With Tillerson gone, it’s truly Trump’s world now

 washingtonpost.com  3/14/2018 5:06:13 AM 

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As you have certainly heard by now, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was unceremoniously fired via President Trump's Twitter account Tuesday morning. You could argue that his departure was long in the works. There were whispers as early as last summer that the former ExxonMobil CEO was on the way out. He had clashed with Trump on numerous matters of policy and even reportedly once growled to colleagues that the president was a “moron.” Now, he's the first U.S. secretary of state to be fired in the post-World War II era.

Trump apparently wanted to drop the guillotine while Tillerson was on a mission to Africa over the weekend; The Washington Post, in breaking the story, first reported that Tillerson was told about his sacking on Friday. But it now that appears Trump spoke to Tillerson only in the hours after the tweet. Steve Goldstein, a top State Department official under Tillerson, told reporters that his boss learned of his firing through social media and was “unaware of the reason” he was forced out. Goldstein was terminated by the White House soon thereafter.

In place of the oft-maligned secretary of state, Trump named CIA Director Mike Pompeo for the job.

Later Tuesday, a visibly tired Tillerson delivered a short set of remarks at the State Department, thanking career diplomats for their “honesty and integrity” and praising the “kindness” of the American people. He said his formal departure would come at the end of the month. He didn't mention Trump's name once.

That's not surprising. The president had steadily undermined Tillerson's credibility by publicly contradicting him on North Korea and the tense diplomatic standoff in the Persian Gulf. News reports made clear that Trump resented Tillerson's support for international pacts such as the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accords. The secretary of state also pushed back against Trump's instincts to withdraw from Afghanistan and move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. As Trump put it Tuesday, “we were not really thinking the same.”

Tillerson's detractors believe he will go down as one of the ineffectual secretaries of state in the history of American diplomacy. They see him as an aloof business titan who alienated and demoralized a huge segment of the Foreign Service corps while acceding to potentially crippling budget cuts and hiring freezes. And, some reports suggested, he simply wasn't that good at his job.

“Perhaps the most puzzling part of Mr. Tillerson’s tenure was his poor oversight of the State Department,” the New York Times observed. “As a former top business executive, his managerial skills were thought to be his chief asset ... Foreign diplomats — starting with the British and the French — said Mr. Tillerson neither returned phone calls or, with much advance warning, set up meetings with his counterparts. Strategic dialogues with many nations, including nuclear weapons powers like Pakistan, were ended without explanation.”

But U.S. allies are still concerned by Tillerson's removal. Many shared the opinion of Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.),  who declared in October that the secretary of state was one of a few officials who “help separate our country from chaos.”

Tillerson's firing came as British officials looked for concrete U.S. support after of an alleged Russian chemical attack carried out on English soil. The outgoing secretary of state, unlike the U.S. president, had been vocal in his criticism of Moscow and steadier in his spoken commitments to the United States' traditional allies.

“Tillerson has consistently sought to reassure EU allies of the U.S. commitment to our long-standing close alliances,” Christian Ehler, the chair of the E.U. parliament's delegation on relations with the United States, said in an email. “His departure removes one significant pillar of reassurance of ongoing U.S. engagement and commitment.”

Contrast that with Pompeo, the CIA director who has forged a genuinely close relationship with Trump“We’ve had a very good chemistry right from the beginning,” Trump said after discussing his disagreements with Tillerson.

Some Washington insiders believe that bond will make Pompeo more effective in office, but it has others concerned. Pompeo is a vociferous hawk on Iran and counts among his allies some of the most well-known Islamophobes in the United States. (Trump's designated successor to Pompeo's vacated post, meanwhile, is deeply linked to a controversial CIA torture program under the George W. Bush administration.)

“Pompeo is likely to be more amenable to Trump’s way of doing business,” my colleague Karen DeYoung wrote. “As a firebrand congressman from Kansas and a tea party leader, he sharply opposed the Iran nuclear deal, tweeting just before his CIA nomination his determination to “roll back” the agreement. Earlier, Pompeo was a leader of the Republican House effort to hold the Obama administration responsible for the killings of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, and questioned the wisdom of traditional multilateralism.”

And Pompeo's ascension means a new crisis over Iran could soon be at hand. “Europe should be preparing for potential counter measures to neutralize the impact of the U.S. abandoning the agreement,” the National Iranian American Council, a group that pushes for improved ties between Tehran and Washington, warned in a statement.

No matter what, Trump is steadily sculpting American foreign policy in his own image. Combined with the recent resignation of economic adviser Gary Cohn (and the rumored replacement of national security adviser H.R. McMaster with ultrahawk John Bolton), Tillerson's departure “eliminates the gap between Mr Trump’s antiglobalist instincts and the stance of America’s chief diplomat,” Edward Luce of the Financial Times wrote. “Mike Pompeo ... shares the president’s undiplomatic mindset. Mr Pompeo is a Trump enabler. Mr Trump’s America First foreign policy is now closer to becoming a reality.”

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