Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared on 60 Minutes last night to assure the American people that he is going to do the very best job he can in addressing the North Korean nuclear crisis, right up until we’re all annihilated in a nuclear war.
The Treasury Department recently dialed up the crippling economic sanctions against the DPRK—is now the time to flash a bit of humanity and engage in direct talks? Or use the upcoming summit between leaders of the North and South to create some kind of constructive dialogue? What kind of 3-D chess is Tillerson playing?
Margaret Brennan: What is the carrot that you’re dangling for North Korea to convince them to talk?
Rex Tillerson: We’re not using a carrot to convince them to talk. We’re using large sticks. And that is what they need to understand. This pressure campaign is putting— is having its bite on North Korea, its revenue streams. It’s having a bite on its military programs.
Hmm, OK, so maybe not 3-D chess, but a 3-D version of that little game with the golf tees they let you play at Cracker Barrel while you wait for a steak salad.
So how long can we expect to wait for the Speak Real Loud And Just Swing Blunt Objects From Every Limb & Orifice Doctrine to pay off?
Margaret Brennan: Senator Bob Corker, chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee said “Every one of us should pray Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis are successful over the course of the next eight to ten months, diplomatically, or our nation is going to be facing one of the greatest military decisions that we face.” Eight to ten months. That’s how much time you have to get this done?
Rex Tillerson: I’m gonna use all the time available to me our diplomatic efforts will continue until that first bomb drops. My job is to never have a reason for the first bomb to drop. And we don’t know precisely how much time is left on the clock.
If you find the phrase “until that first bomb drops” less than reassuring, Tillerson goes on to explain that the philosophy behind his diplomacy is rooted in a myth.
Our Secretary of State, who is named after two actors who played cowboys, John Wayne and Rex Allen, says that his counterparts across the globe trust and respect him because back a few months ago, when he was extracting oil from their countries, he was known to abide by “the Code of the West.”
Rex Tillerson: Well, you know the Code of the West, as the West was unfolding there wasn’t a lot of law enforcement. And people basically relied upon each other’s word. And “My word is my bond.” And I’ve used that throughout my life as well, even at Exxon Mobil. I would sit down with the head of state for that country or the CEO of that company and we’d look each other in the eye. And I’d say, all I need to know is that you’re gonna live up to your side of this deal. And I give you my word I’ll live up to my side of this deal. And then a lotta the Code of the West was people were very loyal to their organizations. And the phrase, “Riding for the brand” is a phrase that’s always stuck with me that—
Margaret Brennan: Riding for the brand?
Rex Tillerson: Riding for the brand. When a cowboy signed on to a ranch or— or to that organization, he was committed to that organization.
Margaret Brennan: And what is the brand for you now?
Rex Tillerson: The State Department of the United States government. The American people are my brand.
Others might hear “the Code of the West” and think about the systematic eradication of indigenous Americans and the rapacious exploitation of resources and land, but those are the kinds of people who don’t usually become the CEO of Exxon Mobil.
A more accurate depiction of Tillerson’s “code” can be found in Dexter Filkins’ recent profile of the Secretary of State in The New Yorker:
“The thing about Rex is, he’s got this big Texas aw-shucks thing going on,” a Russia expert who knows Tillerson told me. “You think he’s not the smartest guy in the room. He’s not the dominant male. But, after a while, he owns all your assets.”