The firing of the U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, by President Trump was hardly a surprise. Still, even after 14 months of Trump’s presidency, the “public execution” style of Tillerson’s departure has shocked even the most hardened observers.
After all, the position of Secretary of State is the most senior position in the U.S. cabinet. The Secretary of State is fourth in the line of succession in the U.S. presidential system, following the Vice President, the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate.
One would normally expect that the departure of a Secretary of State would occur with the deference becoming that position.
Instead, Tillerson – in his own words – received a call from the President and the Chief-of-Staff four hours after the President tweeted his decision. When the Under Secretary of State, Steve Goldstein, had referenced this unparalleled sequence of events earlier in the day, he too was summarily fired by the White House.
Not a star of international relations
Not that Rex Tillerson was a star in the orbit of international relations. His relationship to State Department staff was fractious. Several sources reported that staff was told not to make eye-contact with Tillerson should they happen to encounter him. Hardly a motivating piece of advice — or one that would encourage two-way communication.
Tillerson also took little initiative to protect the State Department from the debilitating budget cuts promoted by the Commander-in-Chief. Trump considers diplomacy generally a waste of time, unless America’s counterparties submit to all of his demands (zero-sum game, 2.0).
Nor does it appear that Tillerson did much to plead with the President to fill the plethora of ambassadorial or departmental openings.
Tillerson himself had publicly stated that he only took the job because his wife had urged him. His curriculum vitae was hardly a recommendation for this immense challenge, unless one considers being an oil-industry executive to be a good fit (cynically, it might be, given U.S. foreign policy priorities).
Standing up to Trump
But as a former CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the largest U.S. corporations, Tillerson brought something to the cabinet table that many of the other Trump followers did not: Independence and a sense of entitlement to get it his way that so often – sadly – defines successful corporate leaders.
As such, Tillerson made no effort to hide his disagreements with Trump. He was even said to have privately called the President a “moron.”
Tillerson voiced support for the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran nuclear deal and his opposition to Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and the recent one to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum.
It is no secret that Trump expects undying loyalty from those around him. He has shown little inclination to reward competence over constant public statements from his cabinet members, who must declare their complete and unfettered adoration for the leader. In that sense, his forthcoming meeting with Kim Jung-Un will be a meeting of the minds.
Cabinet members swear an oath that says that they “will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” that they “will bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” that they “take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion” and that they “will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which” they are “about to enter.”
Trump’s obsession with loyalty
Yet, in Trump’s mind, the entire oath is an oath of loyalty to him, personally. The former Director of the FBI, James Comey, learned this the hard way when he did not oblige Trump’s verbal request to assure him of such loyalty. He too was soon fired, especially since Comey did not suppress the Russia investigation as Trump had asked of him. Clearly, the ultimate betrayal.
This is where Mike Pompeo, currently CIA Director, comes in. Trump justified Pompeo’s nomination not so much with his qualification for the job but with the fact that he and Pompeo were “always on the same wave length.” Pompeo is a harsh critic of the Iran-deal, a climate-change denier and did not oppose steel and aluminum tariffs as Tillerson did.
As a true Tea Partier, he is against abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Among many other colorful statements, Pompeo has suggested that Edward Snowden should be sentenced to death.
After his almost assured confirmation, Pompeo will join the by-now almost unanimous voices of yes-men (and a couple of women) in the President’s cabinet. An evolution that led the President to elate after the Pompeo announcement: “We’re getting very close to the cabinet I want.”
The statement is at the same time frightening, while an unwitting admission of utter incompetence after 14 months on the job.
Dangerous for the world
All of this will leave the President ever-freer to act on his own, often scary, uninformed and crowd-pleasing instincts, cheered on by what can only be defined as a puppet cabinet. Naturally, this is dangerous for the United States, but more importantly dangerous for the world.
At a point in time when Trump’s domestic standing is becoming increasingly embattled and isolated, this raises the risk of wag-the-dog foreign policy actions by the United States.
Far beyond constantly seeking to disrupt the Mueller investigation, Trump is evidently also inclined to distract the domestic public any way he can. This may involve “wars of choice” — the magnitude of which could very well be unprecedented since 1945.
The firing of the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by President Trump was hardly a surprise. But the “public execution” style of Tillerson’s departure has shocked even the most hardened observers.
Trump’s statement that “we’re getting very close to the cabinet I want” is frightening. That can only be defined as a puppet cabinet.
Trump gets ever closer to having a puppet cabinet. This is dangerous for the United States, but more importantly dangerous for the world.
Cabinet members swear an oath that they will support and defend the Constitution of the US against all enemies, foreign and domestic. In Trump’s mind, the entire oath is an oath of loyalty to him personally.
As Trump’s domestic standing is becoming increasingly embattled and isolated, he is inclined to distract the domestic public any way he can. This may involve “wars of choice.”