Rex Tillerson: A stubborn Texan who does not agree with Trump

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The Secretary of State is making his own foreign policy moves while the President's tweets at times contradict him directly 

Rex Tillerson

Lee en Español: Rex Tillerson: el texano en desacuerdo con Trump

A United Nations committee criticized Donald Trump for what it deemed his failure to fully condemn hatred and bigotry in the wake of deadly violence at a white supremacist march in Charlottesville. The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, following an invitation from Fox News, was questioned about Trump’s position with regards to American values and about his answer to the white supremacist's actions. His answer left little doubt about the very different perspectives of the president and one of the most important members of government. This is not the first time Tillerson defends a different vision involving an important subject. His positions and ideas concerning Russia, North Korea, and Qatar have also at times proven to be considerably different.

“We express America's values from the State Department — our commitment to freedom, our commitment to equal treatment of people the world over, and that message has never changed,” said Tillerson responding to a question about the philosophy behind his foreign policy, and the idea of the United States as the worlds greatest superpower. He was then asked about Charlottesville and whether or not Trump's comments about the events there had made it harder for him to represent America abroad. Tillerson answered: “I don’t believe anyone doubts the American people’s values or the commitment of the American government or the government’s agencies to advancing those values and defending those values.” When he was again questioned about the President's values, he just said “the president speaks for himself, I’ve made my own comments about our values”.

The job of the Secretary of State, according to the U.S. State Department, is to carry out “the president’s foreign policies,” So when a Secretary of State, in this case Rex Tillerson, is asked to explain his position on a certain topic, in theory it should reflect president Trump’s view. But every time Tillerson speaks, Trump’s comments on twitter tend to reflect the complete opposite of what the Secretary of State says.

In the case of North Korea, Tillerson was keen to note that, in his opinion, the country does not represent not an imminent threat to the United States, but hours after this statement was made, President Trump tweeted that his first order “as president was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before. Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!”. This tweet came only hours after he had said he will attack North Korea with “fire and fury” if it threatened the US. For analysts, these kind of disagreements among a president and a key member of government are relatively common, but have rarely happened on as regular a basis as in this case. Michael Fuchs, the former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Barack Obama administration, argues that “there are certain kind of subjects where the secretary of state does not agree with the president, but in these 9 months Tillerson and Trump have never agreed on something.”

In the case of Qatar, is was not just a tweet that clarified the differences between the two men. Instead, both were standing in the same room when they made the contradictory comments. While Tillerson suggested that the Arab countries could start talking to each other in more constructive ways and ease the blockade against Qatar, Tump insisted that Qatar constitutes “a funder of terrorism at a very high level.” The dispute is still not resoled —despite Tillerson’s attempt to mediate by travelling to the Persian Gulf.

So far, Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson have had disagreements on multiple subjects, but what one can state with a reasonable degree of certainty is that Tillerson is not planning to abandon the Government, nor his important position he holds within it. Instead, he might remember his work as the CEO of Exxon Mobil which often proved to be a difficult challenge of reconciling competing interests and visions. Now he has recognized the opportunity to be the bearer and main representative of American values abroad, even though the president's tweets might not always be aligned with him.


Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto 

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