A tenure marked by fundamental differences with President Trump and managerial ineptitude.
President Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning his decision to remove Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his plans to replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo: “Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!” According to NBC News, Mr. Tillerson learned of the president’s decision from the tweet, although White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had reportedly told Mr. Tillerson last Friday that the president planned to ask the Secretary of State to "step aside."
Secretary of State Tillerson said his goodbyes without anything positive to say about the president. His official final day in office will be March 31st.
The State Department's press office said in a prepared statement that Secretary of State Tillerson “had every intention of remaining because of the tangible progress made on critical national security issues. The Secretary did not speak to the President this morning and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling and not to be regretted."
President Trump told reporters that he had made the decision to remove Mr. Tillerson because they had “a different mindset.” The only surprise is why it took the president this long to act. Mr. Tillerson was reported to have called President Trump a "moron" last summer, which the ousted Secretary of State has not explicitly denied saying. Needless to say, such personal insults are not well received by this president. However, Mr. Tillerson managed to stay on the job months longer. While in office, both before and after the reported insult, Mr. Tillerson moved further and further apart from President Trump’s thinking on critical foreign policy issues.
Mr. Tillerson, for example, had favored recertification of Iran’s compliance with the disastrous Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, which President Trump vehemently opposed. President Trump specifically referred to this disagreement in explaining his decision to remove Mr. Tillerson. "When you look at the Iran deal, I think it's terrible, I guess he thought it was OK,” the president said. “So we were not really thinking the same. With Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it's going to go very well."
According to an article by Adam Kredo, a senior writer reporting on national security and foreign policy matters for the Washington Free Beacon, Mr. Tillerson’s continued rear-guard efforts to save the Iran nuclear deal may have been the last straw. “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,” Adam Kredo wrote, “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.” Opponents of the nuclear deal welcomed Mr. Tillerson’s imminent departure and are confident that CIA Director Pompeo will more faithfully execute the president’s intention to either fix the fundamental deficiencies in the nuclear deal or walk away from it.
As important as the Iran issue is to the president, it was far from being the only major issue where the president and Mr. Tillerson did not see eye to eye.
Mr. Tillerson shared the Obama administration's jihad denial complex mindset in avoiding the use of terms like “radical Islam” to describe the ideology animating many of the terrorists we are fighting. “Terrorism has manifested itself in many types of organizations,” he said last August, responding to criticism by former White House aide Sebastian Gorka that the president’s speech writers had apparently omitted the words “radical Islam” from his speech on Afghanistan. Robert Spencer had it right when he wrote at the time, “Yes, of course. Just consider that worldwide network of Amish terrorist groups.”
Mike Pompeo, by contrast, believes that Iran and “radical Islamic terrorism” are among the nation’s top national security challenges. He will bring a much tougher approach to confronting such challenges than Mr. Tillerson.
Mr. Tillerson (along with Defense Secretary James Mattis) opposed President Trump’s bold decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Vice President Pence, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, and the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser on the Middle East, Jared Kushner, who has been taking the lead in putting together a proposed peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all supported the president’s decision.
Mr. Tillerson was also on the losing side of the argument in trying to dissuade President Trump from proceeding with his plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The same was true regarding the president’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement on climate change promoted by Obama. Mr. Tillerson has been part of the more globalist-oriented camp in the Trump administration, drawing on his international business background as a former Exxon Mobil chief executive. He has clearly been out of sync with the president’s America First agenda from day one of his term as Secretary of State.
Perhaps the most serious misalignment between Mr. Tillerson and President Trump on policy matters had to do with North Korea. The president criticized Mr. Tillerson several months ago for “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” President Trump’s nickname for North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un. “Save your energy, Rex, we’ll do what has to be done,” the president chided. President Trump was responding to statements Mr. Tillerson had made indicating the willingness of the U.S. to enter into direct talks with North Korea. Then just days ago, in a dramatic turnabout, President Trump announced his plans to meet face-to-face with Kim Jong-un. Hours before the White House’s official announcement of the president’s decision, Mr. Tillerson had remarked that the U.S. was “a long ways from negotiations” with North Korea. Then, after trying to parse the difference between the words “talks” and “negotiations,” Mr. Tillerson said, “In terms of the decision to engage between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, that’s a decision the president took himself.”
In addition to fundamental policy disagreements with President Trump, Mr. Tillerson was reportedly viewed as a bad manager of the State Department bureaucracy. Morale at the department has plummeted. As Jason Zengerle, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, wrote last October, following an interview with Mr. Tillerson and discussions with two dozen current and former State Department officials, “Whatever his intentions, Tillerson’s true legacy may well be to have transformed a venerable American institution into the caricature of its most fevered, irrational critics.”
Rex Tillerson’s lack of rapport with President Trump, his mounting policy disagreements, his globalist orientation and his aloof managerial style all contributed to his downfall. Mike Pompeo should be a huge improvement on all counts.