State of dis­ar­ray

San Francisco Chronicle - - OPINION -

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

Jonathan Ernst / Getty Im­ages

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