Rex Tillerson was picked by Donald Trump to be his Secretary of State. Tillerson represents the president in foreign policy matters and serves at the pleasure of the president. So, why then, is President Trump publicly undermining his handpicked representative in a pair of tweets today?
I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
…Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump tweeted.
A second tweet followed a short time later, saying, “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”
The pair of tweets raise many questions about the inner workings of the Trump Administration. Has Rex Tillerson gone rogue in his negotiations with North Korea? If President Trump does not support the negotiations with North Korea then why is Tillerson conducting them? Why is Trump raising the issue in a public forum like Twitter rather than in private?
If President Trump doesn’t have faith in his Secretary of State or if Tillerson is disobeying the president’s instructions then why keep him on the job? For that matter, why would Tillerson want to continue to serve a president who publicly undercuts him in such a humiliating fashion?
Has President Trump given up on negotiations? Is he signaling the North Koreans that he doesn’t want a deal and is ready to turn to a military option?
The most likely answer is that Trump’s tweets are a clumsy attempt at a good cop-bad cop routine. Trump is playing the bad cop who is eager to attack North Korea. Tillerson is the good cop who is attempting to restrain Trump and find a diplomatic solution.
It’s easy to imagine the scene in a police interrogation room. Trump turns over a table in a fit of rage and storms out, slamming the door behind him. Tillerson, sleeves rolled up and wearing a shoulder holster turns to a shackled Kim Jong Un.
“He’s crazy,” Tillerson says. “He’s going to go nuclear on you. I’m trying to help you, but you’ve got to give me something to work with. I need some concessions.”
Tillerson, who is in China, has not responded publicly to Trump’s tweets. In a press conference on Saturday, Tillerson told CNN that the United States was pursuing a peaceful resolution to the dispute with North Korea.
When asked about President Trump’s warnings to Kim Jong Un, Tillerson answered, “I think the whole situation is a bit overheated right now. I think everyone would like for it to calm down.”