Rex Tillerson’s long-expected departure from the Trump administration is finally happening:
Rex Tillerson is out as secretary of State, ending a tumultuous tenure as America’s top diplomat that was marked by a series of public disagreements with his boss — President Donald Trump.
Trump plans to appoint CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace the former Exxon Mobil chief executive, he said Tuesday. The president picked deputy CIA Director Gina Haspel to run the spy agency. She would become the first woman to do so.
Tillerson’s exit has been anticipated for so long that no one can be surprised that he has been replaced. The only really surprising thing about this development is that it has taken as long as it did. His replacement by Pompeo was being floated months ago, and his relationship with the president was bad enough that it always seemed a question of when and not whether he would be replaced. Very few will actually miss Tillerson. He was not well-prepared for the position, and he made a hash of things very early on. He will be remembered as the least effective, least respected Secretary of State in decades, but no one should pretend that his departure fixes anything, either.
As bad as Tillerson was at his job, Pompeo will not be an improvement over Tillerson. Instead of a Secretary of State who occasionally, albeit ineffectively, opposed Trump’s worst, most impulsive moves, we will now have one who has the president’s full confidence and who will encourage him to be more aggressive. Pompeo may or may not prove to be a better manager of the department than Tillerson, but so much damage has been done during the latter’s brief stint that it may not matter in the near term. Tillerson’s reputation at State is bad enough that almost anyone taking over from him would be welcomed, but like Tillerson Pompeo has virtually none of the relevant experience for the job he is about to do. Despite that, Pompeo will probably have a fairly routine confirmation process, and I expect that he will be confirmed sooner rather than later.
On policy, Pompeo is much more of a hard-liner than Tillerson, and especially on Iran we should expect the administration to become more confrontational. Trump is replacing someone who wasn’t very good at diplomacy with someone who doesn’t want the U.S. to engage in it. Pompeo has been a vocal opponent of the nuclear deal from the beginning. We should assume that he will tell the president to scrap it, and since that is what Trump already wants to do we should expect that the U.S. will renege on its commitments later this year.
As a clandestine officer at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.
The Trump administration is becoming visibly more hawkish with these changes, and that bodes ill for the coming year.
P.S. In a final indignity for Tillerson, he reportedly learned of his dismissal only after the president tweeted about it this morning:
Ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson found out that he had been fired from the tweet from President Trump on Tuesday, according to Steve Goldstein, Undersecretary for public diplomacy, @eliselabottcnn reports.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 13, 2018