March 31, 2017

For Tillerson, Showing Up at NATO Isn’t Enough

Featuring Julianne Smith and Jim Townsend

Bowing to outside pressure, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to attend his first meeting with NATO’s foreign ministers on Friday. But that was not his initial plan. Scheduling problems originally gave the secretary of state two bad options: go to NATO and miss Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States (not good, given criticism that he is already turning into a no-show secretary) or stay home and send acting Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Shannon (sending the signal, “I see enough of you guys and NATO is a second tier priority”).

These scheduling conflicts happen all the time and usually get worked out. But here’s the kicker — NATO offered new dates and the State Department initially said no thanks. That message from Tillerson — essentially, “I’ll see you after my trip to Moscow” — got everyone riled up. The Swamp rose up as one in protest and sent Tillerson a strong counter message: You don’t see allies only after you’ve seen the Russians!

A few hours later State backed down. And so Tillerson will be in Brussels this Friday, no doubt miffed and with hat in hand. The lesson here is that leadership means showing up. While other ministers can opt out, that is not an option for the United States.

Read the full article at Foreign Policy.

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