Draining the Swamp Requires Changing America’s Role in the World
Unless Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Trump articulate a vision to the American people of a reduced U.S. footprint in the world, their plans to drain Tillerson’s domain of “the Swamp” will never gain the political support to accomplish more than slight trims.
In addition to the leftist media (which attacks anyone who remains cordial with Trump), Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has come under continual fire from career diplomats and foreign policy experts for threatening to slash the State Department’s budget. Both he and Trump advocate cutting the Department’s budget by over 30 percent, and laying off 8 percent of its workforce. To prudent conservatives, this sounds drastic, to libertarians — fantastic.
From 2007 to 2017, the State Department’s budget increased by 60 percent, to $55.6 billion. Tillerson’s budget request for 2018, a much more modest $37.6 billion, he says, “aligns with the administration’s objective of making America’s security our top priority.”
In addition for the obvious issue he and Trump often have of disagreeing on approach and policy, Tillerson has caught enormous flack from the media for his efforts to carry out his boss’s wishes to cut spending. USA Today ran an editorial on December 7, entitled, “Tillerson must go.” On the same day, international politics professor Daniel Drezner argued the same thing in the Washington Post, citing lack of accomplishment and falling morale at the Department that Tillerson hopes to reduce. Only a week before, a false news story that Trump would soon replace Tillerson with the more hawkish CIA director Mike Pompeo died, only with a tweet by the president calling it “fake news.”
“Drain the Swamp!” made for a popular rallying cry for Trump supporters in 2016. But in a two party-country, any political “revolution” must make its bed with one of the parties, and that requires action once the revolutionaries attain power. The “Swamp” includes more than just the Department of Health and Human Services — which I dare say many Republicans would miss if they knew what would evaporate if Congress dispatched it to the dustbin of bureaucratic infamy. The Swamp also includes the State Department, which ties directly to the Right’s favorite bureaucracy — the military.
Former President George W. Bush’s ambassador to NATO R Nicholas Burns told The Dallas Morning News that Tillerson’s 31 percent budget cut “would cripple our diplomacy worldwide.”
“Their essential argument is, we will be stronger if we are smaller,” he said, “and nearly everyone on Capitol Hill disagrees.” [Italics in original]
Burns lamented that “the Trump White House now has an ideological litmus test for career people.” But unless “nearly everyone on Capitol Hill” thought “Drain the Swamp” was a rallying cry that the Trump campaign promoted among the masses to gain political power, it wouldn’t make sense to fill bureaucracies with people who don’t think they should shrink — to shrink them.
After the meddling that the George Soros-allied U.S. State Department has engaged in since the end of the Cold War, it sounds refreshing to hear that part of the lack of Foreign Service appointments owes in part to Trump’s unwillingness to appoint seasoned bureaucrats who don’t share his America First vision. But swamp-draining success for this administration will come only if Trump advocates for an ideological shift, rather than simple pragmatic, fiscal conservatism.
Tillerson deserves commendation for taking such a bold step in his first year as Secretary of State. Slashing more than 2,000 bureaucrats in one year and cutting a federal department with a budget larger than 80 percent of the states is no simple feat, and would understandably face outrage from career diplomats, civil “servants,” politicians, and those who support a federal government that lavishly supports all of the above. But without a clear denunciation of the outsized role most Americans have come to expect from their State Department, his cuts will fail politically, like the Obama administration’s cuts to the military during the 2011 sequestration.
If Trump and Tillerson get serious about cutting down the District of Columbia’s political class, the country can cut taxes, while shrinking its debt. But that requires both political will power and a clear vision. Trump has demonstrated that he has no problem drumming up the former, but the president’s Achilles’s heel from his days as a campaigner has remained a lack of the latter. Trump should clearly explain to the American people that shrinking the State Department requires more than trimming waste, but also shrinking the Department’s global role, by eliminating advocacy and philanthropy on behalf of foreign peoples. He would easily win the argument because most Americans simply don’t realize that their State Department’s budget exceeds that of nearly all the states’ budgets.
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