary with the aim of bludgeoning the adversary into abject submission without using armed force. And, of course, the threat of military intervention is never off the table.

Actual engagement in diplomacy with the adversary with the threat of force held in abeyance is apparently not part of their definition.