Tillerson may have been an ineffective secretary of state, but there’s little to celebrate in his departure.
Last week, it was reported that the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly warned Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that President Donald Trump will take “imminent action” if he did not step down. When Tillerson refused, the president went ahead and announced his replacement on Twitter: CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
To some, Tillerson was regarded as one of the few “adults in the room.” He was perceived to be the calm, shrewd and measured influence on the intemperate president. That wasn’t the case. Indeed, Tillerson was at times a thorn in Trump’s side, but his legacy as secretary of state will be defined as one of ineffectiveness. During his tenure, Tillerson has had no significant major accomplishment to his name. Paul Krugman of The New York Times tweeted that “he was surely the worst Secretary of State since William Jennings Bryan.”
There have been more than a few disagreements between Tillerson and Trump. For example, Tillerson opposed the scrapping of the Iran nuclear deal. He also attempted to persuade Trump to remain in the Paris Climate Agreement. Last June, Tillerson called on Saudi Arabia to end its blockade of Qatar. Only hours later, Trump labeled Qatar “a funder of terrorism at a very high level.” Most famously, during a meeting at the Pentagon last July, Tillerson reportedly called Trump “moron.”
Recently, Tillerson supported Britain’s conviction that Moscow was behind the poisoning of a former spy in the picturesque English town of Salisbury. During his official visit to Africa, Tillerson told reporters that he had “full confidence” that Russia was responsible for the nerve-agent attack. He was let go the next day and, although rumors of his impeding firing have been circulating, the timing was conspicuous.
In his emotional farewell statement, Tillerson thanked everyone except the president. “I depart my post with nothing but the best memories of working with my State Department colleagues,” Tillerson said. “Know that I will continue to pray for our country, our leaders, and your efforts to make this world a better place than we found it.”
Now with Pompeo succeeding Tillerson, the expectation is that Trump will finally have a fiercely loyal secretary of state by his side. “As much as anyone in the administration, Pompeo has mastered the art of communicating with this president. He’s one of the first people in the Oval Office each morning when he shows up to deliver Trump the daily intelligence briefing,” Nafeesa Syeed writes in Bloomberg Businessweek. “Not only does Trump get details of the country’s most secretive operations, he gets them in bite-sized, boiled-down charts and graphics designed to maximize the attention of a famously fickle president.”
Trump himself has told reporters that he and Pompeo, “have a very similar thought process.” This is true. Like Trump, Pompeo is ardently anti-Iran, in favor of stronger immigration control, refuses to accept climate change and is under the belief that Russia did not affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Pompeo previously served in the US House for Kansas’ 4th congressional district for six years. After Trump was inaugurated, Pompeo was tapped as CIA director.
One of Pompeo’s biggest challenges as the new secretary of state is to revitalize the State Department. Around 60% of top-ranking diplomats left during Tillerson’s tenure, and the number of new applications for the foreign service has fallen to its lowest in nearly a decade. Pompeo will also be expected to strengthen morale within the State Department. As the National Interest reported, “The rank-and-file were upset that they couldn’t get access to the secretary when they needed too and that when access was granted, it was too late.”
There is no date set for the meeting between the president and North Korea’s leader Kim Jung-un, but it has been reported that Pompeo and the CIA will be taking on a leadership role during negotiations. Before his appointment last week, Pompeo said that the US would not be making “any concessions” to the North Koreans. On Fox News Sunday, he said that to “continue to allow us to perform our military-necessary exercises on the peninsula, and then he’s got to make sure that he leaves on the table that discussion for denuclearization.”
It seems premature to celebrate at the news of Tillerson’s departure. Though he was ineffective, liberals should be more wary of a man who has much more clout in the White House. The likelihood that Pompeo will accomplish more than his predecessor is high. He certainly has the track record to assume so. However, with Pompeo now in office, it will only make it easier for Trump to further his mindless agenda. If he deviates from Trump’s line, expect him to suffer the same fate as Tillerson. As Zach Beauchamp of Vox suggested: “Eventually, the buck stops with Trump.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.