Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
American diplomats will only mourn the departure of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State for fear of his replacement being worse.
After fourteen months of Tillerson in charge American foreign policy, career professionals describe the State Department in terms such as a “hollowed out shell” with a third of senior and middle ranking posts unfilled. Tillerson, who was previously CEO of Exxon, brought a businessman’s cost-cutting instincts into government. “He doesn’t listen to us, he only talks to one guy in the whole department”, an official of ambassadorial rank told me recently.
No friend of the media, Tillerson told the only reporter that he was willing to take on his first foreign tour, that he only took the Cabinet job because his wife wanted him too.
His days have looked numbered since October when NBC reported that he had called President Trump “a f—ing moron” at a private meeting in the Pentagon. A news conference was called but Tillerson never managed to deny the allegation convincingly. Since then he has been out of the loop. He told reporters that a summit with the North Koreans was a long way off, just hours before Trump announced that he plans a meeting with Kim Jong-Un by this May.
Announcing the sacking on Twitter, Donald J Trump didn’t even put Tillerson’s departure first writing “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!”
A terse statement on behalf of the outgoing Secretary stressed that he had had no conversation with the President about his departure, although officials said he was informed of it last Friday. Breaking off from his short walk to his Marine One helicopter on the White House lawn, Trump said that Tillerson would be “happier now” and stressed that they had disagreed over the Iran Nuclear deal which Trump has repeatedly attacked.
If Tillerson was seen as a moderating influence on Trump, his impact has been very modest. His comments this week blaming Russia for the Salisbury chemical weapon attack, in contrast to Trump’s spokeswoman, were made in the knowledge that he was on his way out. Today Trump would only say that “it looks like the Russians” before asking for more evidence. He insisted loudly though that a recent congressional investigation had exonerated him over any links to the Russians. Special Prosecutor Mueller’s investigation continues.
Tillerson’s departure brings the total number of senior departures from Trump’s White House to 19. The President has not abandoned his catchphrase on the Apprentice TV show: You’re fired!”