It is a speech which could have been written by Hans Morgenthau or Henry Kissinger. It is a return to a foreign policy with the goal of preserving and promoting the national interest. That "national interest" is more narrowly defined than we have become accustomed to in the last few disastrous years. Clearly Tillerson sees the State Department as working to protect, above all, the nation's security and economic interests. That's how he interprets President Trump's vow to make "America First." There is no airy and, in the end, dangerous promise to "bear any burden," or to make the "world safe for democracy." He makes the excellent observation that
So let’s talk first about my view of how you translate “America first” into our foreign policy. And I think I approach it really that it’s America first for national security and economic prosperity, and that doesn’t mean it comes at the expense of others. Our partnerships and our alliances are critical to our success in both of those areas. But as we have progressed over the last 20 years – and some of you could tie it back to the post-Cold War era as the world has changed, some of you can tie it back to the evolution of China since the post-Nixon era and China’s rise as an economic power, and now as a growing military power – that as we participated in those changes, we were promoting relations, we were promoting economic activity, we were promoting trade with a lot of these emerging economies, and we just kind of lost track of how we were doing. And as a result, things got a little bit out of balance. And I think that’s – as you hear the President talk about it, that’s what he really speaks about, is: Look, things have gotten out of balance, and these are really important relationships to us and they’re really important alliances, but we’ve got to bring them back into balance.
So whether it’s our asking of NATO members to really meet their obligations, even though those were notional obligations, we understand – and aspirational obligation, we think it’s important that those become concrete. And when we deal with our trading partners – that things have gotten a little out of bounds here, they’ve gotten a little off balance – we’ve got to bring that back into balance because it’s not serving the interests of the American people well. <...>He goes on to make the simple but, frankly, brilliant observation that,
Now, I think it’s important to also remember that guiding all of our foreign policy actions are our fundamental values: our values around freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated. Those are our values. Those are not our policies; they’re values. And the reason it’s important, I think, to keep that well understood is policies can change. They do change. They should change. Policies change . . . our values never change. They’re constant throughout all of this.There, faithful readers, you have the core of the issue. Our values and our policies are not necessarily the same. That is brutal truth. It is this observation by Tillerson that has led lefties and bureaucrats to come crashing down on him, calling him "clueless" and so on. They ignore, of course, that that's how we used to do foreign policy. We certainly, for example, did not share the values of the USSR's Stalin, but we made alliance with him against Nazi Germany. We did not share the values of China's Chang Kai-Shek but made common cause with him against Imperial Japan, etc. Those are things which seem to get "forgotten."
There, of course, is a highly cynical motive to some of the bureaucratic criticism which we must underline. By divorcing values and policies, Tillerson threatens the livelihood of an enormous swath of foreign policy bureaucracy.
In my 34 or so years at State, for example, I saw how the "human rights" bureaucracy grew and grew. It grew so much that much of it had to housed in annex buildings around DC. The human rights bureaucracy became an enormous and loud machine that consumed evermore of State resources, hopelessly confused important decision-making, made it increasingly difficult to prioritize our goals, and become a funding source for all sorts of lefty NGOs around the world. It provided employment and influence to thousands of people, and, frankly, produced little in the way tangible benefit to the national interest. Every policy decision had to pay homage to the human rights bureaucracy and its allied vested interest groups.
Likewise other chunks of the State bureaucracy in the trade and commerce arena, for example, became almost advocates for foreign countries and their interests rather than ours. We want "deliverables" to these countries to make them happy and "like" us. This is the mentality, I would note, that also affects, better said, infects our Embassies and regional bureaus. If Tillerson can begin to turn that around, he will be a very consequential SecState.