When former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was ignominiously fired by Donald Trump in March, it was not so much surprising as it was one of the continuing chaotic outcomes of this garbage fire we call the Trump administration. Ronan Farrow has a big piece on the “last days” of TIllerson’s tenure, in The New Yorker. Stacked inside of the exposé is this great illustration of the wretchedness of our country’s best and brightest.
When I mentioned the White House’s role in escalating rumors of his demise, Tillerson appeared to have been waiting for the question. “Mm-hmm,” he said, nodding. “When you say ‘the White House,’ who are you talking about?” he asked. “The White House is comprised of how many people?” Hook, the director of policy planning, chimed in that the answer was perhaps in the thousands. Tillerson waved him off. “But people thatmatter, people that might have an interest in whether I stay or leave, there’s about one hundred and sixty of them.” Tillerson leaned in and, for a moment, I realized that it must be unpleasant to be fired by him. “I know who it is. I know who it is. And they know I know.”
Spoiler alert—it’s Jared Kushner. Jared Kushner and the fact that the State Department is a wasteland that’s been allowed to lie dangerously fallow for way too long because of the unbelievable ineptitude of both Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump. Farrow gets a nice quote out of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who faced the same kind of power-struggle with the dark lord Dick Cheney, under Bush jr.
The former Secretary of State Colin Powell recalled having similar turf wars with Vice-President Dick Cheney. “I’ve been in similar situations, where I suddenly discovered we’ve created military commissions. ‘Wait a minute—that’s a legal matter and a legal matter the State Department has primacy on.’ ” But Powell was one of several former Secretaries to express bafflement at Tillerson’s approach to his shrinking mandate. “I can’t tell. He may love it,” Powell said, with a shrug. “I can’t tell that he objects.” And then, with a wry smile, “Maybe if we had ambassadors there, they’d pick it up—that’s what they do.”
Part of what he’s referring to is Tillerson’s need to clean out the State Department of staff without actually staffing a working State Department. In the business world of today this is called “streamlining.” In reality it’s just a terrible way to get things done. Of course, Tillerson tells Farrow that his hands are tied by … well, you-know-who.
Tillerson blamed the White House. “They’ve not been easy,” he recalled, of his year of conversations with the Trump Administration about filling the open jobs. “The process over there has not been the most efficient, and they’ve changed personnel trying to improve it, I mean, many, many times. . . . It was very slow, it was very cumbersome, it was frustrating, at times, because you couldn’t get a sense of ‘What’s the issue?’ Someone seems to be kind of sitting in idle over there,” he said, sighing. “I would tell ’em, ‘Just give me a no. At least with a no, I’ll go get another name.’ ”
There are myriad reasons Rex Tillerson lost his job. He had just come out and had publicly criticized Donald Trump’s pee pee tape master Vladimir Putin; but the power struggle going on between Kushner’s fifty jobs—including foreign policy jobs usually overseen by the State Department—and the general insecurity of Donald Trump around other actually successful sociopaths, led to Tillerson being the odd man out. A lot of the article covers Tillerson’s lackluster defense over his department’s budget and his refusal to play the Trump administration power-struggle game of “leaking” stories to the press, in order to swing the public narrative. The story woken by Farrow is that, in the end, being the CEO of ExxonMobil was an easier job than running the government where you aren’t a true dictator. However, as Farrow concludes, this experiment in government by billionaires will have long-lasting ramifications.
After Tillerson’s brief and chaotic ride as America’s top diplomat, Pompeo will face a Department with an uncertain future, in which the evisceration of American diplomacy well under way, if not complete. Should he be confirmed, he will face decisions with profound implications, potentially for generations of American foreign policy. “In a couple years, if we get a presidency of either party that values diplomacy, you can fix a budget, you can invest again in the State Department,” the former Secretary of State John Kerry told me. “But it takes years to undo what’s happening, because it takes years to build up expertise and capacity.” Powell offered a similarly blunt assessment. The Trump Administration has been “ripping the guts out of the organization,” he said. “When you stop bringing people in or when you make [the State Department] an undesirable place to be, then you are mortgagingyour future.”