The firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, explained

On the surface, it likely appears to many observers that President Trump’s administration continues to be a tumultuous place riddled with uncertainty and chaos, as evidenced by his firing this week of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and an aide to the top diplomat.

But below the service, there is a method to what seems like madness to many Americans and global observers, and it is directly linked to Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and national security.

Analysis: What became the final straw for Trump was Tillerson’s wavering on the president’s demand to either ‘fix’ the so-called “nuclear deal” with Iran or scrap it altogether, the latter option Trump pledged to do on the campaign trail in 2016. That alone is significant because like his policies or not, Trump has an excellent reputation thus far of keeping his campaign promises.

Tillerson, who has always been a fan of the nuclear deal, recently caved to European pressure to keep the deal intact, as is, a decision that the outgoing secretary of state was warned could cost him his job. According to one American media report, “While Tillerson’s exit had been rumored for months, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation said the former secretary’s repeated attempts to balk the White House and pursue his own diplomatic strategy, particularly regarding Iran, triggered his sudden exit.” This report also noted that the White House notified Tillerson on Friday that Trump would be making a change regarding his position. [source]

Trump has nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo to become secretary of state, and a big part of the president’s reasoning for doing so is because Pompeo is more of a ‘Trump person,’ so to speak; that is, he shares Trump’s vision of the world, Trump’s America First foreign policy and national security strategies, and, importantly, Pompeo is also not a fan of the Iran deal.

“President Trump has been clear that the Iran deal is terrible policy and has sought ways to hold Iran accountable,” Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., told the above-cited source. “With Mike Pompeo, Trump will have a Secretary of State who sees the threat posed by the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and by Tehran in a similar light as he does.”

Other experts agree. Ambassador Richard Boucher served 32 years at the U.S. Department of State, said that while one of Tillerson’s errors was failing to properly marshal all of the resources of the U.S. diplomatic corps, Pompeo and Trump are much more closely aligned in terms of policy, vision, and how they see the world. He notes:

During his tenure at CIA, he may have established a better relationship with the president who says he and Pompeo are “on the same wavelength.” Whether you agree, disagree or want to talk the president out of things, having that ability to talk to him is vital. The most successful secretaries of state have been ones who’ve had close relationships with the commander in chief – the best example being George H.W. Bush and James Baker, who practically knew each other’s thoughts and managed the complex diplomacy of German reunification, Tiananmen Square, the end of the apartheid and other momentous events.

Mike Pompeo also brings a knowledge of Congress, which is critical. Secretaries of state have to negotiate a lot on Capitol Hill. Hopefully, Pompeo still has friends there although his tenure as a congressman was not marked by much camaraderie. Pompeo also brings from the CIA, perhaps, a little more honesty about the world than we’ve seen, especially on Russia, by the president.

Pompeo fits with the parts of the administration that see a world full of dangers to be confronted. [source]

That said, Boucher believes that Pompeo’s biggest challenge will be to rebuild a decimated State Department; scores of academics, long-serving diplomats, and seasoned experts have departed during Tillerson’s tenure and it will be a major task to rebuild the corps.

The president has his vision of the world and now he is in the process of replacing someone who wasn’t necessarily preventing Trump from achieving his vision but wasn’t fully on board with the agenda, either. Now he has someone who is. I expect that U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy will more muscular from here on, the first casualty being the Iran deal, especially as Tehran is positioning itself to become a major threat to the United States’ most significant Middle East ally, Israel.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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