Tillerson takes the helm in Foggy Bottom: three commentaries not from the mainstream media

Updated 20 January 2017

From the same Pearls and Irritations blog as the items below and on related subjects are former diplomats Richard Butler on Trump and nuclear weapons and Mack Williams on the South China Sea. (Butler is one of Honest History’s distinguished supporters.)

From Inside Story is another related piece, by John Fitzgerald of Swinburne University, on the new threat to an international rules-based order and the implications for Australia. This is a long and thoughtful article, worth a close read.


That eye-catching headline above is to draw readers’ attention to three recent posts on the Pearls and Irritations blog regarding the confirmation hearings of Rex Tillerson, Trump nominee for US Secretary of State. Anyone who runs the show in Foggy Bottom (the part of Washington where the Department of State resides) should be of interest to Australian readers and these pieces make some points which may not have emerged from other channels.

Former senior diplomat Tony Kevin points out that, despite Tillerson’s belligerence about the South China Sea, ‘a US Secretary of State has no more authority to send naval ships into Chinese-claimed waters than Julie Bishop would have authority to send the RAN there’.

Former ABC correspondent Walter Hamilton summarises Tillerson’s remarks on trade, multilateral agreements, climate change, and current conflicts, and suggests the nominee ‘came across as a calm, well-prepared, quietly self-confident individual’, somewhat in contrast to Trump.

Tillerson and [Defense Secretary-designate] Mattis’s backgrounds have equipped them with the necessary skills to negotiate safer pathways, much more, certainly, than someone who prefers to think in 140 characters or less. If this amounts to a “don’t panic” rather than a “don’t worry” reassurance, the distinction is still worth making.

Barrister and commentator James O’Neill looks at some commentary on the Tillerson Show, including from Paul Keating (and some of the history) and has some hopes for Tillerson because of his ‘formidable competence, calmness and negotiating skills’.

Blind adherence to the US does not serve Australia’s national interest [says O’Neill, echoing Keating]. If Tillerson’s reported remarks on Russia and China are reflected in actual policy post 20 January 2017 then we are moving into even more dangerous times. A fundamental rethink of our [Australian] foreign policy is long overdue.

Pearls and Irritations is a blog wrangled by John Menadue, former senior public servant. John Menadue is one of Honest History’s distinguished supporters. Honest History vice president, Alison Broinowski, has a chapter on foreign policy futures in The Honest History Book (forthcoming)

18 January 2017

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