I feel for Tillerson, as he’s a serious man with an impressive career who left a powerful job and a luxe life, however briefly, to serve his country. He deserved better than the ignominious way in which he was fired too. But there’s no disputing that he was a bad fit for this job and for this president, having gutted the Department and ceded diplomatic influence to lesser figures like Nikki Haley and, gulp, Jared Kushner. He wasn’t even consulted before Trump accepted the offer to meet with Kim Jong Un. Imagine how low morale must be at State for careerists there to see their boss treated the way he was today by Trump, a figure many of them no doubt disdain, and feel obliged to quietly applaud the move anyway.
They’re not even getting a dove in his replacement, Mike Pompeo. If you believe the stereotype that U.S. diplomats will (almost) always favor diplomacy over war, their new leadership is less inclined to support that view than Tillerson was. According to the Free Beacon, in fact, the catalyst for T-Rex’s termination was his latest efforts to try to save the Iran nuclear deal. With Pompeo succeeding him and a more hawkish figure doubtless soon to replace McMaster, the groundwork’s being laid to blow up the Iran agreement, no doubt to the dismay of many State employees.
But what Pompeo gives them, potentially, is influence. He has a rapport with the president, according to the media. He’s respected by other cabinet members like Haley. Trump may not take his advice but there’s every reason to believe he’ll take it seriously. That’s a position State hasn’t been in since late January 2017. And so, as much as some may cringe at the thought of cheering a major Trump decision affecting their department, they’re cheering:
“There is strong sense of relief at State. The last year has been traumatic to put it mildly. It was as though ‘T-Rex’ stomped through Foggy Bottom devouring staff and structures,” said Brett Bruen, a former State Department official…
“People see this as a chance for a clean sweep,” said one staffer, who like most others spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid losing his job. “This team has proven itself incapable of managing the State Department.”…
“While Pompeo’s views seem to have expressed a preference for force over diplomacy, my guess is he knows his success is dependent upon the information that comes to him through the building,” one State official said. “I think he’ll rely more heavily on depth of experience across the department than Tillerson ever cared to.”
That’s the other way in which State’s influence grew today. It’s not just a matter of Trump being more amenable to persuasion by Pompeo, it’s a matter of Pompeo potentially being more amenable to persuasion by career diplomats at the Department. Tillerson was notorious for surrounding himself with a handpicked team of close aides and giving short shrift to State’s collective institutional knowledge (in some respects mirroring his now former boss). Pompeo, however, has shown that he’s willing and able to channel his agency’s institutional opinion even when it conflicts with Trump’s. He’s been consistent for the past year, dating back to his confirmation hearings for CIA chief, in saying that he agrees with CIA’s assessment that Russia is responsible for the campaign hackings in 2016. State staffers may be looking at that and thinking if he’s willing to stand up to Trump for the intel community, he’ll be willing to stand up to him for the diplomatic community.
But even if he doesn’t, morale — and management — can only improve with Pompeo in charge:
“On Tillerson: hallelujah!” one State Department official said…
Whatever reputation for understatedness diplomats possess went out the door throughout Tillerson’s calamitous State Department tenure. State Department officials were horrified by what they perceived as his disdain for them. His reforms left many experienced diplomats internally marginalized – with little to do but vent to reporters about Tillerson presiding over a decline of American diplomacy that many felt was the entire point of his tenure.
Tillerson was widely loathed for his deep budget cuts; an institutional realignment that many diplomats felt came at their expense; and an inner circle that longtime officials considered to hoard information to the point of insulating Tillerson from the concerns they had about the direction of U.S. foreign policy.
I wonder what Mattis is thinking now. He’s the one cabinet member about whom Trump never has an unkind word to say, but he’s also the one cabinet member left who seems to reliably favor continued diplomacy with rogue nations like North Korea and Iran. Tillerson was his partner in that; now Tillerson’s out, to be replaced by a more hawkish diplomat. McMaster may soon be replaced by a more hawkish figure too in John Bolton. Does Mattis stay put, believing that he’s needed now more than ever to exert a moderating influence in the Situation Room, or does he quit as his influence diminishes rather than oversee a string of wars he thinks are ill-advised? It’s hard to imagine Trump firing a figure as esteemed as Mattis, although he seems to be a firing mood lately.
Oh, almost forgot. There’s one other employee at State who’s palpably happy to see T-Rex go:
Congratulations to my friend and soon to be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo! Great decision by the President. 🇺🇸
— Nikki Haley (@nikkihaley) March 13, 2018
Eventually Trump will sour on Pompeo, then her time will come. Exit question: Uh, what the hell is this, New York Times?
So long, Rex Tillerson. pic.twitter.com/W6P8YWkJaH
— NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) March 13, 2018