(CNN)Rex Tillerson, after more than a year of semi-public feuding with President Donald Trump, has been fired. 

He’s the 2nd top Trump White House official to either resign or be fired in the past week -- following in the ignominious footsteps of top Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn. 

And Cohn’s departure followed hard on the resignations of White House communications director Hope Hicks and Josh Raffel, a confidante of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. 

Plus, Trump body man John McEntee was fired on Monday due to ongoing security clearance issues. 

And so was Steve Goldstein, the Under Secretary of Public Affairs at the State Department, who put out a statement Tuesday morning saying Tillerson was unaware of the reason he had been fired.  White House scolds Cabinet officials after embarrassing ethics reports

By Fareed Zakaria - Saturday, March 17, 2018

If confirmed as secretary of state, Mike Pompeo will arrive at a State Department that has been battered by proposed budget cuts, hollowed out by resignations and vacancies, and neutered by President Trump’s impulsive and personal decision-making style. But Pompeo’s most immediate challenge will not be rebuilding the department and restoring morale; it will be dealing with an acute foreign policy crisis that is largely of the president’s own making — the Iran nuclear deal.

Pompeo will have to tackle a genuine foreign policy challenge soon. Trump has agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un before the end of May. This could be a promising development, defusing the rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula and across Asia. Yet before Trump even sits down with Kim at the negotiating table to discuss a nuclear deal, the administration will have to decide how to handle the preexisting deal with Tehran.

Trump has already announced that the United States will no longer abide by the Iran nuclear pact unless European leaders agree to “fix the deal’s disastrous flaws.” 

(And from the outset, he has been cheered in his hard-line posturing by Pompeo.) European nations seem unwilling to endorse more than cosmetic changes, and Iran has flatly refused to renegotiate. That means by May 12 the United States is set to pull out of the agreement, which could lead Iran to do the same and restart its nuclear program. This would happen at the very same time as the summit with North Korea — when the United States will surely be trying to convince North Korea of the benefits of signing a similar agreement.

To understand the virtues of the Iran deal, recall that a quarter-century ago, the United States was negotiating a nuclear accord with Pyongyang. At that point, North Korea had a nuclear program but no nuclear weapons. The Clinton administration was trying to get the regime to freeze its program, agree to some rollbacks and allow intrusive inspections. But the accord that was ultimately reached was far more limited than hoped for. The inspections process was weak, and the North Koreans cheated.

The Iranians in 2015 also did not have nuclear weapons (and insisted they had no intention of ever making them). Still, the nuclear deal required them to scale back significant aspects of their program, dismantling 13,000 centrifuges, giving up 98 percent of their enriched uranium and effectively shutting down their plutonium reactor at Arak. The International Atomic Energy Agency has cameras and inspectors in Iran at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle — from mines to labs to enrichment facilities. The IAEA attests that Tehran has abided by its end of the deal. Even Pompeo himself has conceded as much.

The Iran accord is not perfect, but it has stabilized a dangerous and spiraling situation in the Middle East. Were the deal to unravel, an already simmering region would get much hotter. (The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, recently affirmed that his kingdom would go nuclear if Iran did.) And, again, this would all be happening just as the Trump administration would be trying to convince the North Koreans to agree to limits, freezes, rollbacks and inspections of its own nuclear program. Why would Kim sign a deal while he watches the United States renege on the last one it signed?

The tragedy here is that this is an entirely self-inflicted crisis. There was already enough instability in the world that the administration did not need to create more. Pompeo should recognize that his job as secretary of state will be to solve problems, not produce them, and he should preserve the Iran accord and spend his time on North Korea. But that would still leave a considerable challenge regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons. There, too, the administration’s position — and his — has been maximalist, vowing to accept nothing less than the total denuclearization of North Korea. But that’s a negotiating position that can and should be adjusted over time, depending on North Korean behavior.

Pompeo should take a page from his boss’s book. Trump has reversed course on issue after issue, often with little explanation. He declared that NATO was obsolete only to say later that it was not. He promised to label China a currency manipulator and then decided against it. He insisted that talking to North Korea would be a waste of time and then eagerly announced that he would. And who knows, maybe Trump understands the public’s inattention and mood better than most of us. In any case, whatever Pompeo said about the Iran deal months ago is now ancient history. He should simply declare that right now, under the circumstances, the deal is worth preserving.

