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President Donald Trump’s reckless diplomacy | Editorial

We had reservations about Rex Tillerson’s qualifications to be secretary of state but supported him because we thought President Donald Trump might listen to his steadying influence. Now that the Senate has confirmed Tillerson, we reiterate that the new administration is in dire need of someone who can convince the White House that diplomacy is important.

While the secretary of state traditionally focuses on foreign diplomacy, it first is necessary for President Trump to be diplomatic with his own citizens and his own employees. His executive order banning refugees and travelers from a list of predominantly Muslim countries provides multiple examples.

Start with Trump’s widely reported failure to adequately consult with members of his Cabinet and congressional leaders, including top Republicans. Those blind-sided reportedly included Defense Secretary James Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and possibly Tillerson himself.

Soliciting and heeding advice from people who are supposed to be your advisers might have resulted in the smoother rollout of a better-thought-out policy. While many Trump supporters in the Cabinet and Congress will overlook the president’s undiplomatic treatment in this case, there will be a finite number of times Trump can go to that well to put out the fires he keeps kindling.

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Another example: When a group of career State Department employees dissented from the executive order on immigration, Trump sent spokesman Sean Spicer out to say, “They should either get with the program or they should go.”

Not only is it the right of career State officials to challenge superiors they think are making a mistake, it is their duty to do so. Presidents who only listen to “Yes,” risk fatal blunders. Consider the damage the administration’s undiplomatic response to the career officers’ dissent might do. Tillerson, with no diplomatic experience, now takes over a department in which the employees who understand the critical nuts and bolts of foreign relations are demoralized, afraid to speak up or, for those who took Spicer’s advice, gone altogether.

Career diplomats are the ones who understand the minutiae of what is happening on the ground in hot spots and places that threaten to become hot spots. They have the personal contacts and knowledge vital to building the anti-terror networks that keep Americans safe.

Now turn to more fallout from the order: Trump’s firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Her firing was inevitable after she said she had doubts about the order’s legality and would not defend it in court. We don’t dispute Trump’s right to fire her. We doubt the wisdom of the vitriol he used in doing so. Trump said Yates had “betrayed” the Department of Justice. No, she was defending her principles, something Trump could have saluted even while dismissing her.

Because he behaved undiplomatically, Trump created a hero for the left and undermined confidence in the Justice Department’s independence.

There are more instances of Trump throwing gasoline on fires. To ensure that Neil Gorsuch is appointed to the Supreme Court, Trump prematurely urged the Senate to “go nuclear” and deny Democrats the right to filibuster. Before talk of “going nuclear,” why not try the “conventional” method of seeking 60 votes? Trump’s confrontational tactics increase pressure on Democrats to oppose a nominee they might otherwise have accepted.

If Trump can’t be diplomatic at home, it is too much to expect diplomacy abroad. While inexplicably treating Russian President Vladimir Putin with kid gloves, it’s gloves off for important allies such as Mexico and Australia, whose prime minister Trump reportedly dissed in a phone call last week. Does Trump not know that Australia is one of our closest allies and fought alongside us in Iraq and Afghanistan?

There are times when presidents need to talk tough. But there are other times when talking tough is counterproductive and reckless. In the worst-case scenario, needless aggression might cost American lives.

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Can Trump ever learn this lesson? Let’s just say — and we’re being diplomatic here — that the president desperately needs to work on that skill.


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