Report

State Department Reorganization Eliminates Climate, Muslim and Syria Envoys

Rex Tillerson outlines a major State Department reform that promotes business, war on Islamic State, while downplaying African peacemaking and outreach to Muslim world.

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 02: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson leaves a closed briefing at the U.S. Capitol with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee August 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee was briefed on 'The Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Administration Perspective.
  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 02: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson leaves a closed briefing at the U.S. Capitol with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee August 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee was briefed on 'The Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Administration Perspective. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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.

Photo credit: MARK WILSON/Getty Images

 

 

 

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

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