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Rex Tillerson has not had a particularly successful tenure as US secretary of state. Ever since the former ExxonMobil chief executive joined the State department, rumours have emanated from Washington about how happy he is in the role, whether he is about to walk away or be sacked and his impact on America’s geopolitical role. His invisibility has certainly raised concerns that that the US is withdrawing from its position as leader of the west.

Anne-Marie Slaughter argues in an opinion piece that the cuts pushed through by Mr Tillerson are harming American diplomacy. She thinks he will wait to hit the one year mark before quitting, but his legacy might be primarily one of destroying talent and morale at the department. He is approaching reform at the department as a chief executive would for a business that needs restructuring, pushing through “efficiencies” in current spending of up to 20 per cent.

As Anne-Marie points out, you can not measure the state department’s success purely in numbers. The soft power of embassies and missions around the world has been crucial in building America’s influence. With institutional knowledge and loyalty seeping out of the department, it might seem a little hopeless. But a shake up might be needed: she points out that the US still views the role of its diplomats through a 1950s lens. Mr Tillerson might be doing a lot of short-term damage, but a future administration will have the opportunity to rebuild from the ground upwards.

Season of Saturnalia: John Gapper explains why 2017 has been the year of big companies failing and little challengers making headway. Stalwarts like News Corp and Campbells Soup have sailed through challenging conditions, while Netflix and makers of skinny popcorn have seized on the opportunities of disruption.

Poland’s rebuke: Tony Barber says that the EU’s rebuke to its Law and Justice government underscores the east-west tensions within the bloc. More sanctions targeted against Poland may be in the pipeline, but the real battle will come when the next budget is drawn up.

Fixing the WTO: Robert Wolfe argues in an opinion piece that America is right to criticise the World Trade Organisation — but it is doing so for the wrong reasons. It needs to become an organisation that is about more than individual countries pursuing their specific goals. 

Best of the rest

Making a song and dance about capitalism — Danny Finkelstein in The Times

The New Era of Global Stability — Arthur Herman in the Wall Street Journal

Bye-bye Bannonism? — David Von Drehle in The Washington Post

More religion on the BBC? Amen to that — Peter Ormerod in The Guardian

Merry Christmas, Vladimir — Your Friend, Donald — Tom Friedman in the New York Times

What you’ve been saying

Stocking-filler — letter from Dr D R Cooper in Maidenhead

“Sir, It is not too late for British MPs to ask Santa for English dictionaries so that they can look up the meaning of “transition”. They will find that “transition” necessarily involves change, so clearly it can make no sense to even talk about a “ standstill transition” or a “status quo transition”. Indeed some might go further and say that it would be “oxymoronic” to do so.”

Comment by RichardSch on Roula Khalaf’s latest column, Saudi Arabia's year of living dangerously

“Brilliant write-up Roulla. You forgot to mention the Noble Prize for the Crown Prince and the climax in which after winning Yemen, after winning over Iranian general in video games, MBS is settings its Columbus Vision on conquering America. No one saw one thing coming, not even MBS, that, when the light go out, video games power down and soon reality and darkness sets in.”

Stalin loved another great pseudoscience — another contribution to the great water divining debate from Joshua Dayan in London

“Sir, The barnstorming first paragraph to Andrew Threipland’s letter declaring opposition to the practice of water divining as “Stalinist” is curious given Stalin's famed love for that other great pseudoscience, Lysenkoism. To use the “Aristotelian position” as Mr Threipland demands we do does not involve using the pseudoscientific tactic of declaring that those who support his favoured defunct theory are “practical people”, but rather assessing the available empirical evidence. Doing so results in what is a relatively rare occurrence in science, a comprehensive, unambiguous and total rejection of a hypothesis, in this case that of water divining. But perhaps that is just empiricism's slavish obedience to the “professors” that Mr Threipland lambasts.”

Today’s opinion

FT View: The Republicans’ all-in wager on a corporate cut If the tax bill does not boost wages, the GOP is in deep trouble in 2018 and 2020

FT View: Gene therapy may be worth $1m DNA medicines justify a much higher price than conventional drugs

China falls for the charms of an English education What happens when your alma mater goes global?

Rex Tillerson — wrecker or reformer of American diplomacy? The secretary of state, poised to drive out a generation of diplomats, is well placed to bring change

America is right about the WTO, but for the wrong reasons It sees the organisation just as a place where countries pursue their interests

You tell us: which are the words that sum up 2017? Browse our readers’ picks and share your own

Free Lunch: Cryptocurrency: a worthless misnomer Neither bitcoin nor any of the alternatives qualify as a currency yet

Instant Insight: The European court is right to bring Uber down to earth The technology company cannot avoid its duty to the people it serves

Instant Insight: Poland’s rebuke underscores the EU’s east-west tensions Further action against the Law and Justice government is still possible, writes Tony Barber

Stay in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies for the long haul Building another financial system always going to be risky, writes Blockchain chief

FT Alphaville: “Personal” does not mean what you think it means: a mea culpa

Opinion today: Inequality vs democracy The problem augurs badly for stable democracies in high-income countries

Business faces the season of Saturnalia This was a year of mighty companies falling and millennial challengers rising

Year in a Word: Dotard Insult from Kim Jong Un of North Korea hit Donald Trump of the US where it hurts

beyondbrics: Now is not the time to give up on Ukraine Despite setbacks, reformers are making progress; they need international support

The Big Read: BP wins struggle to keep pace with its peers The oil major hampered for years by Deepwater Horizon costs now believes it has turned the corner under chief executive Bob Dudley

FT View

FT View: The Republicans’ all-in wager on a corporate cut If the tax bill does not boost wages, the GOP is in deep trouble in 2018 and 2020

FT View: Gene therapy may be worth $1m DNA medicines justify a much higher price than conventional drugs

The Big Read

The Big Read: BP wins struggle to keep pace with its peers The oil major hampered for years by Deepwater Horizon costs now believes it has turned the corner under chief executive Bob Dudley

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