Secretary of State Rex Tillerson baffled legislators after he turned down $80 million of money appropriated to his department to fight terrorist propaganda and Russian disinformation.
This is an unusual break in protocol, especially given the recent downturn in global opinion of Russia as well as the failure of the so-called Islamic State’s 21st-century media campaign in light of their military failures.
As Politico reports:
Tillerson has not issued a simple request for the money earmarked for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, $60 million of which is now parked at the Pentagon. Another $19.8 million sits untouched at the State Department as Tillerson’s aides reject calls from career diplomats and members of Congress to put the money to work against America’s adversaries.
The $60 million will expire on Sept. 30 if not transferred to State by then, current and former State Department officials told POLITICO.
While the Trump administration is trying to cut spending in its agencies and Tillerson has some of a laissez-faire attitude towards diplomacy in general.
Aide to Sec. Tillerson R.C. Hammond told the Capitol hill newspaper that accepting that money might “anger Moscow.” He later denied he ever said that, according to CNN.
This has angered Republicans and conservatives concerned about the threat Putin poses. Sen. Lindsey Graham criticized Sec. Tillerson for ignoring this money that was appropriated through legislation to combat U.S. adversaries on a communications front.
Others suggest this shows the heightened level of dysfunction in the State Department under Tillerson’s stewardship.
“The combination of unfilled political slots, insular leadership, failure to defend the department’s budget, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of democracy and values in our foreign relations have made this the worst-run and least-effective State Department in recent memory — yes, worse than the Obama years,” conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote in The Washington Post.
Still, the program doesn’t just combat Russian disinformation, but also works to offer a counter-narrative to that presented by terrorist groups like the so-called Islamic State. As we previously reported, the Trump administration earlier appeared to want to ramp up those efforts.
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