When President Trump announced the decision to pick a Sec State from Exxon, bringing private sector talent to the country’s foremost institution of diplomatic power, many were skeptical. I shared those concerns–but one friend pushed back, wondering why someone with business background couldn’t succeed in such an important position at the top of government service? I decided to withhold judgement, to give him a chance.

Time has proved Tillerson to be a very weak Secretary. Dan Drezner writes today in WaPo, and it’s even worse than many imagined:

Spoiler Alerts has written a fair amount about Tillerson’s incompetence and ineffectiveness as secretary of state. He was so incompetent that I called for him to resign in August. I would wager that everything I said in that column holds with greater force today. His influence within the administration waned over time. His proposed redesign of the State Department was botched, and botched badly. His incompetent management of Foggy Bottom helped trigger an exodus of seasoned Foreign Service officers and crushed morale among the remaining diplomats. It seemed as though he could not visit a region without saying something that offended his hosts. There is no signature idea or doctrine or accomplishment that Tillerson can point to as part of his legacy. He was woefully unprepared for the job on Day One and barely moved down the learning curve. His incompetence undercut his ability to advance any worthwhile policy instinct.

via “Five Thoughts on the Firing of Rex Tillerson

Drezner quotes Peter Baker and Gardiner Harris who pile on, too:

But perhaps the most puzzling part of Mr. Tillerson’s tenure was his poor oversight of the State Department. As a former top business executive, his managerial skills were thought to be his chief asset.

But he failed to quickly pick a trusted team of leaders, left many critical departments without direction and all but paralyzed crucial decision making in the department.

He approved one global conclave in Washington just eight days before the event was to start, ensuring that few leaders from around the world were able to attend. He rarely sat for comprehensive briefings with many of his top diplomats and often failed to consult the State Department’s experts on countries before visiting.

Foreign diplomats — starting with the British and the French — said Mr. Tillerson neither returned phone calls or, with much advance warning, set up meetings with his counterparts. Strategic dialogues with many nations, including nuclear weapons powers like Pakistan, were ended without explanation.

via NYT

Some like David Frum, wonder about the connection between the timing of Tillerson’s firing and the Russia criticisms. Others are parsing the personnel aftermath, wondering what this means for the globalists v nationalist street fight amidst Trump’s appointments. Meanwhile, State Department staff have been told to “freeze further amplification of content that features (Secretary Tillerson)“–which may be the strangest line of all in a Twitter-driven Presidency.

“I think he really will go down as one of the worst secretaries of State we’ve had,” Eliot Cohen, counselor to the State Department under President George W. Bush, told Axios’s Jonathan Swan. “He will go down as the worst Secretary of State in history,” tweeted Ilan Goldenberg, an Obama-era State Department official. [Vox]

Illustration by Matt Wuerker, Politico


How The Middle East Got That Way: Fromkin Used History to Explain Politics

If you haven’t read A Peace to End All Peace, add it to your summer reading list immediately. David Fromkin, a professor of International Relations at Boston University is a prolific author and scholar whose book provides a historical look at the creation of the modern Middle East–with an eye toward geography, conflict, and the decisions taken post-WWI the shaped the regions storied history.

In a Foreign Affairs review of the book, John C. Campbell writes that “Fromkin’s history is made by men rather than impersonal forces.”


Fromkin wrote about other seminal issues in 20th century international relations, such as the origins of the Great War, post-war relations and reconstruction, and the fate of key theoretical constructs such as idealism and realism, as embodied in institutions and programs:

In 1995, he wrote “In the Time of the Americans: F.D.R., Truman, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur — the Generation That Changed America’s Role in the World,” in which he argued that after World War II Americans were given a rare second chance to correct the shortcomings of Woodrow Wilson’s one-world idealism.

As Richard Reeves wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “The United Nations is Wilsonian; NATO represents the kind of big-power peace enforcement envisioned by T.R.”Among Professor Fromkin’s other books were “Europe’s Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?” (2004), which the journalist Avedis Hadjian, writing for CNN.com, called “a fast-paced, gripping guide through the complex set of reasons and emotions that led to the 20th century’s seminal conflict”; and “The King and the Cowboy: Theodore Roosevelt and Edward the Seventh, Secret Partners” (2008).

Geek out with the Architecture of Legislative Bodies.

Of course the UN General Assembly Hall is recognizable, but what does its semi-circle shape mean? Apparently, its one of the oldest–and a neoclassical go to for fostering consensus and democratic engagement.

The architecture of a legislative body tells a lot about how governance works in each respective body. A new book by Max Cohen de Lara and David Mulder van der Vegt explains, including their methodology:

To answer that question, we spent six years collecting the architectural layout for each one of those buildings. We’ve published our findings in our book “Parliament.” By comparing these plans in detail, we wanted to understand how a political culture is both shaped by and expressed through architecture. Organized as a lexicon, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the book for the first time allows a comparison of all national parliaments in the world.We found a clear pattern. Although each of the 193 United Nations member states has a parliament of some kind — albeit with varying degrees of democracy — their plenary chambers have a very limited number of shapes. Most surprisingly, these buildings have hardly changed since the 19th century.

