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Can Tillerson Remedy State Department's Dangerous Dysfunction?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

If you've ever seen a Broadway musical, you know that the final song-and-dance number almost always involves everyone in the cast coming back onstage for one last hurrah -- even the performers who had been offstage for so long that you'd forgotten about them. That's what's happening right now on the world stage, except with global risks rather than performing artists.

The Islamic State is still on the scene, and now al-Qaida is making a reappearance, too. The long-forgotten Taliban is back again as an influence in Afghanistan, resulting in the re-emergence of Erik Prince, the controversial former Blackwater CEO, now reportedly shopping a proposal to the Trump administration (of which his sister, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, is a member) for outsourcing new military action in Afghanistan to mercenaries like his.

The Cold War with Russia has been revived, thanks to the tireless efforts of members of the U.S. establishment to seek out a bogeyman to justify their own existence (and spending). Meanwhile, nuclear war is back on the table -- this time with North Korea.

Even the World War II era has made a return to the world stage. Images out of Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend showed protestors with communist hammer-and sickle-flags squaring off against protestors with Nazi swastika flags.

Are there any historical threats to humanity that aren't currently enjoying a comeback? The plague, maybe? (Actually, the bubonic plague has made an unexpected return in Arizona, where it was found in fleas earlier this month, according to health officials.)

The U.S. government keeps looking for new ways to spend money under the pretext of making the world safer. So why is the return on investment so poor? Thankfully, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is now in charge of the State Department. CEOs have a pesky habit of demanding line-item accountability on behalf of shareholders.

Has any secretary of state ever before asked of the State Department's various spending initiatives, "How exactly is this making us safer?" If there had been audits to assess the results of recent State Department programs, someone would have taken a look at a few of the full-blown threats listed above and noticed the pitiful return on investment. It appears that may finally be happening with Tillerson -- and the establishment isn't happy about it.

The National Defense Authorization Act signed by then-President Barack Obama late last year included something called the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act, which effectively converted the State Department's Global Engagement Center -- previously focused on creating counterpropaganda to demoralize the Islamic State and the terrorist group's recruitment initiatives -- into a generator of anti-Russian propaganda. The GEC solicited outside contractors to produce "cutting-edge concepts including advertising and marketing campaigns, tech-enabled platforms, social and traditional media content, locally and professionally produced film, video and radio programs."

CIA sponsorship of jihadist "rebels" who were supposed to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad inadvertently helped spawn the Islamic State, so the U.S. government is really just trying to fix its own error by propagandizing against the Frankenstein's monster it created. And since Russia is the current leader in the fight against ISIS, the creation of propaganda to be used against Russia doesn't advance the interests or increase the security of the American people.

Despite this sort of questionable State Department logic, Politico reports that some department officials are annoyed that Tillerson has yet to formally make a request for $60 million in earmarked money that will expire if it's still sitting at the Pentagon at the end of September, and that he hasn't touched another $19.8 million available to his department. Tillerson aide R.C. Hammond says that officials seeking the money had not presented a clear plan for how to spend it.

What a concept: actually demanding to know why millions of dollars in taxpayer funds should be spent, and whether the results would provide a positive return on investment, rather than just moving cash out the door in a manner that might exacerbate problems.

Foreign and domestic media outlets and private enterprises sought by the Global Engagement Center are eagerly awaiting the green light to brainwash Americans with their own money. Congress authorized $100 million for the "Countering Russian Influence Fund" earlier this year. But Tillerson isn't letting it all go down the drain fast enough to keep the establishment happy.

Tillerson wasn't hired to flush away this cash. He, like Trump, is tasked with flushing the swamp creatures who keep throwing it at him. Is there anything left for the establishment to break on the foreign-policy front, besides maybe Tillerson himself?

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