Rex Tillerson outlines a major State Department reform that promotes business, war on Islamic State, while downplaying African peacemaking and outreach to Muslim world.
- By Colum LynchColum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter., Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined a major reorganization of the State Department, eliminating a raft of special envoy posts established to reach out to Muslim communities, support anti-government fighters in Syria, and curb the environmental devastation wrought by global warming. In a letter to Bob Corker, the Chairman of the of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Tillerson cited concern about the proliferation of 70 special envoys positions in recent decades, including positions set up years ago to promote peace in Ireland and restore diplomatic relations with Burma.
“I believe the department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative office within the regional and functional bureaus, and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose,” Tillerson wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Foreign Policy. “I have determined that the changes proposed will advance U.S. national security interests, and will help counter the influence of U.S. adversaries and competitors.
The changes reflected the changing priorities of an administration that has sought to sharply reducing funding and resources for American diplomacy while channelling a greater share of American taxpayer money into the military. In total, 36 of the 66 current envoys or special representatives will be eliminated or folded back into other bureaus within the State Department.
For instance, the plan calls for eliminating special advisors that champion rights for the disabled, promote peace in Africa, and seek the closure of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The U.S. Special Representative to Muslim Communities and the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation, which includes the world’s Islamic states, will also be eliminated.
The reorganization, however, will leave certain posts intact, including the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, the Special Representative for North Korea Policy, the presidential envoy responsible for building the anti-Islamic State military coalition, and the Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs.
The administration also plans to retain envoys on religious freedom, LGBT rights, war crimes, American hostages, and anti-semitism — all issues critics have accused Trump of undermining. However, those positions will be integrated into larger bureaus in the department. One special envoy post from the Office of Global Food Security, will be transferred to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
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