We agree with many of Tillerson’s critics: He played a bad hand badly. He was too insular and secretive, failing to engage senior and experienced department officials; too willing to accept the White House’s severe cuts to State’s budget without a fight; too invisible, unwilling to engage constituencies and do public station identification on what American foreign policy meant under the Trump Administration; and too committed to a redesign/reform program that seemed devoid of any strategic logic to just about anyone familiar with the State Department.
And yet despite all of these missteps and mistakes, we believe that because of the preternatural strangeness of Trumpland, Tillerson never had chance to succeed. In the end, he was trapped on the one hand between a president with little regard for diplomacy or the State Department (and who possessed, at best, a passing superficial respect for him), and on the other hand, the cruel and unforgiving realities of a world beyond America’s shores, which left him with a bundle of challenges impossible to manage, let alone resolve.
This isn’t a conundrum that will magically solve itself after Tillerson leaves the Cabinet; it may, in fact, be endemic to the job under this president.