As media outlets and observers try to put together a “doctrine” out of President Donald Trump’s actions during his young tenure in the White House, the role of the State Department in shaping said doctrine has remained elusive.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has presided over a department apparently hesitant to address the press while seemingly eager to contradict statements out of the White House or other agencies of the executive government. Below are seven of the strangest, most contradictory, and often baffling statements and actions from the State Department and the nation’s top diplomat.
U.S. Denies Millions in Funding to Egypt over ‘Human Rights’ Concerns
Following the publication of a Reuters report on the matter, the State Department confirmed on Tuesday it would withhold $95.7 million in aid to Egypt, threatening to hold back another $195 million, allegedly due to concerns that the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has limited the operation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Egypt. Most of this money would have gone to funding anti-terrorism campaigns by the U.S. military.
Sisi has taken a hard line against radical Islamic terrorism and become one of the most prominent faces in Trump’s growing coalition of Sunni governments against ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other such groups. During his visit to the White House in April, Sisi referred to Islamism as a “satanic ideology” and told Trump, “You’ll find me supporting you very strongly and very earnestly in finding a solution to the problem of the century.”
The State Department’s decision to withdraw funding follows the confirmation of a visit by Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Muslim advocates to the department.
State Department Welcomes Muslim Brotherhood-Linked Group
Last week, the State Department confirmed to Breitbart News that it welcomed members of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), an umbrella organization that includes organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), to discuss Israel with Trump administration officials.
CAIR has been declared a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates and was named by federal prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas-funding operation. It is a member group of the USCMO.
“The group was interested in U.S. policy on Jerusalem given events on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif last month, and met a cross-section of working level officials from different offices in the Department,” the State Department confirmed.
The move alarmed anti-Islamist activists who had protested the presence of Muslim Brotherhood-linked individuals at the White House during the tenure of President Barack Obama. Those who opposed Muslim Brotherhood influence in the White House had hoped the Trump administration would reverse these policies and even possibly brand the group a terrorist organization, as nations like Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia.
Instead, the State Department has withheld millions in aid from one of these nations, Egypt, claiming human rights concerns.
Tillerson Soft of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran During Confirmation Hearing
The first America heard of Rex Tillerson as a candidate for secretary of state, at his confirmation hearing in January, left many wondering how Tillerson would fit into the Trump administration worldview. He refused to describe Vladimir Putin, architect of the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, as a “war criminal.” He stood up against sanctions and in defense of multi-million-dollar corporations, stating, “When sanctions are imposed, they, by their design, are going to harm American business.”
Perhaps his most egregious answers regarding his potential to compromise human rights were in response to concerns regarding Saudi Arabia. “Saudi Arabia certainly does not share the same values of America,” Tillerson told the panel, after being asked if he considered the nation a “human rights violator.” “However, American interests have been advocating in Saudi Arabia for some time and I think the question is, what is the pace of progress that should be expected for the KSA to advance rights to women and others in the country?”
In response to violent crackdowns on dissidents in Saudi Arabia, Tillerson lamented to the Senate that “people who speak up for freedom in regimes” are often “threats” to that regime.
Tillerson Signs Climate Change Provisions, Including Commitment to Paris Agreement
In May, shortly before President Trump’s announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, Secretary Tillerson signed the Arctic Council’s third binding agreement to strive to protect the Arctic region—which included recognition of the Paris Agreement. The signatories, Tillerson included, noted “the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change and its implementation, and [reiterated] the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.”
The Arctic Council’s objective is to facilitate research on how climate change affects the Arctic and how to best protect it.
In his statement announcing the nation’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Trump stated, “The agreement doesn’t eliminate coal jobs, it just transfers those jobs out of America and the United States, and ships them to foreign countries. This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States.”
State Department Refusing to Withdraw Presence in Cuba After Sonic Attacks
In one of the stranger, if not unpredictable, diplomatic incidents involving Americans this month, the State Department confirmed that a number of American diplomats have suffered severe medical symptoms in Cuba including loss of hearing and concussion-like symptoms as a result of what has been dubbed a “sonic attack” against the diplomats. Investigators have concluded that the use of a highly sophisticated machine that sends out dangerous sonic signals that human ear cannot pick up hurt as many as ten Americans and another untold number of Canadian diplomats. It is the latest in a long and unfortunate history of communist Cuban officials harassing, poisoning, and otherwise assailing American government personnel.
Despite Cuba’s reputation for attacking American diplomats and President Trump’s vow to undo the calamitous Obama-era policies on Cuba that put the diplomats on the island in the first place, the State Department appears confident that the Cuban government will be able to investigate itself and find the culprit, and has confirmed it has no plans to shut down the U.S. embassy in Havana.
“I can tell you that our embassy there in Havana is fully operational,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert confirmed when the story broke this month.
Tillerson to North Korea Following Missile Test: ‘We Are Not Your Enemy’
Following North Korea’s most recent missile test—believed to have been of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)—the Trump administration made clear with stern language that the consistent violation of UN sanctions and threats to use nuclear weapons on U.S. soil were unacceptable. President Trump himself warned China that it had insufficiently acted to contain the threat. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley scolded the Security Council for its inaction, warning that an emergency meeting was “worse than nothing, because it sends the message to the North Korean dictator that the international community is unwilling to seriously challenge him.”
Inexplicably, Tillerson chose this time to send a message to North Korea, arguably the most repressive regime in the world, that Americans “do not seek a regime change” and the Trump Administration “are not your enemy.”
Tillerson told reporters he hoped to “begin to have a dialogue” with Kim Jong-un “about the future that will give them the security they seek.”
Tillerson: Trump ‘and I Have Differences of Views’ on Iran Deal
During that same press conference, Tillerson told reporters that he disagreed with President Trump on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal brokered by predecessor John Kerry.
“He and I have differences of views on things like JCPOA and how we should use it,” he argued. “I think if we’re not having those differences, I’m not sure I’m serving him.”
Tillerson offered that the deal is “an agreement that should serve America’s interests first and foremost.”
President Trump had recently recertified the nuclear deal, as required every 90 days, though reports suggested he was waiting for more concrete evidence that Iran was violating the deal to end it for good. Reports suggested that some concerns have arisen about the fact that the Obama administration frontloaded all the concessions to Iran in the deal, so canceling it now would grant Iran these concessions and only remove the oversight the deal requires.
Despite this concern, President Trump repeatedly derided the Iran deal as a “terrible agreement” and argued that Iran “lost respect” for the United States after the deal was signed. Trump again asserted, “I don’t think they’re living up to the spirit of the agreement,” a week after Tillerson’s comments.