Opinion: With Tillerson’s firing, White House loses a voice of reason


Rex Tillerson’s departure means Donald Trump’s Cabinet is losing a moderate voice; his successor is a hardliner catering to the US president’s taste. The move is not good news for Europe, says DW’s Alexandra von Nahmen.

A dismissal by tweet. The way US President Donald Trump reportedly fired his secretary of state is a slap in the face of the soon-to-be-former top diplomat. Disrespectful and humiliating. For months it had been speculated just when Tillerson would have to leave; the fact that it happened right now will hurt the US.

Tillerson was inexperienced as a diplomat and did not have many friends in the department he oversaw, but he earned international respect. The fact that he represented moderate positions and sometimes contradicted the president — for example, when it came to North Korea and Iran — repeatedly angered Trump.

Occasionally, the president has also hinted that with a “genius” like him in the White House, the US does not need a government. Because, of course, everything just depends on him. Megalomania and naivete go hand-in-hand with this president!

A loyal foot soldier for ‘America First’

With Mike Pompeo, Trump is now installing a hardliner in the State Department who is already considered a vicarious agent of the president and his “America First” policy. Tillerson was against the US exit from the Paris Climate Agreement; Pompeo, however, does not believe in climate change. Just like Trump.

Tillerson argued that it was in US interests not to abandon the nuclear deal with Iran; Pompeo says he would prefer cancel the “disastrous deal” today rather than tomorrow. Just like Trump.

End of Iran deal looming?

It could come to that soon. Just recently, the US president complained that there was too little progress in talks on reshaping the agreement. He could use the next deadline in May to follow up his threats with action. The consequences would be devastating for the Middle East, but also for the US and Europe.

How does the international community want to slow down the Iranian nuclear program? And with what arguments should the North Korean regime be brought to the table for serious negotiations? With the prospect of agreements that will be terminated despite compliance, at the whim of the sitting US president?

Bluster as strategy

Coming up in May, Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un want to get together for talks. Precisely for that reason, it would have been wiser to count on continuity in the State Department. In the North Korean crisis, Tillerson was from the outset a voice of reason, in favor of diplomatic solutions and against Trump’s saber-rattling.

But Trump is not a smart tactician, and not a strategist. He blusters and rages when cornered for domestic political reasons. And he causes damage to foreign policy. His agenda is increasingly isolating the US and making it hard for Europeans and other US allies to see America as a reliable partner. With Tillerson’s firing, things get even harder for Washington’s friends abroad.


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