Last week Donald Trump fired his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, in a move that was not necessarily a surprise as the relationship between the two has been outwardly strained for some time. Tillerson, as may be remembered, once referred to Trump as a “moron,” a statement which played itself out in the press. Trump characteristically notified Tillerson he was fired via a tweet on Twitter. When explaining his actions to the press, Trump said, “We were not really thinking the same.” Tillerson’s term as Secretary of State is the shortest in modern times and he will go down as a very ineffective Secretary of State. Trump has nominated C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo to take Tillerson’s place at State.
Rex Tillerson tried to run the State Department as if he were its CEO, rather than as the head of the large bureaucracy that it is. He concentrated decision making within a small ineffective group surrounding him instead of delegating decision-making to knowledgeable heads within the bureaucracy. His leadership style rubbed many in the State Department the wrong way as he tried to restructure the department in the name of “efficiency.” His restructuring diverted needed resources away from handling pressing world challenges. What morale was left was crushed even further when Tillerson tried to slash State Department funding by 30 percent. Luckily Republicans in Congress killed his effort.
Simply put, Tillerson was the wrong person for the job. While he may not get a lot of sympathy from the State Department or the White House, his tenure did come during a difficult time with an administration that showed little regard to the State Department and preferred that the military take the lead in diplomacy. With Pompeo now moving over to State, things may become smoother for Trump.
“Mike Pompeo,” writes Stewart M. Patrick at the Council on Foreign Relations, “inherits a State Department that has been marginalized in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy and where staff morale is at rock bottom thanks to the misguided reorganizational efforts of his predecessor and the blatant disdain the White House has shown the foreign service officers and civil servants responsible for the conduct of American diplomacy.”
On the surface, Pompeo has many of the characteristics Tillerson lacked, foremost, experience in government. Not only did Pompeo serve in Congress as a Congressman from Kansas, but he has the President’s ear. As head of the C.I.A., Pompeo meets with Trump often to advise him on pressing intelligence matters.
Pompeo has to hit the ground running if his nomination is approved by the Senate. Trump is expected to have an historic summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un by May which many argue Trump has a very steep learning curve to get ready in time. When it comes to North Korea, Pompeo is described as a hawk.
Trump will find an ally with Pompeo when it comes to the Iran nuclear deal. Both oppose it, unlike Tillerson who supported the deal. The addition of Pompeo in the administration will isolate Secretary of Defense James Mattis who also supports the Iran deal. This worries many who want to keep the deal in place.
H.R. McMaster is also rumored to be on President Trump’s chopping block having been his national security adviser since the administration first began. The list of those who have departed the White House in the past 14 months is long. It remains to be seen what kind of State Department head Mike Pompeo will become. One does not have to be popular in the department to be a good Secretary of State, but when morale is rock-bottom, it certainly helps to acknowledge the State Department still has a purpose other than issuing passports.