As it becomes increasingly likely that Rex Tillerson – Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State – will gain confirmation from the Senate, the State Department which Tillerson looks set to take over is witnessing a purge of its higher ranks.
During a visit by Tillerson to the State Department building in Foggy Botton the four most senior members of its management team all announced their resignations after being asked to quit (earlier claims that they resigned of their own accord are apparently untrue).
The four senior officials who have gone are Patrick Kennedy, Under Secretary of State for Management, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Ambassador Gentry Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions.
Another senior State Department official who is going is Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.
Nuland is a rigid neocon, notorious for her role in the Maidan coup, during which she posed handing out cookies to anti-government protesters in Kiev’s Maidan Square, and who – to the US government’s intense embarrassment – was caught (probably by Russian intelligence) speaking on the telephone with US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt picking Arseniy Yatsenyuk for the post of Ukraine’s Prime Minister. The wife of the arch-neocon intellectual Robert Kagan – who supported Hillary Clinton in the US election – and a former protege of George W. Bush’s Vice-President Dick Cheney, Nuland’s departure will be welcomed not just in Moscow but in other European capitals where she has become notorious for her abrasiveness.
Whilst Nuland’s removal from the State Department was essential if Trump and Tillerson are truly serious about carrying out their declared policy of seeking detente with Russia, the fact that so many other senior officials are being caught up in what is increasingly looking like a comprehensive clearing out of the State Department’s top leadership is a sign that Trump and Tillerson are determined to get a proper grip on the US’s sprawling foreign policy bureaucracy.
It will not have escaped their notice that Obama’s hapless Secretary of State – John Kerry – faced active sabotage from some of his officials, 51 of whom last June went so far as to sign a memorandum openly disagreeing with Kerry’s policy of talking about Syria with Russia, which they then promptly leaked to The New York Times.
The New York Times agreed not to publish the names of these officials as a condition for reporting the leak. It would be interesting to know whether any of them are amongst those now being forced to resign.
A key difference between Trump and Tillerson and the previous team of Obama, Hillary Clinton and Kelly is that as businessmen and CEOs both Trump and Tillerson are experienced managers of large organisations. This is something that Obama, Kerry and Hillary Clinton – all lawyers – never were.
As experienced managers Trump and Tillerson know the need to work with one’s own people in order to get the job done, and they are putting that knowledge into action.