Rex Tillerson is out as the Secretary of State of the United States. On the morning of Tuesday, March 13, 2018, official Washington woke up to find the Washington Post reporting that the administration of Donald Trump had decided to fire him (to “oust him,” in the language of the lead).
Trump’s plan is to move the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, over to the State Department, and to make Pompeo’s Deputy, Gina Haspel, the new CIA Director.
Reviewing Tillerson’s Trajectory
Tillerson joined Exxon as a young man, soon after receiving a degree at the University of Texas, Austin. He rose through the ranks there and became the company’s point man for its holdings in Russia in the early post-Soviet days.
In 1999, when Exxon merged with Mobil, Tillerson took on the role of the vice president of the ExxonMobil Development Company.
In 2006, following the retirement of Lee Raymond, it was Tillerson who stepped into Raymond’s shoes as chairman and CEO.
On inauguration day, January 20, 2017, the new President of the United States, Donald Trump, invited Tillerson to take the leading role in the new cabinet, as Secretary of State. The move surprised many. His nomination was confirmed by the Senate on a largely party-line vote on February 1.
Left Wing View
The Left in the United States has never had a high opinion of Tillerson, or of the elevation of someone so thoroughly associated with Big Oil into the position of the chief diplomat of the United States.
Still, the first response of many of the left to the news Tuesday morning was … surprise. Yes, there had been rumors of such a move for months, and there had been clear tensions between State and the White House, but the former had died away, the latter had seemed in abeyance, so the news came as a thunderclap from a blue sky.
In fact, Matthew Rozsa, writing for Salon immediately after the announcement, made the point that on one of the issues of contention, Trump had come around to Tillerson’s way of thinking. Trump had contradicted Tillerson months ago when the latter spoke about how it might be wise to negotiate with North Korea. Now, Trump is about to engage in exactly that negotiation, which gives some irony to this axing.
Right Wing View
Some on the right, likewise, have never thought highly of Tillerson. Even conservative pundits who have wanted to say positive things about Tillerson have rarely gotten much further than the assertion that he “deserves a little sympathy,” hardly a rallying cry.
But this news has some thinking back to December 1 of last year, when Trump tweeted that Tillerson is “not leaving … we work well together and America is highly respected again!”
What part of that ceased to be the case in the subsequent three months plus?
There are conservatives (including neocon Bill Kristol) who maintain that what changed was the connection between Tillerson and Russia’s President Putin. Tillerson has known Putin for years, and has played a big part in the development of Russia’s oil resources. But of late, Tillerson has become critical of his old friend, and of the Russian government generally. Kristol says that Trump simply “chose Putin over Tillerson.”
In the twitter thread created by Kristol’s observation, someone observes wittily that “the only thing Trump liked about Rex Tillerson were his initials.”
Interestingly, Bill Kristol is said to have a speaking engagement soon in New Hampshire. What should that be of interest? Because the engagement, called the “Politics and Eggs” forum, is a frequent one for people contemplating a Presidential run. Kristol may fancy himself moving from the commentariat into the arena.
If that speculation proves accurate, look for Tillerson to show up within candidate Kristol’s circle of foreign-policy advisors.