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Looking Back On Rex Tillerson's Tumultuous Tenure As Secretary Of State

Mar 13, 2018
Originally published on March 14, 2018 2:20 am
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now let's get reaction from a veteran diplomat to Rex Tillerson's departure. John Negroponte served as director of national intelligence and deputy secretary of state under President George W. Bush. He was also ambassador to several countries under different presidents. Welcome to the program.

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: First, what was your reaction to the firing of Rex Tillerson this morning?

NEGROPONTE: I wasn't really very surprised because I'd heard even late last year that it was expected that he would depart sometime early in this new year.

SHAPIRO: He had a business background as the head of Exxon Mobil. And when he arrived at State, one of his first big initiatives was to slim down the State Department. What impact do you think that had in the last year or so?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I think he tended to focus unduly on the question of State Department organization and the boxes on the chart. And I think that distracted him a bit from his more important responsibilities.

SHAPIRO: Which of those responsibilities do you think he neglected?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I think first of all defending his own department's budget. He seemed to go along with these rather large cuts that were proposed in our budget. He didn't defend the United States Foreign Service and really didn't make them feel like participants in the process and the activities of the Department of State.

SHAPIRO: Do you think that in those 15 months he established any kind of a global outlook, philosophy, approach to diplomatic affairs?

NEGROPONTE: Oh, I'm sure he did with his extensive travels and the fact that he'd known a lot of the leaders around the world from his prior experience. So I don't doubt that he had a worldview. I think his difficulty was more the one of meshing his own life experience with the challenge of directing an important government department and then relating all of that to his relationship with the White House, the National Security Council staff and so forth. And I think it's on the latter - in the latter area where he had particular difficulty. And it just apparently never seemed to quite click with the president of the United States.

SHAPIRO: Particular difficulty meaning because he disagreed with President Trump on matters ranging from the Paris climate accord to the Iran nuclear deal.

NEGROPONTE: Well, there must have also been some kind of issue about how it was presented or how it was argued. Maybe it's extremely difficult in the current White House. But somehow it just didn't work out. I've heard Mr. Pompeo express his views on some of these subjects - for example, whether or not the Russians intervened in our elections - and he seems to believe that's the case. And he seems to have had no difficulty or have not been frightened to say that publicly.

SHAPIRO: So what kind of a secretary of state do you think Mike Pompeo, the man nominated to replace Secretary Tillerson, will be?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I wish him luck, first of all. I think it's an extremely important job. He will be running a national security department as important to our national security as the Defense Department or the CIA or the Department of Homeland Security. And I think that's one of the problems that Mr. Tillerson had. He did not fight for the State Department budget and resources as if it were a national security department. He let it be put on the chopping block. So I think Mr. Pompeo may be different in that regard.

Secondly, he's got government experience - a lot of it. He was a West Point graduate. He was in the Army. He was on the intelligence committee in the Congress. And he's been director of the CIA. So he has ample points of reference from which he can now assume his new responsibilities.

SHAPIRO: You've described some of Rex Tillerson's shortcomings as secretary of state. When he addressed State Department employees this afternoon, he talked about some of his accomplishments. Do you think he leaves any kind of a positive legacy behind?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I mean, you know, he ran the department at, you know, a challenging time. I think he probably - I can't know what went on in every one of the meetings that they had at the National Security Council. I got to believe that he was one of the voices, for example, in favor of free trade. The president had said he was going to get rid of the NAFTA in his campaign, and that hasn't happened yet. So I'm sure he's kept - he has contributed to keeping alive our globalist agenda. And I think we should be grateful to him for that.

SHAPIRO: Well, Ambassador Negroponte, thanks for joining us today.

NEGROPONTE: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Ambassador John Negroponte was a career diplomat. Now he's a professor at George Washington University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.