Rex Tillerson's lamentable legacy

Why the worst secretary of state in American history didn't stand a chance

Rex Tillerson.
(Image credit: Illustrated | AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

It was a heck of a way to get canned. Early Tuesday morning, President Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson via tweet and announced Mike Pompeo, head of the CIA, as his replacement. There was something especially appropriate about Trump making this announcement, as he does so many, through Twitter, and without giving Tillerson either time to respond or even notice of his removal. The deliberately insulting gesture is not only a hallmark of Trump's management style, but a nice synecdoche for the utter disconnect between the State Department and the White House in the Tillerson era.

Tillerson's monumental failures are well known, and have been largely of his own making. He failed to staff key roles, and eliminated positions and even entire offices essentially without regard for their replacement. He failed to engage with experienced diplomats or others who were familiar with the operation of the department. He endorsed a 30 percent cut to his own departmental budget, against the increasingly frantic objections of everyone who values what the department does. He largely ignored the need to cultivate the press, and he butted heads repeatedly and ineffectually with President Trump, and sulked when Trump responded by pointedly ignoring his counsel.

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Noah Millman

Noah Millman is a screenwriter and filmmaker, a political columnist and a critic. From 2012 through 2017 he was a senior editor and featured blogger at The American Conservative. His work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Politico, USA Today, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, Foreign Policy, Modern Age, First Things, and the Jewish Review of Books, among other publications. Noah lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.