On his first day, the new boss at the State Department told employees that they must work together as a team.
Rex Tillerson, the Exxon Mobil chief executive tapped by President Donald Trump to carry out his foreign policy vision, must hope his own boss sees him as a player, too.
Tillerson took charge at State on a day when reports swirled about Trump’s unconventional introductory conversations with some world leaders, from his remarks to the Mexican president about “bad hombres” and sending the U.S. military over the border, to abruptly ending a call with the Australian prime minister when it turned disagreeable about refugees. The president also tweeted that Iran was “put on notice” about testing a ballistic missile.
Trump was elected partly because of his unorthodox approach to the process of governing and making policy. But “undiplomatic” now is being redefined. And he is heading down a worrisome path. Inexperienced in international affairs, he mistakenly is narrowing the sources of his advice and the vetting of his decisions to a small circle of iconoclasts.
As a result, Tillerson and other Cabinet members, such as Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, were kept in the dark about the details of the disastrous immigration order rolled out last Friday night. And Trump is letting one person, chief strategist Stephen Bannon, amass an enormous amount of power, even allowing him to reshape the National Security Council. Bannon, a political operative, now has a permanent seat on the NSC while the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff may attend when their expertise is needed or their departments are involved. That’s a standard that could marginalize them and keep valuable and experienced voices out of important deliberations.
Tillerson will have the same challenges and rivalries within the Oval Office that faced both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who headed the State Department in the Obama administration. But it was always clear that their advice was valued and that the State Department spoke to the world on foreign policy. While Tillerson is on Trump’s team, it remains to be seen whether he makes it into the starting lineup. — The editorial board