State of disarray
President Trump asserted that “there is no chaos” in his administration a week before he unceremoniously canned Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a man Sen. Bob Corker once described as helping to “separate our country from chaos.” In substance and style, Tillerson’s departure confirmed that while reasonable people might disagree about the degree of chaos in the administration, it is certainly not none.
Tillerson’s long-rumored, oft-denied “Rexit” was accorded all the dignity of a plot twist on Trump’s old television show. Having cut short a trip to Africa, the former Exxon Mobil chief emerged at Foggy Bottom hours after his ouster to thank his staff and the nation — though, pointedly, not the president — for the privilege. His undersecretary for public affairs, Steve Goldstein, said Tillerson had not spoken to Trump or received an explanation before his firing was announced on Twitter. Goldstein was fired shortly thereafter.
That left the department without five of six undersecretaries and a sixth on the way out — just one example of the decimation State endured under Tillerson. Such turmoil is evident across the administration. Trump’s White House had seen 43 percent turnover among its top staff through March 7, according to a Brookings Institution analysis, losing staff at a rate double or triple that of each of the past five administrations.
The State Department’s marginalization, an all but stated goal of the administration furthered by its secretary’s sour relationship with the White House, made Tillerson unpopular with the rank and file. But as Corker suggested last fall in the wake of reports that Tillerson had called Trump a “moron,” the outgoing secretary did keep the administration’s reality show lightly tethered to global realities.
Tillerson rightly advocated diplomacy with North Korea and took deserved credit for planned talks between the president and Kim Jong Un. He prevented the president from recklessly exploding the multilateral deal to discourage Iran from developing nuclear weapons and tried to preserve U.S. participation in the Paris climate accord. And despite his warm relations with Moscow as a businessman, he departed dramatically from Trump in acknowledging and criticizing Russian aggression toward the West, a point he stressed in his parting remarks.
Trump complained to reporters Tuesday that he and Tillerson “were not thinking the same.” In contrast, he and his choice to succeed Tillerson, CIA head and former Rep. Mike Pompeo, “have a similar thought process.” If even senior officials are required to submit to the president’s whims without objection, the exodus will continue.
“So thinking we were the same. not With Mike Pompeo, we have a similar thought process.” President Trump