For the past 14 months, the refrain of President Donald Trump’s defenders within the U.S. foreign policy community has been to ignore what he says on Twitter and pay attention to what his administration is doing. It’s safe to say Rex Tillerson might have a word or two for them regarding the wisdom of that advice.
In the latest stunning development to come out of Trump’s White House, Tillerson was unceremoniously axed as secretary of state, reportedly learning of the news via the president’s Twitter account upon his return from a weeklong tour of Africa. Trump’s explanation for the move, as often is the case, was surprisingly forthright: The two men simply did not see eye to eye.
On almost every critical issue, Tillerson seemed to be arguing against the president’s position. Worse still for his standing with Trump, he had often come out on the winning side of those debates. In cooperation with Defense Secretary James Mattis and other moderating influences within the administration, he had succeeded in guiding Trump back to the mainstream position on U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan and—for now—the Iran nuclear deal. He had helped walk back Trump’s most inflammatory remarks and transactional approach to America’s security partnerships, and most recently saw the president come around to his way of thinking on the value of diplomacy for dealing with North Korea.