Marc A. Thiessen / March 14, 2018

Tillerson’s Insubordination Meant He Had to Go

There are many reasons Rex Tillerson’s tenure as secretary of state was a failure, from his notorious isolation from his subordinates to his failure to help quickly staff the political appointment positions at State with competent Republicans.

There are many reasons Rex Tillerson’s tenure as secretary of state was a failure, from his notorious isolation from his subordinates to his failure to help quickly staff the political appointment positions at State with competent Republicans. But it was his insubordination to the president that assured that he wouldn’t be long in his position. With a summit with North Korea in the works, President Trump’s decision to oust Tillerson and replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo could not have come at a better moment.

Tillerson was completely out of step with Trump’s hard-line stance on North Korea, which ultimately brought Kim Jong Un to the bargaining table. Instead, Tillerson’s North Korea strategy seemed to be to beg Pyongyang for talks. Speaking at the Atlantic Council in December, Tillerson delivered this embarrassing plea: “Let’s just meet. And we can talk about the weather if you want. … But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face?” He might as well have added: “Pretty please, with sugar on top?”

Trump’s critics were constantly griping that the president was undermining Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts with North Korea, when in fact the opposite was true. Trump’s strategy has been to achieve a peaceful solution by getting Kim to understand that the United States is ready to use force to stop him from deploying a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile capable of destroying an American city. This is the message Trump was trying to send during his address to the South Korean legislature, when he told Kim in no uncertain terms: “The weapons you are acquiring are not making you safer. They are putting your regime in grave danger. Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face.”

By projecting weakness to Pyongyang, Tillerson was undercutting Trump’s message of strength — and thus making war more likely. The fact that Tillerson could not seem to grasp this or get on the same page as his commander in chief made his continued leadership of the State Department untenable.

Pompeo, by contrast, is in lockstep with Trump in sending Kim a clear message that, should diplomacy fail, the United States will not hesitate to act. “The president is intent on delivering this solution through diplomatic means,” Pompeo told me during a recent conversation at the American Enterprise Institute. “We are equally, at the same time, ensuring that … if we conclude that it is not possible, that we present the president with a range of options that can achieve what is his stated intention.”

The failure to deliver those options is yet another reason Tillerson’s tenure at State had to end. Tillerson was working with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to slow-walk the delivery of military options to the president, apparently out of fear that the president might actually act on them. According to The New York Times, after a conference call about North Korea organized by national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Tillerson stayed on the line with Mattis and, unaware the other participants were still listening, complained about a series of meetings the National Security Council had set up to consider military options — “signs, Mr. Tillerson said, that [the NSC] was becoming overly aggressive.”

No one elected Tillerson to make these decisions. They elected Trump. With Tillerson gone and Pompeo at State, McMaster will now have an ally at State who shares his belief that for Trump’s warnings to North Korea to be credible, he must have well-developed and credible military options on the table.

As Trump put it, Tillerson had to go because “we were not thinking the same. With Mike Pompeo, we have a similar thought process.” Having a trusted adviser at State will be critical to the success of the biggest diplomatic gamble of Trump’s presidency: his upcoming talks with Kim.

At AEI, Pompeo told me that the CIA assesses that Kim is a rational actor — which means that, given accurate information about the president’s intentions, Kim should make a rational decision that will not lead to the destruction of his regime. “We’re taking the real-world actions that we think will make [it] unmistakable to Kim Jong Un that we are intent on denuclearization,” Pompeo said. “We’re counting on the fact that he’ll see it. We’re confident that he will.” With Pompeo in office, Trump now has a much better chance of getting that message across to the North Korean dictator.

© 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

Start a conversation using these share links:

Who We Are

The Patriot Post is a highly acclaimed weekday digest of news analysis, policy and opinion written from the heartland — as opposed to the MSM’s ubiquitous Beltway echo chambers — for grassroots leaders nationwide. More

What We Offer

On the Web

We provide solid conservative perspective on the most important issues, including analysis, opinion columns, headline summaries, memes, cartoons and much more.

Via Email

Choose our full-length Digest or our quick-reading Snapshot for a summary of important news. We also offer Cartoons & Memes on Monday and Alexander’s column on Wednesday.

Our Mission

The Patriot Post is steadfast in our mission to extend the endowment of Liberty to the next generation by advocating for individual rights and responsibilities, supporting the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and promoting free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values. We are a rock-solid conservative touchstone for the expanding ranks of grassroots Americans Patriots from all walks of life. Our mission and operation budgets are not financed by any political or special interest groups, and to protect our editorial integrity, we accept no advertising. We are sustained solely by you. Please support The Patriot Fund today!

★ PUBLIUS ★

“Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!” —George Washington

The Patriot Post is protected speech, as enumerated in the First Amendment and enforced by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, in accordance with the endowed and unalienable Rights of All Mankind.

Copyright © 2022 The Patriot Post. All Rights Reserved.

The Patriot Post does not support Internet Explorer. We recommend installing the latest version of Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome.