Dan Drezner wonders what Tillerson is trying to accomplish at State:
What, however, is he trying to do as the head of it? How is he making it a better organization? Does he understand how the secretary of state exercises influence in the world? Every single step he has taken appears to weaken and undermine the very department he heads. I simply do not understand why he is in charge of the State Department.
I see why Drezner finds Tillerson’s behavior baffling. It is baffling if we assume that he is trying to make the State Department a more effective, influential department. That is traditionally what most Cabinet appointees try to do for the departments they lead, if only because this makes them appear successful, but it clearly isn’t what interests Tillerson. Remember that this is a job that he didn’t really want, and it is one that Trump offered to Tillerson without knowing much about him. He took the job out of some commitment to public service, but he wasn’t suited for it and a better president wouldn’t have offered it to him.
Tillerson seems more interested in eliminating large parts of the department and making it as unappealing a place to work as possible because he and many others in the administration, especially the president, don’t think that the department does anything worthwhile in the first place. Trump obviously doesn’t think much of diplomacy or diplomats, and Tillerson appears to be happy to indulge that disdain. Ever since Tillerson endorsed the White House budget that proposed to gut his department, it has been pretty clear that he is there to hollow it out and make it as dysfunctional as he can. If so, it’s working, and the U.S. will be paying the price for this willful neglect for a long while.
One problem with Tillerson’s total lack of foreign policy and government experience is that he doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, but another is that he has little or no sympathy for or interest in what the State Department does. Because he doesn’t know (and probably doesn’t care) about a lot of the diplomatic work that the department does, he probably deems it wasteful and unnecessary, and because he mostly isn’t listening to the people that work in the department he never hears from anyone that will tell him why he’s wrong.