SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty (2) Rex Tillerson (left) and President Donald Trump
In a new interview, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had nothing nice to say about what President Donald Trump will be leaving behind next week.
Speaking with Foreign Policy, Tillerson — a former ExxonMobil executive who served as Trump's first secretary of state from 2017 to 2018 before being fired; and who faced his own criticism — said that, in his view, "nothing worked out" with Trump's foreign policy decisions.
"We squandered the best opportunity we had on North Korea. It was just blown up when he took the meeting with Kim [Jong Un], and that was one of the last straws between him and I," Tillerson told Foreign Policy. "With [Russia's Vladimir] Putin, we didn't get anything done. We're nowhere with China on national security."
"We're in a worse place today than we were before he came in, and I didn't think that was possible," Tillerson, 68, added.
There's little love lost between the president and his former top diplomat: Tillerson, echoing previous statements about working for Trump, said that the president is grossly limited in his "understanding of global events, his understanding of global history" and hamstrung by his own attention span.
"It's really hard to have a conversation with someone who doesn't even understand the concept for why we're talking about this," Tillerson said.
He went on: "I had to constantly evaluate my last conversations with [the president] — what seemed to resonate, what seemed to get across, what didn't — and I would try different approaches with him. I used to go into meetings with a list of four to five things I needed to talk to him about, and I quickly learned that if I got to three, it was a home run, and I realized getting two that were meaningful was probably the best objective."
Lou Rocco/Walt Disney Television via Getty Rex Tillerson
Tillerson even began bringing charts and pictures into his meetings with Trump, 74, because he found that those "seemed to hold his attention better," he said.
The president could not even hold a sustained conversation, according to Tillerson.
"If I could put a photo or a picture in front of him or a map or a piece of paper that had two big bullet points on it, he would focus on that, and I could build on that," Tillerson said. "Just sitting and trying to have a conversation as you and I are having just doesn't work."
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Because, Tillerson said, he had such a hard time briefing the president, he feels that many of Trump's decisions on foreign policy — such as withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and imposing tariffs on imports from China — were not well informed.
Tillerson also told Foreign Policy that much of his struggle with Trump came from other people who "had access to his ear."
"I think that was as big a challenge as anything. There were other people giving him information that was not accurate, every day, usually before I got to see him," he said. "First thing in the morning and not from people inside the White House. It was really frustrating."
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty President Donald Trump
When it comes to President-elect Joe Biden and his incoming administration, Tillerson warned that he feels China will be their biggest issue.
"I have a fear that we will come to military conflict with China within the decade and it will be when they make their move on Taiwan," he explained. "They've been putting all of their pieces in place for a long time now to do that, and that is [Chinese President Xi Jinping's] legacy, to reunite China."
"I think it's Xi's plan to raise the stakes so significantly to U.S. military losses that the American people will say, 'Wait a minute, we're going to incur thousands of casualties to save Taiwan. Why would we do that?' And then China will get it de facto, or we'll have a really ugly war in the Pacific," he added. "So I think they've got to deal with China's military ambitions."
Trump dismissed Tillerson in 2018 via Twitter, announcing that Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas lawmaker and then the director of the CIA, would become the new secretary of State.
Tillerson was the first Cabinet official ever to be fired over social media, with Trump calling him officially three hours later, according to The Atlantic.
Trump has since lambasted Tillerson as "dumb as a rock." A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Tillerson's latest comments.