Source: These 5 architectural designs influence every legislature in the world — and tell you how each governs – The Washington Post

The regional parliament of Nordrhein Westphalia, Germany

Also, don’t miss the website for the book, Parliament, to see schematics of a number of UN Member State’s legislative body, and even the UN in Geneva and interactive photos, facts, and more. Great stuff for policy geeks, parliamentarians, and designers interested in civic engagement and proxemics.


Ranking Diplomatic Networks 

Brazil ranks no. 7. China some in third, France second, and the U.S. is number one in a ranking all other G20/OECD nations. Kudos to the Lowy Institute, Australia’s leading think tank for creating this interactive visualization of diplomatic connections. Have fun exploring connections.

The Global Diplomacy Index visualises the diplomatic networks of all G20 and OECD nations, allowing users to view and compare some of the most significant diplomatic networks in the world. The interactive map highlights gaps and concentrations in diplomatic networks, and indicates strengths and weaknesses in geographic coverage and geopolitical reach. The Index ranks each nation in terms of its diplomatic network against other G20 and OECD member nations, and allows users to select and compare countries’ diplomatic networks, as well as diplomatic representations by city.



The Agency of Multilateral Organizations | Duck of Minerva

Can governments make IGOs do their bidding? To sum up, Tana Johnson of Duke and author of Organizational Progeny: Why Governments are Losing Control over the Proliferating Structures of Global Governance (does that give away the answer?):

In short: just as competitive politics and checks-and-balances are widely considered desirable at the domestic level, they have a role to play at the international level too. That’s especially true on a crowded planet where many of our most severe problems and most treasured aims don’t neatly coincide with lines on a map. Seen this way, international bureaucrats inject healthy competition in international politics, making it less likely that national government officials will grow too complacent or narrow in speaking for the interests of the public.So yes, international bureaucrats can diverge from the wishes of member-governments. And for regular people like you and me, there are some very good reasons to welcome the dynamism, competition, and push-and-pull that this injects into international politics.

Source: The Agency of Multilateral Organizations | Duck of Minerva


Booklist | Best Diplomacy Books of 2015

Add these 2105 books that focus on the history, practice, and key issues in diplomacy to your reading list:


Worldmaking: The Art and Science of American Diplomacy by David Milne – the most important rethinking of American foreign policy, dividing key thinkers between artistic and scientific approaches

Realpolitik: A History by John Bew – unraveling a German contribution and distinguishing it from the realist school of thought

The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire by Susan Pedersen – explores the first grand attempt at international governance and a failed attempt to outlaw war

The Deluge, by Adam Tooze – an original take on the interwar period as power gravitated from Europe to the US

ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger – the must-read book to understand the Middle East disruptor

King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant by Stephen Church – commemorating the 800th anniversary of a foundational doc

Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist by Niall Ferguson – making the case that he cannot be ignored as a major diplomatic strategist, an effort to “revise the revisionists

Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman by Greg Grandin – on his institutionalizing failures, using intuition over facts, and forming the foundation for neoconservative missteps

Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy by Micah Zenko – avoiding groupthink by thinking like the other side

The Power of the Past: History and Statecraft by Hal Brands (Editor), Jeremi Suri (Editor) – what can policymakers really learn from history?

Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century by Alistair Horne – a longtime writer of military history isolates a key factor

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turtle – how technology makes it harder for us to be together, diminishing empathy

The New York Review Abroad edited by Robert B Silvers with introductory updates by Ian Buruma – around the world in 27 essays


Global Economics

Inequality: What Can be Done? by Anthony Atkinson – to follow up on Piketty’s big idea last year, how about a solution?

The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa’s Wealth by Tom Burgis – revealing how Africa sits at the bottom on of the global industrial chain

Digital Gold: The Untold Story of Bitcoin by Nathaniel Popper – from a global joke to a movement and new currency

Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science by Dani Rodrik – taking on the dismal science in the form of a defense


Country Focus


Global Rules: America, Britain, and a Disordered World by James E. Cronin

Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel, by Dan Ephron – a murder that didn’t make peace inevitable or settle the big Israeli debate

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator by Oleg V. Khlevniuk, translated by Nora Seligman Favorov

Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean From Columbus to the Present Day by Carrie Gibson

How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People
by Sudhir Hazareesingh

The Invention of Russia: The Journey from Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War by Arkady Ostrovsky

The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq by Emma Sky

The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business by Alex de Waal


Finally, take a look and James Lindsay’s complication of ten American foreign policy influencers who died in 2015. Happy New Year!


Making Political Sense of Star Wars

Yes, Star Wars doesn’t make a lot of sense when viewed through the lens of international relations, even if it is fun to see the political-geek-meets-nerd-world analysis by Seth Masket, a political science at the University of Denver.
Episode I featured a two-minute depiction of life in the Galactic Senate in an attempt to demonstrate the Old Republic’s dysfunction. That scene also revealed that Lucas doesn’t understand how legislatures function, what bureaucrats are, why legislative parties form, the function of the media, etc., but it still attempted to show institutional behavior.
Episode III contained a subplot in which the Emperor sowed discord in the government by appointing a plainly unqualified and inexperienced Jedi to the Council. This is all about institutional competition and the challenges of separation of powers.
Episode IV, of course, was all about the executive branch’s accretion of power at the expense of the legislature, which of course led to a violent rebellion headed by ousted senators. There were a farm boy and some robots, but that was a subplot
Note: Masket’s blog, Mischiefs of Faction, is now hosted by VOX.