By Jamie Morse
Rex Tillerson has been removed from his post as US Secretary of State, President Trump announced via his Twitter feed on Tuesday. Secretary Tillerson, 65, had previously indicated his intent to continue in the role despite reports of an increased rift between himself and the President on foreign policy issues. Mr Tillerson’s commission as Secretary of State terminates at midnight on March 31st at which time he will be replaced by Trump ally, and current CIA Director, Mike Pompeo.
At a press conference on the day of his firing, a seemingly exhausted Mr Tillerson (who on Monday had cut short a visit to Africa, citing poor health) expressed his wish to aid Mr Pompeo in the transitional period, and went on to cite the ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions with North Korea as well as departmental proceedings on the issue of sexual harassment as the major successes of his 14 month tenure, one of the shortest in modern US history.
Speaking to media on the White House lawn, President Trump called Tillerson “a good man” but expressed his concerns about his foreign policy opinions, saying of the Iran Nuclear Deal “I think it’s terrible, I guess he thinks it’s okay”. Within the context of immense and unified Republican hostility towards Obama’s passing of the Iran Nuclear Deal, such comments can be read as being as severe an ideological criticism as one could give.
Trump swiftly moved on when asked by a reporter whether or not Mr Tillerson allegedly calling him a ‘moron’ (amplified with an expletive) at a Pentagon meeting in July of last year had a role in his dismissal. The event in question came during a summer period in which Mr Tillerson had reportedly threatened to resign his post because of the President’s treatment of him, highlighting how fraught the relations between Trump and his senior cabinet member have been for some time.
Mr Tillerson’s citing of his negotiations towards sanctions against North Korea was seemingly a parting jab towards the President, who had criticised him for his approach by tweeting in October that he was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man [Kim Jong Un]”. Mr Tillerson made a veiled retort to this in his dismissal speech, insisting “US leadership starts with diplomacy” and prioritising “working with allies”, a sharp contrast with President Trump’s threats to pull out of NATO.
Mr Tillerson went on to observe that “much work remains, to respond to the troubling behaviour and actions on the part of the Russian Government” in the wake of their nerve agent attack on British soil. To a degree, this comes as a surprise from a man who has in the past vehemently opposed increased sanctions with Russia and has had business dealings with Vladimir Putin in his previous role as CEO of ExxonMobil.
Mr Tillerson was not the only State Department employee to lose his job, with the White House moving fast to dismiss Tillerson aide Steve Goldstein, who issued a statement on the Secretary’s behalf expressing disappointment at his firing and citing the fact that the President had not spoken to him, nor had he given any indication of the reason behind his dismissal.
With Mr. Tillerson out of the picture President Trump is finally free of the one cabinet member who had most publically opposed his policy desires however did not rule out further dismissals, stating that he was “getting very close to having the cabinet” that he wanted. Time will tell whether this is an indication that other Trump appointees who have faced sharp criticism from him, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, could be the next to step aside.