For the State Department’s diplomats — already deeply skeptical of Mr. Tillerson’s lack of foreign policy experience, his inability to make timely decisions, put a leadership team in place or express a global strategy — the cuts are further evidence of his lack of understanding of what the department does.
Former officials are more outspoken — and more willing to be quoted.
“These cuts are needlessly stupid,” said Eliot A. Cohen, a top department official during the administration of President George W. Bush. “So much of what diplomacy is about is building and maintaining relationships.”
Congressional critics have sounded much the same theme, and have not reacted positively to Mr. Tillerson’s plans for cuts or restructuring. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who leads the subcommittee that controls the State Department’s budget, issued a spending plan last week that largely rejected Mr. Tillerson’s proposed cuts, saying, “Now is not the time for retreat.”
Mr. Tillerson will be with President Trump in New York for part of the week, participating in the president’s expected meetings with world leaders. But people familiar with Mr. Trump’s thinking say the president and his top staff are increasingly unhappy with Mr. Tillerson, particularly after he sharply criticized Mr. Trump’s reaction to the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Va.
Mr. Tillerson has rejected those rumors, and his spokesmen say that his efforts at streamlining are a vital task.
“In terms of the smaller footprint, there will be some support staff who will not be going this year because we recognize that there is a thing called technology, there’s this thing called email,” said Heather Nauert, the department’s spokeswoman, referring to the department’s General Assembly delegation. She added, “The secretary firmly believes coming out of the private sector that we all need to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
On Thursday, Mr. Tillerson said in remarks to employees that the most important thing he could do during his tenure was to make the State Department more efficient. For him and his top aides, saving tens of thousands of dollars on unnecessary hotel rooms is a sign of good stewardship. For his diplomats, it shows that he fails to understand the importance of routine diplomacy below his level.
Sharply reducing the American diplomatic presence at the United Nations “creates a vacuum of leadership and partnership by the U.S. which will be filled only too readily by others,” said Nisha Biswal, a former assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia.
Critics of Mr. Tillerson point to other examples besides the cutback at the United Nations.
He canceled a host of midlevel discussions with Chinese diplomats in favor of a few high-level talks in hopes of generating as-yet-unrealized breakthroughs. Dialogues with less strategically important countries like Argentina, Brazil and Nigeria have become far less frequent, with American diplomats being told that Mr. Tillerson would not be nearly as available as his predecessors even for brief appearances at such events. Foreign ministers from countries like Colombia have been unable to get meetings with him.
Even Mr. Tillerson’s claim to bring more efficiency to the department has been questioned by many. Decision-making at the department has slowed to a crawl because he failed to hire a full complement of leaders and has revoked or re-examined the decision-making authorities of those he has hired.
On Friday, the department hosted the Community of Democracies, a conclave of leaders from more than 100 nations. But for months, no one knew whether the meeting would actually take place, because Mr. Tillerson refused to approve it. Embassies finally received the official invitation on Sept. 7 — eight days before the event began.
The delay meant that only a handful of the nearly 30 foreign ministers invited and about a third of the activists expected were able to attend, according to Robert Herman, a vice president at Freedom House, which received a grant from the State Department to help organize the event. Some foreign activists were not able to get visas in time, while others had long since made alternative plans they could not break, he said. Those who did come had to pay premium prices for last-minute arrangements, he said.
“The delay was just truly egregious, and it had a really deleterious impact,” Mr. Herman said.
Such delays are routine now. In his first overseas trip in February, Mr. Tillerson and his entourage took rooms at a rambling health clinic and spa next to a public bathhouse in a tiny town 20 miles outside Bonn, Germany, because all the good hotel rooms in the city had been booked by the time he decided to go.
An earlier version of this article mischaracterized one effect of Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s decision to use a smaller airplane. It did not force him to spend extra time in Honolulu to rest his flight crew; even with a larger plane, a stop might have been needed for crew rest, according to R. C. Hammond, his spokesman.
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