On March 13, President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and indicated he would nominate current CIA Director Mike Pompeo as his replacement, according to the New York Times. Tillerson’s firing comes at a crucial time, as the United States prepares to enter peace talks with North Korea and investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. How do you think Tillerson’s firing might affect the current administration, and what does it say for the future of U.S. foreign policy? 

Prof. Paul Jankowski (HIST) 

Rex Tillerson was able to moderate some of President Trump’s more reckless actions, for example over the Iran nuclear deal or the Paris climate accord, but he will be remembered for failing to defend the State Department from presidential bile. Like most nationalists, Trump despises professional diplomats, and Tillerson did nothing to prevent the hollowing out of a highly professional and critical corps of public servants. Many have resigned, many positions have not been filled, many among those remaining are demoralized. Last week the President suddenly and unilaterally decided to meet with Kim Jong-un of North Korea. Even if there were enough time to prepare for the impulsive summit, the United States has no ambassador in South Korea, the Department’s top North Korea expert has left, and it is unclear whether the Japanese have been consulted at all. Tillerson, alas, was in the end unable to arrest the diplomacy of demagoguery. 

Prof. Paul Jankowski is a professor of History, specializing in modern European and French history and the history of modern warfare. 

Casey Lamar ’18

Historically speaking, tensions between the State Department and the White House over foreign policy are hardly new. Especially at critical points in foreign policy, it’s not particularly surprising to see turnover in the administration. Over the past 13 months, however, it’s become obvious that the fastest way to get fired in the Trump administration is to get more press than the President, so it will be interesting to see how Mike Pompeo adapts from working in the shadows of the CIA to the much more public role of the State Department. Although it appears that Donald Trump has an ally in Pompeo that he didn’t have with Rex Tillerson, Trump has shown it’s not a question of “if” he will go head-to-head with his newest appointment, it’s more a question of “when.” For the time being though, the thought of a Secretary of State willing to step in line behind a president who thinks he can win a trade war while threatening to start a nuclear war is troublesome at best.

Casey Lamar ’18 is majoring in Neuroscience and Biology and minoring in Chemistry and Near Eastern Judaic Studies. 

Renee Korgood ’20 

Rex Tillerson’s firing will likely not have any immediate impacts on U.S. foreign policy, given how little influence he appeared to have on it in the first place. While it was Tillerson who proposed diplomacy with North Korea long before Trump was on the same page, many of his other policy positions ran directly against Trump’s, which made Tillerson both threatening and ineffective in the current administration. He had little ability to tamp down the unpredictability of the current administration’s policy. This will likely only get worse as an even less experienced statesman aims to take his place, Mike Pompeo. Given that there will likely be a long (and possible unsuccessful) confirmation battle, the immediate future of U.S. foreign policy will be largely steered by the whims of those at the top, which has been volatile and misinformed and will continue to be so, unless someone garners the courage to meaningfully stand against the President’s vitriolic views.

Renee Korgood ’20 is majoring in Politics and minoring in French and Legal Studies.

Lucy Pugh-Sellers ’20 

Tillerson’s firing will probably have little effect on the current administration’s downward path toward self-implosion, although now we will have to worry about a dishonest, staunch Trump-defender as opposed to an unqualified isolationist. However, no choice for Secretary of State would largely change the foreign policy trajectory of the United States, long predicated on the maintenance of an imperialistic "superpower" facade necessarily built on murder and the counterfeit claim to "human rights" protection. Under today's political terms, what is required to substantially change this hypocritical and harmful foreign policy legacy is major pressure from the American people or a paradigm shift. 

Lucy Pugh-Sellers ’20 is majoring in History and Film, Television, and Interactive Media and minoring in Afro and African-American Studies and Legal Studies.