The Instructive Case of Rex Tillerson’s Firing

When U.S. President Donald Trump was putting his team together last year, the name of Rex Tillerson as the new secretary of state aroused misgivings. He had neither diplomatic nor political experience. But he did have plenty of friendly relations with Russia, since in the role of the general director of ExxonMobil he had concluded all manner of contracts with Russian companies, as well as directly with the Kremlin. But the main thing: He didn’t agree with the sanctions imposed on Russia after the attack on Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. And before that, in 2013, he’d received a state award* directly from President Vladimir Putin.

In other words, after Tillerson’s nomination to serve as the head of American diplomacy, it was difficult to avoid the impression that through this action Trump was trying to underline all suspicions regarding his pro-Russian tendencies.

Only, Tillerson surprised people. Their fears were not fulfilled; he didn’t manifest himself as an agent of Russian interests. He strongly defended last year’s decision to attack an airbase in Syria, the launching pad for the dictator President Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons attack on a neighborhood full of civilians. Assad is also the Russians’ main ally in their invasion of Syria.

Troubles in other areas began to loom large. Tillerson didn’t like the idea of America withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran. Even before the most recent thaw in relations with North Korea, he proposed direct negotiations with Kim Jong Un, which knucklehead Trump doused with the memorable tweet, humiliating for Tillerson, that it would only be “wasting his time.” He spurned Trump’s withdrawal from the global climate pact, and indeed even pleased the American left when on one occasion he quipped that the president is a “moron.”

Of course, the chief of the White House has the right to name as secretary of state someone he trusts more and with whom he doesn’t have to argue. But the whole episode nicely illustrates how chaotic Trump’s governing style is. He’s constantly throwing someone out as if he were still being seen in his memorable reality TV show based on him theatrically giving the sack to people applying to him for a job on camera.

*Editor’s Note: Tillerson was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship.

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