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Why Doesn’t Tillerson Quit?

Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., June 21. DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/Flickr/Creative Commons.

Tillerson’s resignation would not fix anything with U.S. foreign policy, but it isn’t clear why he hasn’t quit yet if this report is remotely accurate:

The frustrations run both ways. Tillerson stunned a handful of senior administration officials when he called the president a “moron” [bold mine-DL] after a tense two-hour long meeting in a secure room at the Pentagon called “The Tank,” according to three officials who were present or briefed on the incident. The July 20 meeting came a day after a meeting in the White House Situation Room on Afghanistan policy where Trump rattled his national security advisers by suggesting he might fire the top U.S. commander of the war and comparing the decision-making process on troop levels to the renovation of a high-end New York restaurant, according to participants in the meeting.

It is unclear whether Trump was told of Tillerson’s outburst after the Pentagon meeting or to what extent the president was briefed on Tillerson’s plan to resign earlier in the year.

Tillerson also has complained about being publicly undermined by the president on the administration’s foreign policy agenda, officials said.

Tillerson’s frustrations are very understandable, and the cause of those frustrations isn’t going to go away. The problems plaguing U.S. foreign policy under Trump aren’t going to be solved with his resignation, but Tillerson’s problem of being routinely embarrassed and undermined would be. That makes it difficult to see what he hopes to accomplish by sticking around. Unlike Sessions, who seems to be willing to accept public humiliation by Trump as the price of getting to implement at least some of his desired agenda, Tillerson doesn’t appear to be getting anything for his trouble except more grief.

Dan DePetris notes in his semi-defense of the Secretary of State that no one else in that position in the last 25 years has been “subjected to such vitriol as Rex Tillerson in the first nine months of the job.” That much seems indisputable, which makes his determination to stay on in the job all the more puzzling. He reportedly didn’t want the job, he doesn’t really need the job, he can’t possibly be enjoying it, by most accounts he isn’t good at it, and the longer he stays the more humiliations he is likely to endure at the president’s hands. According to the report, Mattis and Kelly begged him to stay on when he was considering resignation this summer. Their appeals seem to have worked so far, but at some point they won’t be enough.

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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