Thursday, March 15, 2018

Will You Miss Rex Tillerson?

I don’t know about you, but I will not miss Rex Tillerson. By now the people who have had nothing good to say about him have come out from under their rocks to praise him… and to declare that he did not deserve to be fired by Tweet. Not one of them can resist the chance to spin a story to make Trump look bad.

Of course, we do not really know whether he was fired by Tweet. We can hypothesize that he was given the opportunity to resign and to say that he wanted to spend more time with his family. If he refused the offer, the president would have had no other option but to fire him.

By all appearances, Tillerson proved to be an incompetent manager at the State Department. Worse yet, he was pursuing his own private foreign policy, a policy that was at variance with the administration’s policy.

It is nearly impossible to understand how Tillerson thought he had the authority to do as he pleased in his work with foreign governments, but apparently he did. So much for the notion that Donald Trump is some kind of autocrat. In truth, Trump seems to allow his cabinet appointees some considerable latitude in doing their jobs. He does not allow them to go off on their own, to go rogue.

At the very least, it meant that Tillerson held Trump in contempt and did not feel any need to execute administration policy. That being the case, firing Tillerson via Tweet seems an appropriate gesture.

Tillerson had had a distinguished career as a corporate executive. Plaudits for that. He had had experience dealing with heads of state and had done so successfully. Plaudits for that too. Yet, he did not know very much about foreign policy. It was his downfall. People who do not know very much about a topic become vulnerable to the conventional wisdom. If you know nothing about a topic and want to appear to know a lot about it—otherwise, why would you be Secretary of State—you will most likely absorb the views that count as sophisticated and intelligent. When it came to policy, Tillerson was in way over his head.

Apparently, Tillerson differed with the president on numerous foreign policy issues. Worse yet, he made his disagreements public. He contradicted the president. He conducted policy with foreign governments on the basis of his views, not the president’s views.

Marc Thiessen explains that Tillerson was fired for insubordination. Especially as regards the upcoming negotiations with North Korea. Given the need to have a functioning policy shop behind the president when he negotiates with Kim Jong-un Tillerson had to go. 

He had been on the wrong page on North Korea. And he did not know enough about the issues to be of any use. He was simply mouthing the tired Obama-era views. On that issue a Mike Pompeo will be a significant upgrade. Note clearly, the issue is not merely that Pompeo thinks about these things as Trump does. Pompeo has the depth of understanding of the issues that will make him a true Secretary of State. Naturally, Democrats, accompanied by a recycled grandstanding eye surgeon, will do their best to derail the nomination. After all, they care less about the national interest than about their electoral prospects.

Thiessen offers his thesis:

Tillerson was completely out of step with Trump’s hard-line stance on North Korea, which ultimately brought Kim Jong Un to the bargaining table. Instead, Tillerson’s North Korea strategy seemed to be to beg Pyongyang for talks. Speaking at the Atlantic Council in December, Tillerson delivered this embarrassing plea: “Let’s just meet. And we can talk about the weather if you want. ... But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face? He might as well have added: Pretty please, with sugar on top?”

He adds:

By projecting weakness to Pyongyang, Tillerson was undercutting Trump’s message of strength — and thus making war more likely. The fact that Tillerson could not seem to grasp this or get on the same page as his commander in chief made his continued leadership of the State Department untenable.

As I said, Thiessen's analysis is completely plausible. But then again so is Adam Kredo's in the Washington Free Beacon. By his lights Tillerson went rogue on the Iran nuclear deal. Kredo also adds that Tillerson failed on other aspects of Mideast diplomacy, as in moving the American embassy to Jerusalem.

Kredo explains that Tillerson was running around the world trying to save the Iran nuclear deal. Trump had campaigned against it. Nearly all Republicans had declared it to be a disaster. Trump wanted out of it. Tillerson was trying to keep America in it. True, getting out of it is like getting out of a tight parking spot, but still administration policy is administration policy. On Iran, Tillerson went rogue:

The abrupt firing Tuesday of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson follows months of infighting between the State Department and White House over efforts by Tillerson to save the Iran nuclear deal and ignore President Donald Trump's demands that the agreement be fixed or completely scrapped by the United States, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

In the weeks leading up to Tillerson's departure, he had been spearheading efforts to convince European allies to agree to a range of fixes to the nuclear deal that would address Iran's ongoing ballistic missile program and continued nuclear research.

While Trump had prescribed a range of fixes that he viewed as tightening the deal's flaws, Tillerson recently caved to European pressure to walk back these demands and appease Tehran while preserving the deal, according to these sources. The Free Beacon first disclosed this tension last week in a wide-ranging report.

White House allies warned Tillerson's senior staff for weeks that efforts to save the nuclear deal and balk on Trump's key demands regarding the deal could cost Tillerson his job, a warning that became reality Tuesday when Trump fired Tillerson by tweet.

Tillerson had been warned that he was risking his job by pursuing his own private policy. Apparently, he persisted:

Other White House insiders echoed this sentiment, telling the Free Beacon that Tillerson emerged as a roadblock to Trump's foreign policy strategy.

"Tillerson was an establishment figure, like Gary Cohn, and the president seems after a year to be tiring of them," said one source with knowledge of the matter. "He wants people closer to his own views. I think Tillerson's opposition on Jerusalem was a factor: it's not just that he opposed Trump but that he predicted violent reactions that didn't happen."

"I've got to figure that made the president wonder why he needed more such advice," the source said. "Same for the JCPOA and Tillerson's view that getting out of it would be a calamity."

Apparently, Tillerson became enthralled by Obama holdovers in the State Department. He had shown public defiance to the president. And he undoubtedly refused to resign gracefully. Ergo….


Sam L. said...

"Tillerson had been warned that he was risking his job by pursuing his own private policy. Apparently, he persisted:..."

Fired for being like Hillary.

Sam L. said...

Another comment on Tillerson:

Ares Olympus said...

Bret Stephens agrees...
[Tillerson] came to office with no discernible worldview other than the jaded transactionalism he acquired as ExxonMobil’s C.E.O. He leaves office with no discernible accomplishment except a broken department and a traumatized staff. ... Some secretaries of state — Colin Powell, for instance — alienate their bosses by siding with the bureaucracy. Others, like Henry Kissinger, do the opposite. Tillerson is the rare bird who managed to do both. Goodbye, Rex. You won’t be missed.

I'm not sure of the advantages of resignation vs firing. Maybe now Tillerson can apply for unemployment benefits? Anyway, whether Trump is a moron or not, he's no longer Tillerson's problem.