When the secretary of state ultimately broached it with President Rodrigo Duterte, he backed into it, rattling off U.S. death tolls and addiction rates that tell the story of America’s opioid crisis. Then he noted matter-of-factly that Americans have concerns about Duterte’s approach to his country’s drug war. He offered U.S. help, two participants said.

To Tillerson’s many critics, it was the latest underperformance by a secretary they see as abdicating traditional roles and aspirations of American diplomacy. To Tillerson, aides said, it was a concrete solution to a problem, rather than grandstanding for grandstanding’s sake.