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Making Trump’s Bad Foreign Policy Even Worse

The Trump administration’s foreign policy may soon become even worse than it already is:

The White House has developed a plan to force out Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, whose relationship with President Trump has been strained, and replace him with Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, within the next several weeks [bold mine-DL], senior administration officials said on Thursday.

Mr. Pompeo would be replaced at the C.I.A. by Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who has been a key ally of the president on national security matters, according to the White House plan.

Pompeo has been rumored as one of Tillerson’s likely replacements for a while, but it hadn’t been clear how soon the change might be taking place. Cotton had likewise been mentioned as the top contender to replace Pompeo, so while it would be horrible news it isn’t unexpected. It’s not clear to me what qualifies them for these positions, but both would likely be confirmed if they are nominated.

Assuming the report is accurate, there are a few things we should expect about the future of Trump’s foreign policy if Pompeo ends up at State and Cotton takes his place at the CIA. First, the administration would become even more hawkish than it was, and it would be even more hostile towards Iran. Both Pompeo and Cotton are hard-liners on Iran. We should therefore also assume that the U.S. would fully renege on the nuclear deal in the near future. Pompeo has been a vocal opponent of the nuclear deal, and Cotton has been one of the leading would-be saboteurs of the agreement for years. They would be urging Trump to scrap the deal, which is what he has been wanting to do all year, and I expect that the president would jump at the chance.

Forcing out Tillerson might briefly give the State Department a respite from his “redesign,” but I wouldn’t expect Pompeo to undo the damage that Tillerson has already caused. Instead of having a Secretary of State acting as a brake on Trump’s worst instincts, the administration could soon find itself with one that encourages them. As for Cotton, he is on record advocating for military action against Iran, and he has said many times that regime change should be U.S. policy. If he were in charge of the CIA, Cotton would be only too happy to follow through on trying to destabilize the Iranian government covertly, and he would be willing to give Trump a pretext for launching an attack.

If Trump approves the plan to move Pompeo to State and appoint Cotton to run the CIA, U.S. foreign policy will get substantially worse than it was in his first year, and it will increase the chances of a costly, unnecessary war with Iran.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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