Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on Capitol Hill yesterday, testifying to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Trump administration’s foreign policy. Among other things, Tillerson told lawmakers that when Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Germany in 2017, the Republican was at a disadvantage – because Putin out-prepared him. As the Washington Post reported:
The U.S. side anticipated a shorter meeting for exchanging courtesies, but it ballooned into a globe-spanning two-hour-plus session involving deliberations on a variety of geopolitical issues, said committee aides, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Tillerson’s seven-hour closed meeting with the committee.
“We spent a lot of time in the conversation talking about how Putin seized every opportunity to push what he wanted,” a committee aide said. “There was a discrepancy in preparation, and it created an unequal footing.”
Tillerson’s testimony, at least on this point, is very easy to believe. On multiple occasions, Trump has publicly downplayed the importance and utility of preparing for meetings with foreign leaders.
With this in mind, it stands to reason that Putin would take full advantage of the American leader’s amateurishness and ignorance.
Yesterday, however, was a busy news day on a variety of fronts, and I suspected that much of the country probably wouldn’t hear about the former cabinet secretary’s testimony. With all due respect to the fine people who work for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, this was a relatively low-profile hearing, and most news consumers probably weren’t rushing to learn about Rex Tillerson’s impressions of a 2017 meeting in Hamburg.
But Trump went out of his way to make sure the public heard about the former secretary’s comments by – you guessed it – lashing out via Twitter: “Rex Tillerson, a man who is ‘dumb as a rock’ and totally ill prepared and ill equipped to be Secretary of State, made up a story (he got fired) that I was out-prepared by Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Hamburg, Germany. I don’t think Putin would agree. Look how the U.S. is doing!”
This was unwise.
For now, let’s put aside how amusing it is that Trump thinks Putin would back him up – as if the Russian president would admit publicly that he exploited his unprepared American counterpart. Let’s instead focus on Trump’s insistence that his former chief diplomat is “dumb,” “ill prepared,” and “ill equipped to be Secretary of State.”
If that’s true, what does it say about the genius who tapped him for the position?
Circling back to our earlier coverage, it was just a few years ago when then-candidate Trump vowed to surround himself “only with the best and most serious people” if elected. It was right around the time he promised via Facebook to “hire the best people.”
Either he’s succeeded on this front or he hasn’t – and according to Trump, there’s a fair amount of evidence for the latter.