An Unfair Hit on Rex Tillerson

by Jim Geraghty

An Unfair Hit on Rex Tillerson

The Washington Post offers a particularly unflattering portrait of Rex Tillerson’s early days as secretary of state, with a few details that don’t pass the smell test. For starters…

Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact.

Matt Lee, the chief diplomatic writer for the Associated Press, calls BS on the implausible “no eye contact” rule: “This is not true and people repeating it are making it more difficult to address very real issues. I was told of this allegation – weeks ago – and checked it out.”

I heard through the grapevine that Tillerson has held at least one getting-to-know-you meeting with career foreign-service employees and that the event went well. Of course, not everyone’s going to instantly bond over one casual meeting with snacks, but in the eyes of the people I heard from, he was making an effort, and they appreciated it.

I’ve heard a couple key impressions through the grapevine:

1. He’s a competent manager, but running Exxon is different from running the U.S. State Department, and he recognizes that. He’s smart enough to know what he doesn’t know, and he’s listening more than he’s talking. He understands that he’s got a steep learning curve.

2. With that lack of experience in mind, he’s doing pretty well. His experience in high-level negotiations shows.

3. He’s seriously undermined by the lack of staff around him. See this week’s article about the 110 or so State Department positions that still don’t have a nomination from Trump.

Also notice the sources who offer critical quotes in the Post article:

· Representative Eliot L. Engel (D., N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee

· a foreign diplomat posted in Washington

· a senior Senate Democratic aide

· one former State Department employee

· “another official”

· “one department official”

So we’ve got one congressional Democrat, one Senate Democratic aide, one foreign diplomat, one current official, and what is likely two former State employees who worked under Kerry or Clinton. Somehow it is less than stunning that they would be critical of Tillerson.

Two sources offer quotes of praise or explanation; an unnamed senior Tillerson aide and the British ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch.

Most would agree the decision to bring only one reporter on his first foreign trip, and not to make it a “pool reporter” (acting as the reporter for all news agencies covering the State Department) was a major mistake. Informing the American public back home of what the Secretary of State is doing is part of the job. Maybe Tillerson is used to having a lower-profile, but that simply doesn’t work when you’re the country’s chief diplomat.

The Post article says Tillerson skipped the traditional meeting with American embassy employees on his first three foreign trips, another avoidable mistake . . . but he met with embassy employees in Ankara this week. Also while in Ankara, Tillerson held a surprise meeting with Norine Brunson, wife of imprisoned American Pastor Andrew Brunson – the sort of gesture that turns heads and sends a clear signal.

So, yes, he’s made some early mistakes, but he’s learning the ropes.

Above: Secretary of State Tillerson laying a wreath at the Tomb of Ataturk in Ankara, Turkey, March 30, 2017.

Surveying the Dining Habits of Married Couples…

Two reactions to the Pence marriage brouhaha that genuinely baffle me:

The claim, “I’m married, and I have one-on-one dinners with women who aren’t my wife all the time.” Er, wait, all the time? I’ll chalk this up to hyperbole. Because if it really is exceptionally rare for you to have dinner with your spouse AND instead you frequently choose to have one-on-one dinners with a member of the opposite sex . . . well, people are gonna ask, as Annie Lennox sang, “Why-y-y-y-y-y-y-y?”

To gauge actual human behavior, I used the highly scientific method of asking my Twitter followers what they did*, and a clear majority of married people answered that they either never dined alone with non-spouse, non-family members of the opposite sex or rarely did so. The view wasn’t that any dinner with a member of the opposite sex was ipso facto evidence of an affair or burgeoning sexual desire, just that it could either set up a situation for temptation or set off the rumor-mill. Surely, it’s not fair to see every non-marital table for two as culinary foreplay — a friend visits from out of town, or the rest of the crowd bails — but the situation that the Pences avoid, a situation that their critics insist is common and harmless, seems rather unusual to a lot of Americans.

One respondent said that yes, they frequently go out for dinner with members of the opposite sex . . . of course, that person is in a polyamorous relationship.

“Women lose chances at networking and promotions if married men are reluctant to have one-on-one dinners with them after work.” Wait, what? Here I’ll recognize that I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in the rough-and-tumble, sharp-elbowed working world, and so I’ll try to be circumspect, but . . . do men and women with the authority to make promotions often ask their employees to join them for dinner, one-on-one? With booze? I can’t recall that happening to me with any bosses, female or male. Maybe none of my bosses have ever thought I’d be a particularly enjoyable dinner companion.

Do bosses often hang out with one particular employee after work? One particular employee of the opposite sex? Not after-work office happy hours or group entertainment of clients or potential customers, but “let’s grab a drink and dinner together, just the two of us”?

If you feel like you have to have dinner with the boss, one-on-one, in order to be considered for a promotion . . . isn’t that bad? If it isn’t clear sexual harassment, then aren’t we driving down the street towards the neighborhood of sexual harassment?

Once again, the Twitter responses showed a pretty clear consensus. The vast majority saw two co-workers or a boss and a subordinate having lunch or coffee as considerably different than dinner. The presence of alcohol was seen as another key variable. A few said they had occasionally grabbed a drink after work with their boss, but the idea of going out as a pair instead of a group definitely set off their antennae – particularly if it happened regularly.

Look, I get work-life balance is difficult, and there’s nothing wrong with camaraderie forged during the working day occasionally crossing over into the leisure hours. If your co-workers make up part of your social circle and everybody gets along, great. But the situation that the Pence critics describe – where women yearn to have one-on-one dinners with their married male bosses, in order to increase the likelihood of a promotion – simply doesn’t seem common or “normal” to many Americans.

Similarly, if the Pences or you and your spouse choose to have similar “rules” . . . well, God bless ya if it works for you. The inner dynamics of their marriage is their business; the inner dynamics of your marriage are your business.

Notice that Mike Pence has not spent the past 15 years going around the country, campaigning for married men to never dine with a woman who isn’t their wife. (“United As One Nation, Asking for a Table for One . . . ”) I’ve never heard David and Nancy French insist that their rules for handling the challenges of his deployment to Iraq should be mandatory for everyone. Find what works for you and the love of your life. Your mileage may vary. I dine with a woman who isn’t my wife a few times a year, and strangely, the women never find themselves overcome with raw passionate desire in my presence. They must have unbelievable self-control.

Our Charlie Cooke: “If you read the Post’s story in full, you’ll see that Mike Pence believes that, in Karen, he has a great thing going. For knowing himself well enough to avoid screwing that good thing up, he should be praised by the culture, not mocked and maligned. There’s a decency at play there. There’s a humility, too. Good for the vice president. He’s made his vows, and he’s sure as hell gonna keep ‘em.”

* Yes, I know this is the opposite of highly-scientific.

ADDENDA: The American Enterprise Institute’s Andy Smarick points out why the Trump administration is having such a hard time filling jobs in the cabinet agencies: too many conflicting criteria for potential candidates. Applicants have to pass the Trump team’s stringent loyalty test, have substantial experience in policy so as to add value to the department’s work, be aligned with the administration’s philosophy, not have disqualifying things in his or her background; and be willing to serve in this administration. Even worse, a sixth criterion is emerging.

After a long hiatus, the pop culture podcast returns, with a happy ending to a missing pet story, the unmentioned dangers of home improvement projects, the countdown to the return of Twin Peaks, and a discussion of how the show mixed our fears of evil both otherworldly and mundane . . . 

 . . . a hint about a future project, long in the works . . . 

 . . . the engrossing, relentless tension of HBO’s Big Little Lies . . . 

 . . . and how the E! network’s vacuous inanity can become strangely soothing.

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty