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The Race to Replace Pompeo

Robert C. O'Brien. (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)

Josh Rogin reports on the possible candidates for replacing Pompeo whenever he eventually admits that he’s running for Senate:

The person most often mentioned to succeed Pompeo is national security adviser Robert O’Brien. Trump really likes O’Brien, several officials told me, and has given him increased diplomatic responsibilities since he became the president’s fourth national security adviser in September.

The other possible replacements include Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, Deputy Secretary of State Biegun, U.S. ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell, Trump’s Iran envoy Brian Hook, and two hard-liners from the Senate, Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton. Most of these names inspire some mixture of loathing and dread, and of the seven men being considered Biegun is the only one remotely qualified to take the job. Hook has disqualified himself, and he shouldn’t even be working at the State Department right now much less running it. Grenell functions as little more than an international troll, and he has done a terrible job representing the U.S. in Berlin, so promoting him would be an equally terrible mistake.

Rubio and Cotton are fanatics with the most toxic foreign policy views, and they would also likely be very poor managers of the department. In that respect, they are very much like Pompeo. Mnuchin would likely have great difficulty getting confirmed, and replacing one sanctions-happy Secretary with the Treasury Secretary who has been enforcing those sanctions is no improvement at all. As for O’Brien, he was a bad choice for National Security Advisor, he has done nothing since he took over from Bolton to suggest otherwise, and so it makes absolutely no sense to promote him. Biegun clearly has the confidence of the Senate following his overwhelming confirmation vote to be Deputy Secretary, so having him take over the department for whatever time is left in Trump’s term seems the best available choice.

It is a measure of how chaotic and unsuccessful Trump’s foreign policy is that we are talking about the possible nomination of a third Secretary of State in less than three years. Pompeo has outlasted many of his administration colleagues to become one of the longest-serving Cabinet officials under this president, and his tenure is not even two years old. It is no wonder that the list of likely replacements is so weak. Who would want to join a scandal-ridden administration with a failed foreign policy?

Pompeo’s departure will be good news for the State Department, and the sooner it comes the better. There has rarely been a Secretary of State as dishonest and political as Pompeo, and his brief time running the department has been one of the low points in its history. Considering the damage that Pompeo has done along with the harm done by Tillerson, the next Secretary of State will have a lot of work to do to rebuild and not much time to do it in. Pompeo should clear the way for the next Secretary and resign as soon as possible.

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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