Rex Tillerson was destined for failure. And he brought in on himself.
In one national security meeting, he had the piercing insight and honesty to call Donald Trump “a moron.” Yet, like his boss, he lacked the self-awareness to know that the same critique applied to himself, as the moron’s secretary-of-state.
There were clues along the way, many of them spotted by the man he so openly disdained. It was the president who challenged Tillerson to an open contest of intellectual power. “I think it’s fake news,” Trump told Forbes magazine, dismissing the moronic comments. “But if he did say that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”
But Tillerson did not have the smarts to take his analytical powers all the way to their conclusion, by building a formidable citadel of diplomacy at the state department. Instead of counter-balancing the moronic foreign policy coming out of the White House, he dismantled his own staff and budget.
At the same time, he was forced to endure a constant stream of childish taunts from his boss, who used his Twitter thumbs to tell him – and the rest of the world – that his outreach to North Korea was totally useless.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful secretary of state, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” his wonderful boss tweeted in October. “Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail.”
Why ever would it work now? That’s a great question Tillerson should ask Trump if he gets an exit interview. Or maybe that was the cause of the exit interview.
That teensy difference of opinion – now rendered moot by Trump’s decision to sit down with Kim Jong-un – led to some more truth-telling about Tillerson and Trump, this time from Bob Corker, the Republican senator who chairs the foreign relations committee.
You cannot publicly castrate your own secretary of state, without undermining your own diplomacy, Corker told the Washington Post
That naturally led Tillerson to protest that he was fully intact, in terms of his own testicles. Looking back on his career as the nation’s chief diplomat, Tillerson might pinpoint this as the rock bottom.
Tillerson cannot simply blame his obviously inept boss for this misery because he clearly castrated himself. In two successive budgets, he presided over the systematic dismantling of the diplomatic machinery he was supposed to be operating.
In year one, he agreed to an astonishing 31% cut to his own budget, followed by a 29% cut the following year. The proposed budgets would have decimated his own staff and operations, as well as international aid, and were mostly ignored by Congress last year.
Tillerson didn’t much mind the cuts. In fact he rationalized them by saying he wouldn’t need so much money because he was well on his way to solving the world’s problems.
“Part of this bringing the budget numbers back down is reflective of an expectation that we’re going to have success in some of these conflict areas, getting these conflicts resolved and moving to a different place in terms of the kind of support we have to give,” he told a foreign policy crowd late last year.
If that doesn’t qualify you for moronic status, it’s not clear what will.
Tillerson arrived in his job with all the executive skills you might expect after a very long and triumphant career at the top of one of the biggest corporations in the world: ExxonMobil, where he was CEO for a decade.
Sadly all those executive skills did not include the ability to retain or build a senior staff at the state department, where the exodus of experience and talent has been a diplomatic blowout. He refused briefings from senior staff and refused to talk to the press. He hollowed out the senior ranks with no rhyme or reason, leaving critical posts unfilled, while others simply quit or retired. Among them was the leading foreign service official on North Korea, who retired just two weeks ago.
Tillerson’s tenure was so bad, it prompted some rare bipartisan agreement. “America’s diplomatic power is being weakened internally as complex global crises are growing externally,” warned John McCain and Jeanne Shaheen, the Republican and Democratic senators, in a letter to Tillerson late last year.
And yet even the hapless and hopeless Tillerson could sometimes tell the truth to his even more hapless and hopeless boss. He disagreed on the Iran nuclear deal. He even disagreed on Russia, a little: saying the nerve agent attack in the UK was “clearly” the work of Russia on Monday, even as the White House refused to say Moscow was involved. Just last week Tillerson admitted that the Russians would meddle with this year’s midterm elections, although he somehow couldn’t find a way to spend any money to stop that interference.
His successor, Mike Pompeo, was more forceful in recently condemning Russian interference, but as CIA director, it isn’t exactly obvious what he has done to stop it.
Where did Tillerson’s confidence and tenacity come from, if it wasn’t his competence in the job? Perhaps his partial truth-telling was the result of his overwhelming financial security. It’s a bit easier to stand up to your boss when you get a $180m retirement package before joining the administration.
So farewell then, Rex. Your colossal failure as Secretary of State is only dwarfed by your remarkable tenure at ExxonMobil, where you presided over the following accomplishments:
From 2005-2008, ExxonMobil’s profit increased from $36.1 billion to $45.2 billion, setting the all-time profit record for a U.S. company. In the same time frame, the company discontinued the employment of 3,800 people.
ExxonMobil paid no federal income taxes in 2009, when they had a net profit of $19.2 billion.
In 2008, ExxonMobil had committed less than 1% of their profits towards researching alternative energy (about $10 million). In comparison, their 2010 advertising budget for energy and environmental topics has exceeded $32 million.
From 1997-2015, ExxonMobil spent over $33.7 million on organizations that deny the science of climate change or block policy solutions to global warming.
The Political Economy Research Institute ranks ExxonMobil fifth among corporations emitting airborne pollutants in the United States. The ranking is based on the quantity (4.3 million lbs in 2014) and toxicity of the emissions. 68.7% of ExxonMobil’s polluting facilities are located around communities where people of color are the majority of the population. PERI ranks ExxonMobil #17 among U.S. water polluters, releasing over three million pounds of toxic material directly onto surface waterways.
Exxon famously became the center of national attention in 1989 when the single hulled Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground on a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The tanker spilled 10.9 million gallons of crude oil into the Arctic water. The cleanup effort was notoriously difficult, and while cleanup was declared complete in 1992, oil and damage still remain. Additionally, cleanup volunteers ended out becoming ill from exposure to toxins during cleanup, some dying from related illness, while survivors continue to suffer from chronic sickness.
In July of 2011, ExxonMobil’s Silvertip pipeline ruptured and sent over 63,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River near Laurel, Montana. Department of Transportation investigators faulted Exxon’s slow response for making the spill response more difficult. Damage and cleanup along 70 miles of the Yellowstone River are ongoing. Exxon has spent $135 million on the cleanup effort, and faces fines of $3.4 million from state and federal agencies for safety and pollution violations.
On March 29, 2013, ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline spilled at least 210,000 gallons of tar sands diluted bitumen directly into a residential neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas. Documents obtained and published by Greenpeace showed how Exxon lied to state regulators and the public, downplaying the extent of the tar sands contamination.
Way to go, Rex. We will miss you.