U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been doing real diplomacy lately, from the G-20 summit to his personal mediation mission to the Persian Gulf. At the same time, there’s progress to report on his ambitious project to transform the State Department into a more focused and efficient institution.
After a rocky start that saw him either sidelined by the White House or out of step with it on major issues, Tillerson has been looking more and more like a normal secretary of state in recent days. At the G-20 summit and the high-profile bilateral meetings that took place in Germany, he served as the senior diplomatic adviser to the president. Then he was off to the Middle East on a Kerry-esque personal diplomatic mission to cajole the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders to make peace with each other. This is a notable change from his exceptionally quiet and cautious performance to date.
Of equal importance, although it hasn’t made as many headlines, is a milestone in his ambitious plan to reform the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and to redefine the mission of those partner institutions. A new report he commissioned summarizes the views of over 30,000 employees on the concerns they have about diplomatic life and bureaucratic dysfunction in general, the challenges they face in doing their jobs, and the hopes and worries they have about Tillerson’s leadership in particular.