• Whither Rex Tillerson?

    December 6, 2017

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Trump



    Pity soon-to-maybe-be-former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Here’s a guy who can’t get to the sports page of his favorite newspaper without wading through a new round of rumors of his own demise. If it is not a new leak out of Foggy Bottom saying someone cut in front of him in the cafeteria line to get the last Jello dessert, presaging a palace coup, it is the New York Times claiming the White House plans to oust him by the end of the year, possibly to replace him with current CIA director Mike Pompeo.

    Politico ran basically the same story two weeks ago, but it didn’t seem to attract much attention. And it seemed like only yesterday Tillerson was finished again, to be replaced by America’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. OK, sorry, that was last month.

    Let’s take a deep, cleansing breath, and recognize there are two stories here. The first is how long Tillerson will remain at State, a story that is more palace intrigue than anything else. The second is who will replace him.

    Whether Tillerson quits or gets fired soon is mostly just a matter of how his Wikipedia biography concludes. From Day One neither the media, nor his own organization, the Department of State, offered him a chance. Even before the 2016 election results, State’s supposedly non-political diplomats leaked a dissent memo calling for more U.S. intervention in Syria, a move then not supported by Candidate Trump. Soon after Tillerson took office, his non-political diplomats leaked a dissent memo opposing the State Department’s role in President Trump’s immigration plans. Yet another dissent memo leaked just ten days ago or so, this time with State’s people claiming their boss was in violation of the law over a decision regarding child soldiers. Daily “reports” from “sources” claiming the Secretary had cut himself off from the organization’s rank and file. Given the leaks, maybe Tillerson was wise to avoid the cafeteria.

    The media offered the Secretary no rest, proclaiming in near-apocalyptic terms the “end of diplomacy,” the dismantling of the State Department, and announcing with a kind of regularity old man Tillerson would ruefully envy the loss of U.S. standing in the world. Never one to miss a chance to pile on, Senators John McCain and Jeanne Shaheen sent a letter to Tillerson declaring “America’s diplomatic power is being weakened internally as complex global crises are growing externally.” Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albrighthe said Tillerson is creating a “national security emergency.”

    Despite factual evidence to the contrary, most mainstream media claimed State was hemorrhaging diplomats. With no evidence presented (State has always been notoriously tight-fisted with its personnel statistics), the New York Times stated without qualification Tillerson had “fired or sidelined were most of the top African-American and Latino diplomats, as well as many women.” Ouch, if true!

    Adding to the cat fight-like coverage of events of state, Tillerson supposedly called Trump a moron, Trump’s tweets were interpreted by the press as undermining whatever standing Tillerson might have had. The media, who had blissfully ignored State hiring below attrition since the Obama years, now seized on every routine retirement out of Foggy Bottom as proof that Tillerson was toast.

    Whether you believed Tillerson’s planned reforms for State were a sincere attempt at change to an institution already dipping into irrelevance next to the military, or whether you believed Tillerson’s reforms were the work of a hatchet man sent in to destroy the State Department (if you’ve had a couple of drinks reading this, the destruction was to empower Putin. If you’re still sober-ish, the destruction was revenge for State hiding Hillary’s emails), the bottom line was very clear: those reforms were never going to happen and Tillerson was a dead man walking. If you are really into conspiracy theories, forget Putin and Clinton. Tillerson needs to go because Trump fears his vote under the 25th Amendment to oust him. Pompeo (or even Haley) stands on more ideologically firmer ground.

    Outside the Beltway there is little love, or even real knowledge of, the State Department. It is doubtful Trump’s core constituency could give a hoot what happens at Foggy Bottom.

    I have no idea as I write this whether Rex Tillerson is still sitting in that office on the seventh floor of State Department headquarters or not. It doesn’t matter. If he’s still there today, he won’t be there sometime soon. So the real question shifts to who will eventually replace the neutered Rex Tillerson, and what if anything that means.

    The initial response is to look at the media’s current favorite horse in the race, Mike Pompeo, possibly still head of CIA as I write this (rumor suggests Pompeo would be replaced at CIA by Senator Tom Cotton, a key ally of the president on national security matters, according to the White House plan.) In the Politico hagiography of Pompeo, the CIA director glows in “favored status in the West Wing.” Haley is done. “The president has been turned off in part by speculation that Haley has her eyes on a presidential bid, two people close to the president said,” in the language of Washington today, where facts are simply what “people close” to things say.

    So what would Mike Pompeo be like as America’s 70th Secretary of State?

    Never missing a chance to get the first knife planted in the back, former Ambassador Jim Jeffrey warns while Pompeo currently “has this very close relationship with Trump, and you can’t nurture it the same way when you’re traveling all the time,” referring to the Secretary of State’s international schedule. But before the poo-poo, what was Pompeo like at CIA that might give us a clue to how’ll he will do at State?

    The signs are not good. Pompeo is a conservative, and State has always been the most “liberal,” as in committed to the liberal global system of trade and democracy, part of any administration. Pompeo is a hardlining on Iran; State sees as one of its few legacy successes the nuclear agreement with that nation worked out under Secretary of State John Kerry.

