Presidents select their secretaries of state, who serve at their bosses’ pleasure.
Conflicts between the chief executive and the cabinet member who oversees foreign affairs are as old as the republic. President George Washington’s first secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, or, at least, his supporters, publicly clashed with his boss over whether to support the French Revolution. When the French republic declared war on Great Britain, and the United States remained neutral, Jefferson’s supporters, known as Jeffersonians, derided Washington as a monarchist and enemy of true republican values. Jefferson later resigned.
Today, our nation faces diplomatic issues at least as vexing as that one. And the man in the White House and his chief international negotiator in Foggy Bottom come to their jobs with zero diplomatic credentials. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson come instead from a CEO tradition — Trump from a career in real estate and Tillerson from a long tenure running Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas company.
Neither, consequently, is much used to having his instincts or his orders questioned.
But they have been thrust into roles in which triumphs or missteps don’t merely affect the success of a company project or its stock price. While Trump and Tillerson have certainly been players on the world stage earlier in their careers, the lines these global actors now speak — not to mention the actions they take — affect the lives of millions of real people in every nation on the Earth.
Given the crazed anti-American rhetoric and intemperate missile tests now issuing from the dictatorial regime in North Korea, what a plot Trump and Tillerson have been given in which to play their roles.
With powerful men used to getting their own ways, there are naturally going to be tensions and disagreements over this complex predicament. That doesn’t mean they have to speak their lines in…