3 Things That Doomed Rex Tillerson

It’s done. The inevitable has now happened. A secretary of state who was never particularly liked nor trusted by the president has now been unceremoniously fired – the first such removal of a secretary of state in the modern history of the United States. It may be that the thin-skinned Donald Trump decided to can Rex Tillerson after he reportedly called the president “a fucking moron” last year, and only now felt ready to drop the guillotine.

But before Tillerson rides off into the Texas sunset and is dismissed by his critics as the worst secretary of state in decades, let’s be honest about something: Tillerson may have played his hand badly. But the one he was dealt all but guaranteed a premature departure or marginalization. In short, the secretary’s fate was never entirely in his hands the minute he decided to offer honest instead of enabling and toady advice Continue reading “3 Things That Doomed Rex Tillerson”

Rex Tillerson Isn’t the Problem. It’s Trump.

It appears that those who have been calling for Rex Tillerson’s head—which includes most of the foreign policy know-it-alls inside the Beltway—may have finally gotten their wish. The Trump administration’s public shaming of Tillerson this week—seeking to degrade and humiliate him into resignation, like something out of “Game of Thrones,” minus the blood, dragons and nudity—doubtless accelerated the likelihood of a “Rexit.”

This isn’t a Shakespearean tragedy; Tillerson was a self-made man, had a brilliant career at Exxon-Mobil, has gobs of money and if/when he departs Trumpland, will likely live happily ever after.

On Friday afternoon, Trump himself took to Twitter to deny that change was afoot: “The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon – FAKE NEWS! He’s not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is Continue reading “Rex Tillerson Isn’t the Problem. It’s Trump.”

Trump Is a Bad Negotiator

Six months on, the gap between President Donald Trump’s grandiose promises on foreign policy and what he’s actually achieved seem galactic in scale. Not only are his headlines bad, but the trend lines for wins on many big, important issues seem grim as well.

From what we’ve seen so far, is Trump the consummate negotiator, the former real estate deal-maker par excellence whose “America First” strategy abroad was going to be so successful that Americans got sick of winning? Has Trump demonstrated the wily negotiating skills of a Henry Kissinger or James Baker, earning respect on the world stage and leaving his interlocutors reaching for their wallets?

Hardly. Granted, international diplomacy is a lot tougher than cutting real estate deals in New York, and there’s still a lot of time left on the presidential clock to make Trump great again. But half a year into the Trump era, there’s little Continue reading “Trump Is a Bad Negotiator”

Saudi Arabia’s New Crown Prince Is a Bumbling Hothead. Trump Needs to Treat Him Like One.

President Donald Trump, like a star-struck teenager, has been swooning over King Salman of Saudi Arabia and his 31-year-old son and new crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, known to U.S. diplomats as MBS. Since FDR, American presidents have been enamored by Saudi royals, but in this case the infatuation may be downright dangerous. The young prince who would be king might not only get his own country into heaps of trouble, he could also drag the United States down with it.

It’s not just Trump who’s been heaping praise on the new crown prince. MBS has also been hailed by the likes of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the German foreign minister, the IMF and the head of the World Bank. As the architect of Vision 2030, a galactically ambitious plan to transform and diversify the Saudi economy, MBS is seen as a potentially modernizing, dynamic and Continue reading “Saudi Arabia’s New Crown Prince Is a Bumbling Hothead. Trump Needs to Treat Him Like One.”

Why Trump Won’t Find Salvation in the Middle East

On Friday, President Donald Trump departs on a jam-packed nine-day international trip that he’s reportedly dreading. The past week has clearly been the worst of his brief presidency and perhaps revealed one of the worst series of self-inflicted wounds in the history of the presidency.

So why isn’t he looking for a foreign getaway to change the channel, strut the world stage and talk matters of high policy, war and peace with world leaders? One reason of course is that if you’re looking for happy times, let alone success, you don’t ordinarily travel to the Middle East. Trump’s first two stops are Saudi Arabia and Israel. Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

And yet, strange at it may seem, Trump actually has a Middle East strategy, or at least a reasonably coherent approach. And he’s counting on a set of successful meetings with the Saudis, other Continue reading “Why Trump Won’t Find Salvation in the Middle East”

Rex Tillerson Is Already Underwater

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is winging his way to Mexico today carrying a load of troubles in his bag: His boss is in a long rhetorical war with our nearest neighbor; our next major trade deal appears to have blown up; and, from Mexico’s perspective, America’s new immigration policy appears to be dumping migrants back into Mexico without its consent. And perhaps the biggest challenge for a secretary of state: Nobody knows whether he really speaks for his boss.

One month isn’t usually enough time to properly evaluate the performance of the nation’s top diplomat, but just three weeks after Tillerson took office, it’s clear that his tenure is already in trouble. As CEO of one of the world’s largest corporations, Tillerson was an unconventional choice for the job, but an intriguing one. At ExxonMobil, he presided over operations in most of the world’s countries—a company so large it Continue reading “Rex Tillerson Is Already Underwater”

The Art of a Deal with North Korea

Donald Trump has now completed his tempestuous voyage from campaigning and transitioning to governing. And governing effectively means making tough choices and trade-offs among options, which often range from bad to worse. Nothing could be closer to the truth than when dealing with the danger posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. That is certainly clear today after Kim Jung Un’s veiled threat in his New Year’s speech to begin testing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could attack the United States followed by last week’s rampant media speculation that Pyongyang was about to do so coinciding with President Trump’s inauguration. The danger is imminent, an effective strategy is needed and the menu of options is unpalatable. More sanctions will not work. The use of U.S. military force will be ineffective and carries great risks. And engineering regime change is a fool’s errand. Trump’s only realistic option for stopping Continue reading “The Art of a Deal with North Korea”