President Trump definitely knows how to catch people’s attention. His tweets regularly catch the interest of the world’s media – and he’s excelled his normal standards this week. Trump’s tweet about Rex Tillerson, in which he called the former Secretary of State “as dumb as a rock” and “as lazy as hell” have really stirred things up. But was this an unprovoked outburst, or a plain statement of the truth? How dumb is Rex Tillerson?
• Tillerson had a successful career as an Exxon oil executive, which gave him impressive business credentials – always something that appeals to President Trump. However, in this case the skills that made Tillerson a good businessman don’t seem to have been the ones needed to succeed at foreign policy and international diplomacy.
• When Tillerson’s nomination as Secretary of State went before the Senate for approval, he was confirmed on a vote of 56-43. The previous record for votes against a candidate for this job was 13.
• One of Tillerson’s first acts as Secretary of State was to nominate Elliott Abrams to be his deputy. Abrams had been convicted of withholding information from Congress in the 1980s. Following an intervention by President Trump, Tillerson withdrew Abrams’s nomination.
• In June 2017, Tillerson edited a report on the use of child soldiers, deleting Afghanistan, Myanmar and Iraq from the list. He did this despite protests from his staff and clear evidence that all these countries do use child soldiers. Several State Department officials complained that Tillerson’s actions violated the Child Soldiers Prevention Act.
• Tillerson fired several experienced ambassadors and tried to persuade another 2,000 career diplomats to leave the State Department in exchange for $25,000 payoffs. He also tried to halt the recruitment of a new batch of diplomacy graduates and reclaim the cost of their scholarships. Only intervention by Congress stopped him.
• Next, he carried out a controversial “reform” of how the State Department is managed. Despite spending over $1 million on consultancy fees, diplomats said it had left the Department hollowed out and dysfunctional, with experienced staff micromanaged and suffering from low morale.
• Under Tillerson’s leadership up to half of senior diplomats have resigned from the Department. The world is a dangerous place right now, with problems in the Middle East, Ukraine and North Korea, among others. This isn’t a great time for America’s foreign policy staff to be quitting their jobs – and under Rex Tillerson, that’s what was happening.