Home/Daniel Larison/A Tillerson Resignation Wouldn’t Fix Anything

A Tillerson Resignation Wouldn’t Fix Anything

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a meeting for the Global Coalition on the Defeat of ISIS at the State Department in Washington, D.C., March 22, 2017. (DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)

Eliot Cohen says that the latest rift between Trump and Tillerson requires the latter to resign out of self-respect:

Against such large stakes, the humiliation of one more senior staff or cabinet member may not seem like a big deal. But it is. Tillerson has to quit. His boss has publicly and mockingly stripped him of his credibility as the chief diplomat of the United States. As an envoy, he is useless, because he will speak only for himself and the tiny embattled coterie of aides that surround him. Having taken a pickaxe to the department entrusted to his care, his departure would do the battered State Department some good, as well as enabling him to salvage what remains of his dignity.

One could argue that Trump has been stripping Tillerson of this credibility for months, and the repeated humiliations haven’t made him quit yet. That is all the more remarkable because he supposedly never wanted the job in the first place. The latest episode was just one more manifestation of the administration’s foreign policy dysfunction that has been on display from the beginning. It’s true that this one concerns a very serious international issue, and the implications of Trump’s disdain for diplomacy and for the Secretary of State’s efforts are potentially very grave, but anyone that replaced Tillerson would confront the same problem. The problem is that the president doesn’t understand how diplomacy works or what it requires to be successful, and anyone foolish enough to take Tillerson’s job would be sabotaged by more of the same random outbursts and threats from the chief tweeter.

Cohen suggests that the department would benefit from Tillerson’s departure, but that presupposes that his likely replacement would have any interest in repairing the damage he has already done. That seems improbable, especially if Nikki Haley were the one to replace him. I’m certainly not going to defend Tillerson’s tenure, and I don’t think anyone could. During his time in office, he has presided over the wrecking of his own department and achieved nothing else, but any likely replacement would also be carrying out Trump’s wishes and those don’t include making the State Department great again. A Haley-led State Department would be run by a more ideological hawk with no more respect for the institution than Tillerson had, and the conduct of U.S. diplomacy would still be in the hands of someone who has no relevant experience. Tillerson’s resignation wouldn’t fix any of the things that plague the administration’s foreign policy because Trump would still be the same incompetent and irresponsible president that he has been. We have seen how misguided it was to think that the “adults” in the administration could rein him in or teach him some discipline, and nothing will be improved by swapping one of them out for even less qualified people.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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