For once, let’s give Donald Trump his due. In throwing Rex Tillerson out on his ear, he has treated his secretary of state exactly the way the secretary treated those under him. Poetic justice has been served. And, in the nomination of C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo to succeed Tillerson, so will the interests of American diplomacy.
I’ll get to Pompeo below, but dwell for a moment on the awfulness of Tillerson.
He came to office with no discernible worldview other than the jaded transactionalism he acquired as ExxonMobil’s C.E.O. He leaves office with no discernible accomplishment except a broken department and a traumatized staff. Six of the 10 top positions at State are vacant; even now the United States does not have an ambassador to South Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Africa or the European Union, among other posts.
To his credit, he did seem to figure out that Vladimir Putin is a bad guy. But that’s progress only because he was previously the Russian despot’s premier apologist. His director of policy planning had to write a memo explaining why human rights are a vital tool of American diplomacy. And he opposed the president’s two best foreign policy decisions: moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and decertifying the Iran deal.
Some secretaries of state — Colin Powell, for instance — alienate their bosses by siding with the bureaucracy. Others, like Henry Kissinger, do the opposite. Tillerson is the rare bird who managed to do both. Goodbye, Rex. You won’t be missed.
Mike Pompeo is the anti-Tillerson. He doesn’t need to learn the Washington ropes. He’s been a competent leader of the C.I.A. He has the confidence of the president, meaning that, unlike Tillerson, he will have credibility with foreign governments. Just as importantly, he’s been willing to contradict the president, meaning he’ll be able to act as a check on him, too.