Farewell, Rex Tillerson, he of the formidable mane and the courtly baritone of a plantation manager. Other than gutting the State Department – the dream of every Republican going back to Senator Richard Nixon’s fulminations against the “striped pants set” and “Dean Acheson’s College of Cowardly Communist Containment” – you accomplished less than any of your predecessors, which considering the flatulent imbecile under whom he served might be an advantage. A Mike Pompeo or Gina Haspel might’ve been worse – oh wait!
Even more troubling, she “had run a secret prison in Thailand” — part of the CIA’s network of “black sites” — “where two detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harsh techniques.” The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture also detailed the central role she played in the particularly gruesome torture of detainee Abu Zubaydah.
Beyond all that, she played a vital role in the destruction of interrogation videotapes that showed the torture of detainees both at the black site she ran and other secret agency locations. The concealment of those interrogation tapes, which violated multiple court orders as well as the demands of the 9/11 commission and the advice of White House lawyers, was condemned as “obstruction” by commission chairs Lee Hamilton and Thomas Keane. A special prosecutor and grand jury investigated those actions but ultimately chose not to prosecute.
The first woman to head the CIA is a torture enthusiast whom Jessica Chasten will play in a Donald Trump biopic directed by Paul Greengrass.
Yet now that we’ve started the Least Effective game I’ll mention, not for the first time, how we value effectiveness as an end in itself. Historians rate James Polk highly as president for invading Mexico on flimsy pretexts and annexing the Oregon Territory and serving one term; and Henry Kissinger destroyed Indochina, East Timor, and fucked the Kurds for a generation while serving as national security advisor, secretary of state, bootlicker to power, and beloved Beltway paladin. Until the White House accumulated more power around the FDR administration the secretary of state was the second in command, much more assistant president than the vice president, in large part because party conventions chose the vice president while the secretary of state was the president’s man. Think Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren; only John Adams and Andrew Jackson hadn’t served as secretary of state (stints in France and England during the war certainly qualified Adams). Think Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Calhoun, the so-called Great Triumvirate, neither one of whom became president but worked at State and, in the case of Calhoun, ccontributed in the briefest of tenures to the chasm between North and South. Think William Seward, immortalized in Gore Vidal’s Lincoln as the president’s invaluable consigliere. To imagine Eisenhower without John Foster Dulles’ mephitic breath blowing covert destruction on Iran and Guatemala is unthinkable, or Ronald Reagan without George Schultz, one of the more estimable recent seat warmers but on whose watch Marines were killed in Lebanon for the sake of projecting American strength or something. We’re still paying for Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton’s tenures.
So, congrats, Rex. You leave office with the least amount of blood on your hands since the days of Elihu Washburne. Take a vacation, pour yourself a scotch, and put your feet up. You’ve landed much more safely than your ex-boss will.