We were not alone in criticizing the pick of Rex W. Tillerson as secretary of state. He had no government experience, no feel for human rights or the values that (should) underlie American foreign policy and no deep knowledge of the world beyond that of an oil company executive accustomed to transactional deals. With an experienced and sophisticated president, a Tillerson might have been effective; with President Trump, Tillerson has proven incapable of even conducting foreign policy, let alone a successful one.
Let’s start with the most recent jaunt. Former ambassador Eric Edelman observes in The Weekly Standard:
“On the election interference issue, Tillerson said that the president pressed Putin. The Russians say that Trump accepted Putin’s denials that Moscow had improperly interfered in the election campaign and agreed to move on. Tillerson asserted that Trump and Putin “had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject” and that “the president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement.” Trump’s own subsequent tweet saying he had “already given my opinion” - a reference to his press conference statement the previous day that no one really knows who did it — suggests that the Russian account is closer to the truth. Moreover, Tillerson is reported to have told associates privately that he was stunned that the president opened the discussion by saying “I’m going to get this out of the way,” in effect signaling his lack of seriousness about the issue. …”
More troubling still was Tillerson’s assertion that, “Russia has the same, I think, interest that we do in having Syria become a stable place, a unified place, but ultimately a place where we can facilitate a political discussion about their future, including the future leadership of Syria.” It was this statement that some labeled as “Kerry-speak.”
Coupled with Tillerson’s public statements eschewing “values” as part and parcel of American foreign policy, his refusal to embrace the public diplomacy aspect of the job and his snail’s pace reorganization and refusal to defend his department from ludicrously large budget cuts, brings him perilously close to becoming a rival to John Kerry for the “worst secretary of state in modern times” distinction.
But that’s unfair to Kerry, I suppose, who managed to staff his department and never defended zeroing out a slew of diplomatic and assistance programs or signaled unseriousness about a foreign power’s manipulation of our election system. (If not a strong defender of human rights, Kerry at least maintained the pretense that we should be on the side of the oppressed, persecuted peoples against dictatorial regimes.)
After a series of diplomatic forays that would be routine under most of his predecessors, Tillerson “acknowledged being exhausted Thursday,” according to news reports, the first admission that he is not even physically fit enough for a job. (Ironically, Hillary Clinton whom Trump disparaged as physically feeble would run rings around Tillerson.) He was quoted as saying that as a CEO, “You own it, you make the decision, and I had a very different organization around me. One that I spent my whole life with, people knew me very well and they knew what to expect. We had very longstanding, disciplined processes and decisionmaking — I mean, highly structured — that allows you to accomplish a lot, to accomplish a lot in a very efficient way.”
A cry for help? A moment of clarity? Tillerson outlasted former national security adviser Michael Flynn and is approaching the tenure (nine months) of another failed national security adviser, James Jones. There seems little reason for Tillerson, who has failed to earn the support of Congress or his department, to continue his ordeal. He’s accomplished nothing of note, serves no role — as Secretary of Defense James Mattis does — in preventing international calamities.
His insular staff would serve the public interest by resigning, alerting the country to the extent of the president’s inability to fulfill the duties of his office and aiding Congress in devising effective measures to compensate for the administration’s diplomatic malpractice. They can check the box on their résumé (served in State Department); it’s now time to stop enabling a secretary and commander in chief who have no clue as to how to defend our national interests.
Jennifer Rubin writes the conservative-leaning Right Turn blog for The Washington Post.
© The Washington Post