Region Responds to Tillerson’s Firing

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

March 25, 2018

The firing of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is the latest high-profile departure from the Trump White House. Mr. Tillerson’s tenure as Washington’s top diplomat has been rocked from the start by an uncomfortable relationship between him and President Donald Trump, who reportedly had little patience for Mr. Tillerson’s defense of the Iran nuclear deal and his diplomatic overtures with North Korea. Given the complicated feelings in the region for the nuclear deal, it is perhaps no surprise that the reaction to his firing across the region has been almost universally positive.


That message comes across in the National’s editorial, which notes that the firing “follows a series of disagreements and will surprise few, coming from a president who values loyalty above all else…. Mr. Tillerson is not entirely to blame; at the behest of the White House, his department has yielded authority to the Pentagon. Nonetheless his poor management is starting to be felt in the department’s capacity to advance American interests abroad, creating power vacuums into which Iran and Turkey have lurched. Ahead of pivotal talks with Pyongyang, instability seems ill-advised. But few in Washington will mourn a rather ineffectual Secretary of State, whose departure never looked far away.”

The Gulf News’s editorial points out that the firing confirms what many have already suspected about Mr. Trump — that loyalty is valued above all else: “What the past 14 months of this administration have shown us is that it remains a volatile and difficult place to work, where chaos itself is a management strategy, and where individuals come and go almost at the drop of a hat or the pushing of a tweet…. Taking over the State Department now will be a difficult challenge for Mike Pompeo, previously the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and a fully paid-up member of the Republican Tea Party. His appointment now places the president’s stamp fully over foreign policy, and President Trump, by firing Tillerson, has shown that he values loyalty above all else.”

Writing for Asharq Alawsat, Abdulrahman Al-Rashed suggests that, from the point of view of the Arab states, the only relationship that matters is the one between the U.S. president and the Arab leaders. Consequently, the removal of one official or the other should not have an impact on bilateral relations: “What matters for us is that we have good ties with all the state’s offices, as long as there is agreement with the president on the key issues. Unfortunately, the record of the State Department under Tillerson did not reflect the spirit of the White House and its policies with regard to several crucial matters, most importantly that of Iran…. Qatar is one part of the disagreement with Tillerson, but it is not the main cause. The Qatar crisis is a problem to Qatar but not to its neighbors. It is not an issue like Yemen or Libya. It is one that may be resolved this year,or take several more years; i.e. there is no hurry to resolve it as long as it is merely a political issue with no bloodshed.”

In Turkey, Daily Sabah’s Burhanettin Duran considers the implications of the leadership changes at the U.S. State Department, unsure how such changes will affect Turkey’s interests in the region: “Tillerson’s departure (and Pompeo’s imminent arrival) have been the talk of town in the Turkish capital Ankara. Needless to say, the main concern is whether this change in personnel would place Turkey’s agreement with the United States on Manbij at risk. Having just started talking about the PKK’s Syrian branch, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), renewed tensions would hurt the interests of both countries. But the million-dollar question is how an increasingly united Trump administration will affect Turkey-U.S. relations. It remains unclear how the administration’s Syria, Iran and Russia policies, which will be developed by this group of pro-military hawks, impact Turkish interests.”

Meanwhile, in an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Danny Leffler pens a rather damning op-ed regarding Mr. Tillerson’s likely replacement, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, fearing that Mr. Pompeo’s rise portends troubling developments in the region: “That one of Congress’ most partisan members is now secretary of state-in-waiting demonstrates the extreme polarization of U.S. politics. If he is confirmed, the person charged with representing America to the world at large will also be one of the country’s harshest partisans…. The State Department, which emerges badly damaged from Tillerson’s tenure, is already reeling – morale within its halls has reportedly tanked and career foreign service officers have departed in stunning numbers. With the US mired in a 17-year war in Afghanistan and facing growing threats from dangerous foes like Iran and North Korea, placing a hardline conservative at the helm of American diplomacy risks over-militarizing US foreign policy and raises the chances of another major war even higher.”

Finally, the Saudi Gazette’s Hussein Shobokshi is complementary of Mr. Trump’s “decisive” moves, arguing that the U.S. president’s tough rhetoric has turned around the instability and confusion in Europe which until now had enabled Russia and China to exert an even greater influence in world affairs: “Among all this confusion within the US and the shock in the European Union, which has always been the most important ally of the United States of America, China and Russia have made the most of the ‘opportunities’ for political expansion and wider influence in the affairs of the world…. The American system is capable of correcting its mistakes and has many cards in its hand, some of which have begun to emerge, such as the protectionist policies suggested by Trump, by a recent declaration of a trade war to protect America, and the US dollar is another deadly weapon, to its new role as a source of energy in the new global market, the next scene in the international conflict will be different from what has happened because the rules of the game have changed.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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