There is a long list of reasons that went into President Trump’s decision to fire Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State on Tuesday.
The men disagreed on whether to pull out of the Iran agreement, the Paris climate accords and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Tillerson was a joiner – and advocated staying once on the inside. Trump wanted the agreements torn up or renegotiated to be more beneficial to Americans.
But according to initial reports from the mainstream media, it came down to two things: Tillerson dared criticize Russia when his boss has ordered that nothing but praise for Russia and Vladimir Putin emanate from Washington and the contention – just two years removed from the service of John Kerry and, before him, Hillary Clinton – that Tillerson was the worst secretary of state in modern history.
The New Yorker wrote that Tillerson’s departure had little to do with staffing problems or policy disagreements or having allegedly called the president a moron. It happened because Tillerson broke one of Trump’s cardinal rules and criticized Russia.
Tillerson flew back from East Africa on Monday and the State Department had issued a statement later that day holding Russia accountable for a nerve gas attack on a former Russian spy in England.
“There is never a justification for this type of attack – the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation – and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior,” Tillerson’s statement began.
This was the last straw, according to the New Yorker.
“This was arguably the strongest condemnation of Russian behavior that the Trump administration has ever issued,” it said. “And it turned out to be one of Tillerson’s last official acts as secretary of state.”
The New Yorker speculated that Tillerson knew he was going to be fired – Kelly reportedly told him on Friday to resign – and the release represented a final act of defiance.
It then reported the president finally had spoken with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, then released a statement that said, “The government of the Russian Federation must provide unambiguous answers regarding how this chemical weapon, developed in Russia, came to be used in the United Kingdom.”
But “the statement stopped short of saying Trump agreed with the British assessment that the Russian government was very likely responsible.”
Vox took up the second contention. It reported that people from “across the political spectrum” ranked Tillerson lower than any secretary of state in modern times. This even though multiple congressional committees are investigating whether Clinton sold favors while serving as secretary of state under Obama.
“Tillerson would be at or near the bottom of the list of secretaries of state, not just in the post-Second World War world but in the record of US secretaries of state,” Paul Musgrave, a scholar of US foreign policy at the University of Massachusetts, told Vox. He “delayed American responses to major crises and weakened the State Department for a ‘generation,’” Vox’s Zack Beauchamp wrote.
Vox’s version of “across the political spectrum” quoted Eliot Cohen, a never-Trump moderate who worked for President George W. Bush, as saying, “I think he really will go down as one of the worst secretaries of state we’ve had,” and Obama State Department official Ilan Goldenberg as saying, “He will go down as the worst secretary of state in history.”
What’s worse, “his push to slash ‘inefficiencies’ in the State Department and seeming disinterest in working closely with longtime staff were even more damaging,” Beauchamp wrote. Under Tillerson, 60 percent of the State Department’s top career diplomats resigned and new applications to work at State fell by half, Beauchamp wrote.
“Secretary Tillerson’s term has led to widespread demoralization in the foreign service, the dismissal or resignation of people with expertise that individually may not be irreplaceable but as a cohort certainly becomes so,” Musgrave said.