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Apparently Rex Tillerson Didn't Actually Want to Be Secretary of State

"My wife told me I'm supposed to do this."

by Harry Cheadle
22 March 2017, 9:29pm

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly didn't even really want the job he has, according to a new interview with Erin McPike of the conservative-leaning Independent Journal Review, the only reporter he brought along with him on his recent trip to Asia.

Tillerson, who told McPike in an earlier interview that he was not a "big media press access person," admitted that he hadn't yet talked to Trump about how he plans to restructure the State Department, even though the president wants to make drastic cuts to it. McPike's article is largely positive, but she didn't bother to hide her annoyance at how opaque Tillerson was when addressing major diplomatic initiatives. "He was so cagey when Russia came up, for example, that his answer wasn't even worthy of inclusion."

However, Tillerson did tell her some pretty revealing things about how he ended up with the nation's top diplomat job.

"I didn't want this job. I didn't seek this job." He paused to let that sink in.

A beat or two passed before an aide piped up to ask him why he said yes.

"My wife told me I'm supposed to do this."

After watching the contortions of my face as I tried to figure out what to say next, he humbly explained that he had never met the president before the election. As president-elect, Trump wanted to have a conversation with Tillerson "about the world" given what he gleaned from the complex global issues he dealt with as CEO of ExxonMobil.

"When he asked me at the end of that conversation to be secretary of state, I was stunned."

There is a lot that's strange about Tillerson's current position. He had no experience in government or politics before becoming secretary of state, and he has had to learn on the job even while dealing with North Korean provocations, tense situations with Russia and China, and his own boss's mercurial public statements. He doesn't have a team of deputies in place, he's been characterized as giving China a diplomatic victory on his recent trip, and the media is openly calling him weak—a perception that this interview isn't going to help. On top of all that, the idea that Trump would offer him the secretary of state job after a single meeting is just one more layer of weirdness.

Or maybe not: Reportedly, a lot of the Trump administration's diplomatic efforts are being run through the White House, in particular Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. Maybe Trump was casual about offering Tillerson the job because the president didn't really think it would be an important one.

Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.

Tagged:
Politics
china
Donald Trump
diplomacy
State Department
korea
foreign policy
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Rex Tillerson