Rex Tillerson Never Had a Chance

When the firing of Rex Tillerson was announced, my colleague took it as an opportunity to indulge his inner pop psychologist and produced a piece purportedly to explain why Trump mistreats his subordinates. In his article, Alex refers to Trump’s "tyrannical soul" and asserts that “he has never been in a position in which he has had to be held accountable and does not know what accountability looks like.” (Perhaps Alex should talk to Ivana Trump and how she made him pay dearly for his unfaithfulness or the recipients of the Trump University settlement).

NAP's very own Dr. Phil has never met Donald Trump who - despite being a celebrity and seemingly unable to stay away from the limelight – has assiduously worked to ensure that what happens in his private life stays private. As Alex pointed out, the Trump Organization is a privately held company and is not required to file public disclosures. Trump has yet to release his tax returns, former employees (and apparently also former lovers) were silenced by NDAs. All Dr. Alex has available to make  his diagnosis is a public persona crafted by Trump and – as Tiger Woods showed – a public persona can be the polar opposite of the real man. Pop psychology aside, Tillerson's firing had nothing to do with Trump's 'restlessness' or his belief that  "after enough lashing out, the dust is likely to settle in his favor." Quite the opposite. 

I had great hope for Tillerson. I liked that he came from the private sector and didn't bring with him foreign policy baggage from working in previous administrations. As Exxon's Chief Executive, Tillerson had developed a working with Putin and his inner circle and was awarded Moscow's Order of Friendship. I viewed his appointment as an indication that Trump intended to make good on his promise to forge an new relationship with Russia - something that I advocated years ago. However, what appealed to me about Tillerson repelled Republican hawks itching for a war with Russia and there was real doubt whether his nomination would be confirmed by the Senate. Eventually, the hawks relented and T-Rex headed for Foggy Bottom - perhaps they counted on endless congressional investigations into the so called "Russian meddling" to blunt any effort to forge a working partnership between Putin and Trump.

Less than four months of Tillerson being sworn in as Secretary of State, Robert Mueller was appointed  Special Counsel making any reaching out to Putin politically difficult - more so than any congressional investigation ever could. However, it was Trump's reaction to Mueller's appointment that  set in motion the eventual demise of Tillerson. Trump could have reacted to the Special Counsel by pushing ahead with his campaign promises to meet with Putin and establish an new relationship. Instead, he chose to retreat into a defensive posture of trying to demonstrate that he would be tougher on Russia than Obama or a president Hillary. More importantly, he decide that he could only save his presidency was to throw in with the hawks.

Blunted from establishing a new relationship with Russia and sidelined by Jared Kushner as far as Middle East policy, Tillerson was essentially a lame duck. Still, it wasn't enough to save him. The hawks wanted their own man at the State Department. From time to time rumors would surface indicating Tillerson was on his way out or emphasizing the president's unhappiness with him. Reportedly, it was Tillerson's opposition to the United States withdrawing from the Iran deal that earned him a pink slip.

As far as the Iran deal, I believe that Tillerson will be proven right in the long run. I was not a fan of it and hoped it would never go into effect but it's water under the bridge. The United States can withdraw from the agreement but it is not going to matter. The cash transfer has been made and Iran is not going to return the money. Moreover, the deal involves other parties and they have indicated they will not follow America's lead. Withdrawing from the Iran deal will only serve to further isolate the United States. It will be a repeat of the ineffective embargo on Cuba when the America stood alone while our "allies" did business with Castro.

The hawks finally have their wish. Tillerson is heading back to private life. His replacement, Mike Pompeo, along with new National Security Adviser John Bolton means that everything is in place to resume the traditional, hawkish Republican foreign policy. The question remains whether it will save or doom the Trump presidency.