Say Nothing When Speaking

The most important position in the United States government isn’t that of President, but rather Secretary of State. Chief diplomat of, arguably, the world’s most powerful nation is not a job you screw around with…it is, after all, a legacy begun by Thomas Jefferson*.

From the very beginning, US foreign policy was world impacting. What we now consider American influence began during Jefferson’s stint as Secretary of State, although on a much more muted scale than now (but remember…the world was, politically, a much smaller place in 1790). Jefferson orchestrated the first ‘take sides’ when he, as the United States, backed France over Britain during the Anglo-French escalation in 1793. Incidentally, that, plus his own feelings over the Jay Treaty in 1795 (after he’d resigned as Secretary of State) led Jefferson to decide that the best foreign policy was “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” America’s foreign policy precedent of isolation was a direct result of Jefferson’s policies, and lasted through the mid-20th century.

Although the United States had a marginal influence on international relations beginning with the Washington administration, it didn’t really become a true world power until after the First World War. Although it retreated into a form of isolationism after the Treaty of Versailles, the US still maintained a certain prestige on the international stage. The country wasn’t quite ready for the kind of international influence it’d hold in 1945, and proved that by rejecting the League of Nations, however European leaders still looked to the US during the 20s and 30s both for advice, and as a calming influence during the rise of various populist and fascist movements in France, Spain, Italy and Germany, and the United States was a moderate influence regarding Communist Russia when the Roosevelt administration reversed the Wilson policy by recognising them in 1933. Once war started, again, in 1939, Britain and Russia both looked to the United States for whatever help they could give…this came in the form of the Lend-Lease Act, signed into law in 1941, which lent arms to the UK and Russia with the understanding the United States would be paid back after the defeat of the Axis.

After the Second World War, the lines of the world were fundamentally altered. The United States could no longer live in a bubble. US troops, and administrative assistance, were deeply entrenched in the restructuring of central Europe; and with the creation of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, NATO and various other post-war organisations, the idea of isolationism in a nuclear age was laughable. Instead, the United States spent the next 70 years acting as a a diplomatic force to be reckoned with. Through US diplomatic intervention wars were avoided, humanitarian aid delivered, and nuclear war deterred.

It seems, however, the current President-Elect has neglected (or refused) to remember and respect that history, and instead has chosen to consider the most improper nominee for Secretary of States since, possibly, Bainbridge Colby.

So here’s the problem with the CEO of a multinational oil company being tapped as the next Secretary of States…it just won’t work. First, the kind of international political negotiations a CEO practices is, solely, in the benefit of their own pocketbook. Nominating a man whose business interests involve direct ties with foreign governments undermines, not only, US diplomatic authority, but it also undermines the ability of the US government to criticise others over human rights, trade, and corruption violations. For example: when your chief diplomat makes billions a year raping the earth, your influence on others not to do the same is pretty much non-existent.

The next Secretary of State will face far tougher choices than Jefferson’s to back France over Britain, Robert Lansing’s not to support the League of Nations, Bainbridge Colby’s not to recognise Communist Russia, and Cordell Hall’s entire tenure. Just as communism, then globalism, changed the face of foreign policy, so to is religious extremism in the Middle East and the shifting of world power to the East. The next Secretary of State will inherit a smorgasbord of potential disasters in Iran, Syria, China, Taiwan, the South China Sea, Russia, Eastern Europe, and the unforeseen ones caused by climate change.

What the US needs is someone with some serious diplomatic chops…someone who breathes concessions and compromise, and knows the difference between escalation for escalations sake and escalation for conciliatory sake. What the US needs is someone who feels comfortable arguing with an ambassador, a foreign leader, and even his boss.

What the US needs is someone who can placate and scold in equal measure, but does so for the good of the United States, the good of the world, and not for the benefit of themselves, or the personal preferences of the President of the United States.

*Technically, John Jay was the first Secretary of State…after being the second Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1784-1789 under the Articles of Confederation. When the Articles were repealed and replaced with the Constitution, Jay served as Secretary of State from September 1789 to March 1790. He initiated a great number of, what would become, diplomatic ties for the brand new United States…but considering the government he served under was repealed and replaced with a whole new government, we’re gonna give him honourable mention, and consider Thomas Jefferson the first actual Secretary of State.


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