Everyone knows that Trump and Tillerson disagreed on many key issues, including the nuclear deal with Iran, North Korea, dealing with Russia, and of course Qatar.
His differences with the president aside, the Secretary of State also had disagreements with the government’s most prominent leaders, including the head of the CIA, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, the Homeland Security Advisor, and Trump’s ambassador to the UN.
Does the secretary of state have an important and effective role in a system headed by a strong president like Trump and his assistants? Well, America is a country of institutions, and thus, the State Department and its head have a big executive role. When the White House develops policies and adopts positions, it lets the executive bodies take care of the details.
A secretary (i.e. cabinet minister) is an important figure as he is one of the “king’s most trusted knights,” advancing across the chessboard and competing against others to score victories.
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. Many decisions taken by the previous Democratic administration regarding Iran still applied. Until now, the State Department has refrained from supporting the Iranian opposition and its protests against the regime at a time when Trump had declared his support for it.
Mike Pompeo, Trump’s nominee to replace Tillerson, has extensive knowledge of dealing with such issues, being the director of the world’s most prominent intelligence agency, the CIA.
The US is a principal player in all of the Middle East’s key issues, which include confronting Iran’s expanding power, the Syrian crisis, the Yemeni war, and permanent issues like the conflict with Israel and terrorism.
The record of the State Department under the sacked secretary of state did not reflect the spirit of the White House and its policies on many crucial matters, most importantly that of Iran.
Our relations with Washington are extremely important, from the intelligence report to the bullet, as well as issuing and defeating resolutions at the UN Security Council. We cannot streamline these relations by claiming that they are limited to trade deals and military contracts.
There is an eternal struggle among the world’s powers regarding who attracts the US government to its side and its cause; and we suffered a lot with the Obama administration when it stopped selling us weapons and ammunition when we were in the middle of a serious war.
What about Qatar, whose name was associated with the name of former secretary of state Tillerson?
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.
Doha must now realize that its friend Tillerson did not do it any good, but it did manage to hurt him.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.