Rex Tillerson is considered the most media-shy member of the Trump administration. So, it was rather out of the ordinary when he held a surprise press conference. The conference was held to dispel any rumors that Tillerson or Donald Trump wanted to part ways over this past summer. Things ended up taking a rather odd turn though when Tillerson refused to deny reports that he’d referred to President Trump as a “moron” behind closed doors. He instead said that he isn’t “going to deal with petty stuff like that,” or as the rest of the world interpreted it, “I totally called Trump a moron and continue to do so to this day.”
Regardless of whether or not you think Trump is a moron, this news does outline a very shaky past between Tillerson and Trump. What is actually going on with our President and our Secretary of State? Take a look at how opposed Trump and Tillerson have been on domestic and international affairs.
Trump has actively sabotaged Tillerson’s North Korea agenda
North Korea is probably one of the most complicated diplomatic problems that face the world today. The threat of nuclear war is all too real, and tens of millions of lives hang in the balance. Tillerson’s policy has always been one of “peaceful pressure,” or in other words, he wishes to rely on diplomacy and sanctions to bring North Korea to the negotiating table. During a trip to China, North Korea’s strongest trading partner, Tillerson was attempting to get President Xi to apply economic pressure on North Korea. That all took a back seat though when Trump demolished Tillerson’s attempts at diplomacy with a single Tweet.
Next: See how Trump can dismantle sensitive diplomatic relations with friendly states in a tweet.
Trump Tweets and Tillerson Cringes
During a trip to China, North Koreas strongest trading partner, where Tillerson was attempting to get President Xi to apply economic pressure on North Korea, Trump decided to tell Xi and the world of Twitter that there was no point. Trump Tweeted, “While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!” This essentially undermined Tillerson’s plan for North Korea, which was a plan that requires China’s aid.
Trump also undermined Tillerson when it was discovered that Tillerson wanted an open line of communication with North Korea. Trump also Tweeted, “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man, Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” Veteran diplomats were shocked by this to say the least, while many cannot remember a time when a president so brazenly undermined his Secretary of State.
Next: The Iran Nuclear Deal isn’t so bad in Tillerson’s eyes.
Trump and Tillerson have vastly different views on Iran
An important cornerstone of the Republican agenda during the election involved putting a halt to Iran’s nuclear program. That means ending the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran Nuclear Deal as it is commonly referred to, put forth by the Obama administration back in 2015. Tillerson believes that we should stay in the deal, and has urged Trump to certify Iran’s compliance with the accord. That way we can address Iran’s aggression through other means.
Next: Talk about being shut down by your wingman.
Trump can’t have Tillerson look like the strong man
However, Trump completely disagrees with Tillerson’s position on Iran. Trump would rather have the deal fall apart, by the means of failing to comply with the terms of the accord. Trump told The Wall Street Journal last July that “if it was up to me, I would have had them non-compliant 180 days ago.” Since then, however, Tillerson has begun to sing a little bit of a different tune. He now believes that there are some problems with the deal that need to be addressed. Insiders now believe that Trump has plans to decertify Iran and send the arrangement to Congress for review and almost inevitable dismantling.
Next: Tillerson exercises sound diplomatic judgment in the Middle East
The Gulf Crisis was made worse by Trump’s lack of understanding
A diplomatic dispute between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar has left blockades on the countries borders. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have accused Qatar of financing terror organizations, an accusation that Qatar strongly denies. Tillerson wants the UAE and Saudi Arabia to end the blockade, as it undermines the U.S.’s anti-terrorism efforts. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State has pushed for talks between the nations to solve the problem.
Next: Trump: “Hold my beer.”
Trump thinks he’s better suited for negotiations
Trump decided to take things into his own hands and side with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, despite Qatar being an ally. Just hours after Tillerson stated the State Department’s position, Trump spoke from the Rose Garden at the White House in June, stating that “nations spoke to me about confronting Qatar about its behavior.” Just last month Trump quipped that he would be the best person to moderate the compromise, a job that is already in the hands of Kuwait.
Next: Tillerson and the president do not see eye to eye on Charlottesville.
Charlottesville is a tantamount to their departure in values
When Charlottesville showed a stark contrast in America’s values, the common expectation for any civil servant, or human for that matter, would be to condemn the actions of any white supremacist, Nazi, or Ku Klux Klan member. Rather, Trump took a very different approach, saying that there were “very fine people on both sides,” a statement that enraged many.
Tillerson was obviously not a fan of the statement. When asked about Trump’s comments and American values, Tillerson responded, “I don’t believe anyone doubts the American people’s values or the commitment of the American government or the government’s agencies to living those values and defending those values.” Fox News’s Chris Wallace then asked about the president’s values, to which Tillerson said firmly and pointedly, “The president speaks for himself.”
Next: But does this mean that Trump and Tillerson’s relationship is on the rocks?
Trump and Tillerson are complementary adversaries
The Trump and Tillerson dynamic is a complicated one, to say the least. Both have very strong beliefs that echo each other’s core values. Tillerson is the only one, it seems, that will voice is contempt for an idea that Trump may have, and Trump is certainly willing to say whatever is on his mind at any given moment. But those two personality traits can play well with one another as a sort of check and balance if one yields to the other in some cases. However, that personality dynamic between does lend credence to the rumors that Tillerson did indeed call Trump a “moron.”
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