Rex Tillerson was the wrong person to run the U.S. State Department. But given his role as one of the few sane heads in the Trump administration, it doesn’t bode well for the country that the president canned Tillerson on Tuesday morning in favor of Iran hawk and CIA director Mike Pompeo.
A president obviously deserves to have a secretary of state in whom he can feel confident and who tracks with his policy views. But it’s hard to imagine anyone other than a sycophant succeeding as secretary of state to a president whose undisciplined thinking and penchant for unilateral action regularly undermines the foreign policy establishment.
For all of his flaws, Tillerson has been a (slightly) moderating influence on a president who understands little of the world or the power of nuance in diplomacy. The frictions between Trump and Tillerson centered on the president’s nuttier moves, such as his withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, his taunting tweets over North Korea and his ill-considered drive to undo the Iran nuclear deal. If talks with North Korea do occur, Tillerson likely deserves some of the credit, although the administration is already saying the move was Trump’s alone. But Tillerson’s defense of the Iran deal hasn’t been enough to dissuade a president who still aims to undo it (as, apparently, does Pompeo).
How can the U.S. hope to persuade Kim Jong Un to denuclearize if it’s simultaneously backing away from its nuclear deal with Iran?
Ultimately, we fear that the removal of Tillerson and the related deck-shuffling will do little to settle the most unsettled administration in memory. Trump entered the presidency uniquely unprepared for the job, and he has proven to be a slow — or even truculently resistant — learner of the traits, perspectives and characteristics it takes to lead the nation and to set the moral and diplomatic tone for much of the rest of the world.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES