Introduction

On October 4, NBC News reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson nearly resigned over the summer following a series of tense moments with President Trump. According to the report, Tillerson was infuriated by Trump's political remarks to the boy scouts, and called the president “a moron” after a July 20 meeting. On the day of the report's release, Tillerson held a press conference to reaffirm his loyalty to the president. Despite Tillerson's remarks, his future within the administration remains unclear. In this HPRgument, HPR writers Cara Kupferman, Mikael Tessema, Byron Hurlbut, Noah Redlich, Lauren Anderson, and Ben Paris analyze the implications of the tension between Tillerson and Trump, and envision the consequences of Tillerson's potential resignation.

Image Credit:  Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Department of State / U.S. Department of Defense

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HPRgument Posts | October 15, 2017 at 11:00 am

The World Needs Rex Tillerson

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Hopefully, the rumors of Rex Tillerson’s impending resignation are untrue.  Tillerson’s resignation would not simply be a blow to the Trump administration. It would delegitimize U.S. international authority and potentially destabilize several critical foreign policy situations.

Domestically, instability and uncertainty have marked the Trump administration.  One need only look to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (fired after just 24 days in office), Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci (fired after just six days in office), and most recently, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price for proof of this instability.

While the domestic consequences of this instability remain unclear, foreign policy is the one area in particular where Trump’s one-man masthead proves costly.  Unlike domestic policy, where the separation of powers restricts the reach of any one individual, no such institutions exist on the international stage.

Tillerson’s greatest successes have been in his ability to moderate and check Trump for the ultimate benefit of the United States.  For instance, Turkish-American relations were greatly strengthened by Tillerson’s July visit to Ankara, where he praised Turkey’s democracy, welcomed a greater Turkish role in American energy security, and condemned the PKK, a Kurdish terrorist group active in Turkey.

Even situations as tense as relations with North Korea have been aided by Tillerson’s realistic approach to stabilization and intervention-skepticism, both essential features of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy. Tillerson’s ongoing work with China on curbing North Korean aggression is vital, having led to strong Chinese financial sanctions on Pyongyang.  Given that Trump appears unlikely to tone down his fiery rhetoric about North Korea, Tillerson’s presence remains critical to enacting Trump’s foreign policy in a calculated manner.  Tillerson clearly understands that the president’s tweets signal to the American people that action will be taken, and his effectiveness is evident in his talks with North Korean officials. With a deferential secretary of state, Trump might end up destroying his chances of enacting a long-term foreign policy goal, or worse, create a dangerous foreign policy situation on accident.

As these cases show, the tension between Trump and Tillerson stems not from subversion, but from difference of scope. Tillerson acts in Trump’s long-term interests, while Trump relies on a short-term frame of reference of domestic policy. Tillerson’s extended foresight and steady hand have likely saved the United States from unnecessary conflicts abroad, and his presence will remain crucial to ensuring America’s security and stability in the future.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Department of State / U.S. Department of Defense

 

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