The Disaster that is SecState Tillerson

There is a long list of problems associated with the current administration’s utter lack of knowledge about, or interest in, governing, but one of the most obvious and concerning at the moment is the fact that we currently lack a functioning State Department.  Dan Drezner explains:  My so-called Secretary of State.

My only quibble with Drzener’s piece is this:

It’s nice that Rex Tillerson found a job to transition from CEO of ExxonMobil to retirement. But maybe he should just hand over that job to someone who actually wants it and knows what to do with it.

I totally agree with his criticisms of Tillerson.  My quibble is that if he quits, which I agree that he should, I am not convinced that the President will, in turn, appoint someone who will know what to do with the job.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Scott says:

    Six months in and we seem to have no evidence of learning to govern. It is an incompetent, amateurish administration. If this is what is meant by running the government as a business, then no thank you. To be charitable, maybe it is just run as a Trump business.

  2. Slugger says:

    Mr. Tillerson’s job might be hard to do because his boss is mercurial. What’s America’s position on NATO? In May, Mr. Trump avoided a commitment to Article 5 which is the obvious lynchpin of the alliance; a few days ago he stated strong adherence to that principle. Overnight, he voices support for the Saudi blockade of Qatar. Suddenly, the Russians become our good friends in building peace in Syria.
    Mr. Tillerson is working for a guy who sends an unseasoned fashion company executive to represent him at a G 20 meeting session.
    How can anyone do that job?

  3. Slugger says:

    @Slugger: And BTW, who ranks higher, Tillerson or Jared Kushner? It is hard to do your job when the boss entrusts relatives with tasks that should be in your area of responsibility.

  4. @Slugger: As I noted in the post, I think that the President deserves a huge portion of the blame for the deficiencies at State (if anything, he appointed Tillerson). As such, much of Tillerson’s problems are due to the administration itself. However, even in the areas that Tillerson controls he has been manifestly terrible at the job.

  5. CSK says:


    Since Trump has a well-documented history of trusting only close family members, the obvious conclusion is that Kushner outranks Tillerson.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    Exxon has rights to huge fields in Russia which they cannot exploit because of the sanctions we imposed over Crimea and Ukraine. Tillerson’s loyalty to the company he serviced all his life and to his stock holdings demands that he remove these sanctions. If his account of the Putin meeting is to be remotely trusted he made a lot of progress.

  7. Gustopher says:

    Who could have known that putting a complete neophyte in control of a large government organization would go badly?

  8. An Interested Party says:

    As such, much of Tillerson’s problems are due to the administration itself.

    And what does that say about Tillerson that he would stay in his position under those circumstances…

  9. CSK says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Maybe he’s just waiting for those sanctions on the oil fields to be removed. Then he’s out the door.

  10. @An Interested Party: It speaks rather poorly of him, in fact.

  11. de stijl says:

    Republicans in general and Trump in particular disdain soft power. Hard power is much more satisfying to that psychology.

    DoS is the embodiment of soft American power.

    So gutting it feels both good and right to them. Thus, appointing Tillerson and slashing the budget and failing to staff it appropriately.

    Why prevent conflicts and diminish tension when it is much better to curb stomp our enemies? That is the mind-set. The kid gloves are off, goddammit!

    (Except for Russia. They are our allies and role-model in the war against the Wogs.)

    How much of this situation is Bannon’s doing?

  12. Ratufa says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It speaks rather poorly of him, in fact.

    I find it hard to criticize any relatively sane person who stays in the Trump administration, even if they are treated like crap. Sanity is in short supply in short supply there, and Tillerson is at least sane enough to work with Mattis. Who knows what the next Sec of State would be like, particularly if Kushner has some voice in making that decision.

  13. @Ratufa: That’s not unfair. OTOH, Tillerson does not strike me as one who “took one for the country” to work in the Trump admin. He is an amateur, regardless of his experience in international business.

    And, worse, unlike Mattis or McMaster, I am not sure that his staying in place is a help–except, as you note, in terms of who his replacement might be.

  14. swami says:

    …but one of the most obvious and concerning at the moment is the fact that we currently lack a functioning State Department…

    But Tillerson looks like he’s from Central Casting. Surely that counts?

  15. Jen says:

    This entire administration just demonstrates its utter cluelessness every darn day.

  16. Mr. Prosser says:

    Tillerson is part and parcel of the Trump administration. He is on record as wanting to downsize State and make it less influen