For much of 2017, much of the world has watched Secretary of State Rex Tillerson slowly hollow out the U.S. State Department, but even for those who've followed the developments closely, the New York Times' latest report on this was striking.
It began by noting that Bill Miller, the cabinet agency's chief of security, seemed to be the kind of official Tillerson would want to keep around -- at least in theory.
But in his first nine months in office, Mr. Tillerson turned down repeated and sometimes urgent requests from the department's security staff to brief him, according to several former top officials in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Finally, Mr. Miller, the acting assistant secretary for diplomatic security, was forced to cite the law's requirement that he be allowed to speak to Mr. Tillerson.Mr. Miller got just five minutes with the secretary of state, the former officials said. Afterward, Mr. Miller, a career Foreign Service officer, was pushed out, joining a parade of dismissals and early retirements that has decimated the State Department's senior ranks.
The picture painted by the Times is alarmingly bleak. Senior Foreign Service officers are leaving in droves; career diplomats and civil servants are being bought out; and Tillerson and his team have forced many to resign "by refusing them the assignments they wanted or taking away their duties altogether."
In some cases, some diplomats returning from high-level assignments, have been ordered to "spend months performing mind-numbing clerical functions beside unpaid interns."
For most observers, all of this is simply baffling. The secretary of state's principal responsibility is to oversee the nation's diplomatic efforts, and yet, Donald Trump's chief diplomat appears determined to undermine his own department's capacity. In a rather literal sense, it defies explanation.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently wrote, "The purposeful gutting of American power abroad is mystifying. If you didn't know better, you'd think some rival government was running our foreign policy."
But this isn't a situation in which the political world should be satisfied with the ambiguity. If it's now painfully obvious Trump World is deliberately hollowing out the State Department, and it seems more than fair to say it is, the time has come for a discussion about why.
Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, the head of the Foreign Service Association, recently published a distress call of sorts in the Foreign Service Journal, documenting in detail just how severe conditions have become at the State Department.
"As the shape and extent of the staffing cuts to the Foreign Service at State become clearer," Stephenson wrote, "I believe we must shine a light on these disturbing trends and ask 'why?' and 'to what end?' ... Why such a focus on slashing staffing at State? Why such a focus on decapitating leadership? How do these actions serve the stated agenda of making the State Department stronger?"
Her piece added, "Remember, nine in ten Americans favor a strong global leadership role for our great country, and we know from personal experience that such leadership is unthinkable without a strong professional Foreign Service deployed around the world protecting and defending America's people, interests and values. Where then, does the impetus come from to weaken the American Foreign Service? Where is the mandate to pull the Foreign Service team from the field and forfeit the game to our adversaries?"
These need not be rhetorical questions. I'm reminded anew of something Rachel said on the show a few weeks ago:
"If you think about it, ideologically, we know why the Trump administration is eviscerating the EPA, right? Ideologically, we know why the Trump administration is emptying out the Education Department. Ideologically, we know why they put a guy like Ben Carson in charge of Housing and Urban Development, whereupon he promptly hired Eric Trump's wedding planner to run that whole part of the federal government in the northeastern United States, right?"If you don't believe in protecting health and safety, or in protecting the environment, or in helping the poor, or in ensuring safe housing for all Americans, or in public education, if you don't believe in any of those things -- they don't believe in any of those things -- then sure, a Trump administration is going to do whatever they can to dismantle, discredit, even corrupt the agencies who are tasked with doing that work. They're burning them down because they don't think they should exist. At least we knew that they're going to do that."What's the ideological interest, what's the Republican, even Trumpian interest behind eliminating the ability of the United States to project power around the world and to get our way with other countries, and to uphold our standing among nations? Who ideologically wants that?"
I don't know why Donald Trump chose Tillerson to be Secretary of State. I've never understood the value in having Vladimir Putin's closest American ally in charge of U.S. diplomacy. I can't explain why this administration is determined to cut the State Department off at its knees.
But for all of our interests, it's incumbent on the political world to find out.