The credibility of the United States in the world community took yet another downward plunge last week when news of the American secretary of state calling his president a “fucking moron” broke, sending shockwaves throughout Washington and going viral everywhere else. John Kelly ostensibly cancelled his trip to Las Vegas with Trump so that he and James Mattis could meet with Tillerson and persuade Tillerson to do damage control in a press briefing where the net effect was to throw more fuel on the fire, when Tillerson went through a ritual of fealty to Trump but waffled on the issue of what was actually said, dismissing it as “petty.” By the end of the day it was widely opined that the Trump/Tillerson relationship was broken beyond repair and lo and behold, CIA Director Mike Pompeo was being touted as a possible replacement as secretary of state. The only problem with that is that it’s perceived as a move which would take the state department from the frying pan and put it into the fire. Vanity Fair:
But Pompeo’s intelligence background could also be a detriment. “I have concerns about Tillerson, but I think sending in Pompeo actually worsens the situation in some respects,” said Brett Bruen, a former foreign-service officer who also served as the White House director of global engagement under Barack Obama. “At least Tillerson brings somewhat of a civilian perspective to the national security discussions.” Pompeo, on the other hand, “has focused almost entirely on intelligence matters, which are not the same as diplomacy.” Pompeo’s work at the C.I.A. could also make it difficult for foreign diplomats to trust the State Department, which has traditionally sought to differentiate itself from the nation’s intelligence apparatus. “I think it actually could put more distance between the State Department and foreign leaders by tainting the department with this intelligence background that we already fight in a lot of places around the world to explain that the work of diplomacy is different than the work of intelligence and this just muddies the waters.”
Another shake-up of such magnitude could leave the White House in chaos. As it is, nobody has been nominated to head the Department of Homeland Security after Trump poached Kelly to take over for Reince Priebus. Ousting Tillerson and replacing him with Pompeo would leave another key agency leaderless, and America’s allies confused about who truly represents the country on foreign policy. Still, it is hard to imagine how things could be worse than they currently are at the State Department, which has lost all credibility to negotiate on behalf of the president. Whether the diplomatic establishment can be saved by another round of West Wing musical chairs is another question.
Replacing Tillerson with Pompeo is no panacea, it’s just going to layer confusion and sow discord in an administration which is already rife with same. And either way, whether Tillerson stays or goes, the optics of the situation are not good — but then what else is new in Trump World?