There are significant costs to America’s credibility and reputation if Washington keeps reversing its positions on core foreign policy issues. Yet there are greater costs to stubbornly persisting with the wrong policy. So, Mr. Pompeo, repeat after me: “The Iran deal was bad, but now it’s good.”

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group


There's any number of options, given that Trump has actively feuded with lots of his Cabinet since hand-picking them just over a year ago. Below, a variety of embattled Trump Cabinet members based on their likelihood to be given the Rex treatment -- aka fired via Twitter.  Maggie Haberman had some ideas...

Jeff Sessions: Trump has publicly attack the attorney general repeatedly -- calling him, among other things, "beleaguered" and "DISGRACEFUL." He has told not one but two news organizations that he would not have appointed Sessions as AG if he knew Sessions would recuse himself in the Russia investigation. He refers to Sessions as "Mr. Magoo" in private settings, according to the Washington Post. I mean....

David Shulkin: Not only did VA Secretary Shulkin misuse taxpayer money on a trip to Europe last year, he is also weathering a scathing report from the inspector general regarding a veterans center in DC that has been plagued by poor management. Even worse?  He got the dreaded vote of confidence from the White House earlier this week; White House press secretary Sarah “ bullshit” Sanders said Shulkin was doing a “great job.”  Thats usually the kiss of death since she is never right on anything.

H.R. McMaster: Rumors of tension between the National Security Adviser and Trump have been rampant for months. There's even been chatter about how to move McMaster back into the military in order to get him out of the White House. With Trump jettisoning Tillerson, might he move on another member of the more globally-minded wing of his foreign policy team?

Ryan Zinke: The Interior secretary was on the receiving end of a slew of negative press last week when word leaked out that the department had paid $139,000 to replace doors in his office space. Zinke pled ignorance and said he knew nothing of the expenditure, with his spokesperson pointing to a decision by career employees. Zinke is also facing a series of questions about whether his travel expenditures push the limits of legality. He was one of four Trump Cabinet officials -- Shulkin, HUD Secretary Ben Carson and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt were the others -- called to the White House in February for frank conversations about ethics. 

Scott Pruitt: The EPA administrator made news -- and not the good kind -- earlier this year when it was revealed he regularly flew first class and stayed in high end hotels, racking up expenses in excess of past people to hold his job. Pruitt said he flew 1st class because of the threats made against him. He has also faced scrutiny of late for allowing an EPA employee to pursue outside work as a media consultant. Not for nothing: Pruitt called Trump an "empty vessel" in 2016.

Ben Carson: The Housing and Urban Development secretary purchased, and then canceled, a $31,000 dining set for his work office. Why isn't he higher on this list? Because Trump likes him, and the two went through the political wars together in 2016.  I think that counts for something -- maybe a lot -- in Trump’s book.  But he is totally out of his field.

John Kelly: Reports are rampant that Kelly and Trump have fallen out, and that, as importantly, the White House chief of staff is in semi-open warfare with Javanka.  ( JAVANKA is the acronym for Jared and Ivanka)   Kelly’s ham-handed handling of the Rob Porter debacle and the resultant news coverage clearly knocked him down several pegs in Trump’s eyes.   And, Kelly was reportedly part of a "suicide pact" with Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis -- that if one left or was fired, they would all leave. Working against the idea of Kelly being fired: Trump loves “his" generals.

Betsy DeVos: The Education secretary has had a very rocky road. This weekend was the bumpiest bit yet as DeVos seemed totally out of her depth in an interview with "60 Minutes" Lesley Stahl. Trump hates negative headlines that he doesn't cause. But, it seems like he has more urgent firing priorities than DeVos.

Jim Mattis: The "Mad Dog" is only on this list because of the aforementioned "suicide pact" with Tillerson and Kelly. That aside, he appears to be the Cabinet secretary who has clashed the least -- or the least publicly -- with Trump.

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