Change at the head of American diplomacy: US President Donald Trump announced Tuesday the dismissal of Rex Tillerson, replaced as Secretary of State by the current director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo.
After months of rumors of a departure that had been a thousand times given as imminent, the fate of ExxonMobil’s former strongman, who was struggling to find his place in Washington and had a difficult relationship with the White House tenant, was sealed.
“Mike Pompeo, the CIA Director, will become our new Secretary of State, and he will do a fantastic job, thanks to Rex Tillerson for his services!” Said Trump.
Rex Tillerson, former industry captain discreet and stingy of his words, left Tuesday the State Department without having ever managed to find his place at the head of the American diplomacy and in a Trump administration whose excesses seem at the opposite poles of her personality.
It was shrouded in the aura of a power man with many international connections that he had arrived at the State Department at the beginning of the Republican President’s term. The former boss of the oil giant ExxonMobil was recommended to Donald Trump by Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State George W. Bush.
When he moved to the top of American diplomacy, he was billed as one of the Americans who knew Russian President Vladimir Putin best. One of the priorities of the new administration is a warming of relations with the Kremlin leader. But the many controversies and the investigation of Russian interference in the US election will make this goal impossible to achieve.
Advocating a diplomacy of networks and influence rather than speech, he immediately takes the opposite of his predecessors. From the voluble John Kerry to former First Lady Hillary Clinton, all were senior diplomats or leading political leaders. Without a Twitter account, he travels little and flees the media.
Far from the spotlight
“I am new to Washington,” has long recalled in his cavernous voice of Texan 65, to better mean its distance from the marigot politician.
Because his team tried to turn his weaknesses into strength. “This is not a policy that seeks the spotlight,” theorized early October 2017 spokesman Heather Nauert. “Unlike his predecessors, the Secretary of State thinks that diplomacy should be conducted behind the scenes,” he added in his entourage.
And behind the scenes, as when he was negotiating oil megacontracts, the imposing man tried to push the diplomatic path in the North Korean, Iranian or Gulf crises.
Rex Tillerson was also able to rely on a close relationship with the Minister of Defense, his “dear friend” Jim Mattis. “We know they communicate regularly” and share the roles of “the same strategy”, Tillerson calling for dialogue and Mattis brandishing the military option, said Lisa Collins, Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Others also stressed his ability to give a reasoned polish to the thunderous outpourings of the American president.
“He’s a patriot, he really thinks it’s his role to stay to control the president, to avoid chaos,” said an American diplomat who is not yet on his political side.
The erasure of the minister is also perceived as that of his ministry.
“Tillerson is a good man, he learned the job on the merits,” says a foreign diplomat. “The problem is the State Department, which has become totally dysfunctional,” with many under-secretary positions left vacant after unprecedented budget cuts.
“The most important thing I can do is make this administration more efficient,” he said.
But the results are meager – too meager probably for Donald Trump who has often annoyed.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the world’s leading power has never convinced the commentators. Result: the stories of his tense relations with the president, he once treated as “stupid” according to several media, and rumors of resignation have continued to accompany him.
Dialogue with Pyongyang
The differences of opinion between Trump and Tillerson were notorious on several key issues, from the climate to Iran.
The Republican billionaire did not facilitate the task of Rex Tillerson. First by depriving him of the iconic Israeli-Palestinian record, entrusted to his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Then by multiplying the decisions of disengagement of the multilateral scene. Finally, contradicting it in public.
Tillerson praises his diplomatic efforts against North Korea’s nuclear ambitions? Trump promises “fire and anger” in Pyongyang.
Does the minister publicly mention channels of communication with North Korea? “He’s wasting his time,” tweets the president. “The only thing that matters is me,” he finally decided.
Ironically, it is to better prepare the discussions that he has spectacularly agreed to engage with Pyongyang that Donald Trump dismissed his secretary of state to entrust this role to the boss of the CIA Mike Pompeo, in who he has every confidence.
On Tuesday, explaining his departure to reporters, the billionaire insisted, “We got on well but we had disagreements.” When you look at the Iran nuclear deal: I thought it was horrible, he thought he was OK “.