This Mean-Spirited Town
U.S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ventured to Sub-Saharan Africa in early March in hopes of building relationships with local influential leaders, warning countries such as Ethiopia of China’s slowly hegemonic foothold on the continent. However, his trip was cut rather short as White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly phoned the State Secretary, ushering him back to the United States. While Tillerson was on the toilet, fighting a stomach bug, Kelly told him he was being dismissed from his duty and to be wary of an upcoming tweet from the President.
Tillerson landed back in Washington D.C at around 4:30 am at Andrew’s airbase. It was at 5:44 am Trump posted a tweet which read that Rex Tillerson was to be replaced by Mike Pompeo, former Director of the CIA. In the most unprofessional manner, the Secretary of State of the United States of America had been fired via a Tweet. It was reported that Tillerson was utterly confused by the sudden dismissal. When the President was pressed by his actions later in the morning, Trump briefed that he wished Tillerson, “a lot of good things,” and that he believed Tillerson was going to be, “much happier now.”Back at the State Department, later in the afternoon, Tillerson delivered his farewell speech making key points about the importance of personal integrity and carrying out acts of kindness in “this mean-spirited town” – a subtle reference to the current shape of the White House. In his final words, the old Texan announced in a shaky voice that it remained a choice to treat others the same way we want to be treated, “God bless you all.”
Tillerson and Trump became symbols of their departments, embodying the friction between the State Department and the White House. It would be an understatement to say Tillerson and Trump were disagreeable with the other on the subject of foreign policy. Their polarized personalities on Iran, aluminum tariffs, Russian sanctions and especially North Korea would put America’s foreign involvement on pause while other countries such as China would make progress as mentioned before. Not to mention the Trump administration has yet to approve any of the candidates put forth by the State Department for an ambassador to South Korea or to the European Union.
According to the New York Times, the friction between the two stems from Rex Tillerson carrying out the objectives of the United States with a “globalist” mentality, unlike Trump who approaches issues as a “nationalist.” In one example, after successfully procuring channels of communication with North Korea in late September of last year, Trump posted a tweet telling Tillerson to save his energy, that negotiating with Kim Jong-Un was nothing more than a waste of time. It seems Tillerson’s efforts in communicating with North Korea put him against President Trump who assured that fire and fury would rain down on the North Korean regime if ever a state of war existed between the two.
Mike Pompeo is now the new Secretary of State – someone that Trump claims to have “gotten along well with” since his inauguration, compared to Tillerson who had the audacity to call the President a “moron” last October. Pompeo seems to match Trump’s more conservative views, especially on North Korea. Unlike Tillerson who led a diplomatic approach to denuclearize North Korea in the wake of “bigger buttons,” “rocket men,” and “dotards,” Pompeo, like Trump called for the removal of Kim Jong-Un and his regime – a complete separation between the “rogue leader” and the North Korean people. Pompeo has made it seem that it is his hawkish goal to put the United States and its allies out of North Korea’s deadly aim. It should be noted that only a few days prior to Tillerson’s firing, a delegation from South Korea announced that Kim Jung-Un was open to talks with the United States on the subject of surrendering the entirety of his nuclear supply. President Trump promptly agreed without ever contacting Tillerson about his immediate decision. It is likely that Tillerson’s firing will play a major determining role in the outcome of the meeting between the two nations later this May.
Trump has mentioned on numerous occasions he’d rescind the Iranian nuclear deal. Tillerson like many others disapproved of Trump’s threats, cautioning him that such an act would create fertile grounds for a more antagonistic Iranian regime. With Tillerson out and Pompeo set to enter the fray as America’s top diplomat, it does not augur well for the fate of the agreement when considering the incoming Secretary of State’s previous comments on the deal, labelling it as ineffective in “dismantling” Tehran’s bomb.
Prior to the imminent decisions expected to be made on key issues such as dialogue with North Korea and the fate of the Iran nuclear agreement, more fundamental questions will be posed as to what Tillerson’s departure and Pompeo’s arrival signal for the direction American foreign policy will take in the upcoming years. With Pompeo in, any prospect for peace with North Korea–however slim they were–seem now lost along with the old Texan that fought so hard for them in the first place.
Jake Gouchie is an Education student at McGill University
Edited by Luca Loggia