The departing Tillerson

Mamdouh AlMuhaini
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One of the worst periods that President Trump has gone through during his time in office was in August 2017 when he didn’t clearly condemn the violent acts of Iraqi extremist groups who protested the removal of a civil war statue. Three people were killed as a result of this violence.

Trump was faced with a wave of criticism and he was accused of Nazism and racism. During this critical time, the last thing he needed was an official to add salt to injury. This is exactly what Rex Tillerson did. While speaking to Fox News, he was asked what he thinks of Trump’s statements and moral values, so he said they represented Trump and not the US administration, i.e. he meant “Trump is the racist one and not us.”


The most dangerous thing he did was depicting the administration as confused, contradictory and extremist while he appeared as the moderate and wise man and as the cold one among the hot-tempered. The opposite is in fact true

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

Tillerson may not have exactly meant it that way, but that’s how people understood his response. Media outlets that oppose Trump marketed Tillerson’s statement because it represented a testimony from within the White House – a testimony that’s far more important than politicians’ and commentators’ analyses. Anyway, we eventually realized that Tillerson is a skilled man in the world of oil and money, but lacks diplomatic genes. A man who does not know how to handle reporters’ malicious questions and who easily falls in their traps will cause embarrassment for himself and his administration.

Worsening relations

This was not the only direct incident to happen between Trump and Tillerson. Relations between them worsened when Tillerson was quoted as saying that Trump is a “moron.” Trump learnt about this but swallowed it. However, he burst in anger when it was leaked to the press. Tillerson denied calling Trump a “moron” but several sources confirmed otherwise and said he uttered the word in a moment of anger in the presence of many people, including Secretary of Defense Mattis.

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Despite the official meetings, dinners and lunches between Trump and Tillerson, relations between the two men remained tense and confused. Trump showed his dissatisfaction with Tillerson and humiliated him more than once. On Tuesday, he fired Tillerson via a Twitter post before he woke up.

After he was fired, analysts were confused as to why Tillerson was chosen in the first place to perform this difficult task when he’s over 60-years-old and has no political experience, and no passion for diplomacy. Even when he was the CEO of Exxon, he wasn’t well-known for his social relations as he tended to keep to himself and avoided talking to employees as much as possible. He sat all by himself in his huge office like a sad God and had his lunch alone. The most logical reason as to why Trump favored him over other figures, such as Mitt Romney, is that thanks to his work he harbored strong ties with significant leaders like Putin.

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Tillerson could thus achieve tangible results via untraditional methods through these relations, his strong reputation and his influence. It later turned out this was not his strength as he did not have the characteristics of a good negotiator who is capable of exploiting personal relations, emotions and memories developed through friendships to achieve any remarkable diplomatic achievements.

Tillerson’s oil background

It was rather ironic that the figure who is supposed to be the most diplomatic was incapable of developing a friendly relation with his own president! Tillerson’s background in the oil industry led many to come up with conspiracy theories stipulating that Trump wants to benefit from Tillerson to make deals that increase his personal wealth. These are just theories which have been proven wrong when Tillerson was fired and replaced with someone who is not known for being wealthy.

Tillerson was a strict and frank negotiator when he worked in the oil industry. A report in The New Yorker magazine said that while Tillerson was holding negotiations once, a Yemeni minister wrote the details of his Swiss bank account on the back of a business card with the number $5 million and gave it to Tillerson. The minister was demanding a bribe to seal the deal, but Tillerson immediately refused and rebuffed him.

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In 2013, Tillerson held on to his stance which rejected the Obama administration’s and the Maliki government’s opposition to discovering new oil wells in Kurdistan, as this was likely to push the region to separate. Tillerson remained adamant and the Obama administration relented. However, when Tillerson entered Washington, where powers are distributed and where it’s said that Machiavelli himself may seem helpless, it made him dizzy. It appeared like he was wandering around the world with no influence whatsoever.

The most controversial incidents were related to the contradictory statements that Trump and Tillerson made – it’s as if they work in two separate administrations. Whatever Trump said via Twitter, Tillerson contradicted in a press conference hours later and whatever Tillerson told reporters, Trump would scold him for it in public. This troubled relationship confused those observing the work of the American administration as contradictory remarks were not only related to boycotting Qatar or to Iran, but also to China and North Korea. The most significant example is when Trump criticized Tillerson after he went to China to discuss possible negotiations with North Korea where he noted that discussions are useless with “rocket man.”

A contradictory administration

There are plenty of contradictory stances, but Trump fired Tillerson because he is not the right man to engage in negotiations with North Korea and in the historical meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un. Tillerson is not the man for this phase which needs experienced figures. Keeping him in his post may drown the boat before it sails.

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The most dangerous thing he did was depicting the administration as confused, contradictory and extremist while he appeared as the moderate and wise man and as the cold one among the hot-tempered. The opposite is in fact true. Tillerson, unlike other administration officials and due to a lack of required experience, a political vision and knowledge in history, made negative and wrong stances regarding Iran’s nuclear agreement and Doha’s support of terrorism. There are other negative stances which echo the former administration’s ideas.

This is exactly why Mike Pompeo, who headed the CIA, is suitable to become secretary of state as he has the required knowledge and enough personal experience. He worked for a long time in combating terrorism and he knows who supports, funds and promotes terrorism even if they’re disguised as friends and allies.

This article is also available in Arabic.

Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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