    Even at CIA, Pompeo showed a demeanor that seems at odds with the State Department’s culture of consultation, discussion, what ifs and may be’s. Pompeo’s clear certainty on issues such as Iranian nuclearization brushed hard against even the Agency’s culture, which one officials described as “The CIA isn’t Saudi Arabia, the people there appreciate nuance, they’re married to complexity.” It won’t get better at State.

    Sources at the Agency explain to become a successful head of the CIA you really have to own the place, which means embracing the entrenched powers, the people on the 7th floor and the one just below it. “You’ve got to get them on side, and you’ve got to spend time doing it,” said one Agency veteran.

    “I think Pompeo did that for a time and early on people liked him, thought of him as one of them — believed he would have their backs,” explained one CIA official. “But that’s changed. He has a temper and he’s used it, and that’s something that intelligence professionals frown on. I heard of one incident, outside his office, when he was screaming at a senior intel officer — ‘are you incompetent or just stupid?’ So, not surprisingly, at least recently, he’s started to lose people there.”

    It appears highly unlikely Pompeo would find himself well-liked at State. Diplomats displeased with the relatively bland Tillerson, whose faults extend to apparently not having many firm opinions on foreign policy matters, will be repelled by Pompeo’s views.

    Looking ahead to a Pompeo tenure, one State Department source told me “There is nothing analysts at State hate more than to have a theory dismissed with ‘But over at CIA they say…’ and Pompeo will walk into the building with that chip on his shoulder.” As Secretary of State, it is doubtful Pompeo will interact with, or care much about, the organization he’ll head up. As a Trump loyalist, whatever nefarious plans Trump has for the State Department as an institution will find a boss happy to see them carried out. Trial balloons masquerading as reporting saying Pompeo’s supposed closeness to Trump will be welcomed by the State Department rank and file are sad gasps in the dark. There is no good news ahead for Foggy Bottom.

    Whatever pundits did not like about Trump and his State Department they will dislike plus double much under Pompeo. Whatever one believes about the administration’s plans to destroy diplomacy, that belief will be reinforced during Pompeo’s tenure. But here’s the prediction I am most certain of: about two months after Pompeo takes office as Secretary of State, the media will start writing revisionist pieces claiming Tillerson was a check on Trump’s impulsivity, and is missed at State. The New York Times will remember Tillerson’s tenure as the time no new wars started, when the U.S. did not start a war with Iran, North Korea, Russia or China.

    Rex Tillerson is not the worst Secretary of State and he is far from the best of them. For the State Department rank and file, he was a punching bag, a symbol of what they believe the Trump administration has in store for them as an institution. For the media and some members of Congress, Tillerson was a stand-in for all that they hate about Trump and his view of the world. The guy never stood a chance. It is hard to see anyone seeing Pompeo much differently. He takes office as a dead man walking.



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    Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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  • Recent Comments

    • Mitch said...

      1

      Peter

      2 items…

      First…. There’s another entirely different angle here to think about…
      You referenced ” the entrenched powers” at CIA and State…. Ever think the deep entrenched powers, with the same ole, same ole thinking might be a big part of the problems faced by this nation?
      Or… Perhaps… Trump sees the entrenched powers that way…???

      Personally, I’ve been brought in many times to companies with the specific intent of “house cleaning”…. Or…. To put another way… “Drain the Swamp”.
      One tactic used… Is to place hostile management in place and force the problem employees to quit. (Not my preferred way… But seen it used ) once the house cleaning is done… Hostile management leaves and takes the animosity with them.
      Just a thought.

      Second….. Go easy on the Jello …. The Red Jello is a great way to hide the Tranquilizers so many people desperately need to be taking.
      Or….. Maybe Prozac.

      M

      12/6/17 9:25 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      2

      Trump was uncharacteristically ignorant of the State Department ethos which is to loyally serve whoever is in power. Every favor Patrick Kennedy extended to Obama and Hillary would have been extended to Trump and his guy. State’s job is to serve the fungible system of power wielding and not specific individuals thus preserving an appearance of order and legitimacy.

      12/6/17 9:42 AM | Comment Link

    • Josh Stern said...

      3

      Every public person today or Deep State critic and many anonymous regular people have become targets/road kill for the Deep State machine. It’s not an exclusive club. Only the famous are catalogued on Twitter. You get credit for being a whistleblower at State, as you have written about. It’s honorable to publish criticism of the Deep State rather than simply get run over on the road at night.

      12/6/17 10:18 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...

      4

      Peter.

      Didn’t you just return from Cuba?

      Seems like Cuba might be displaying a bit of repressed …. Pissed off????

      http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/12/06/u-s-embassy-workers-in-cuba-found-to-have-brain-abnormalities-report-says.html

      M

      12/6/17 10:26 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      5

      Josh,

      as a longtime member of Deep State, I can assure you we dont “run people over at night.” We may hack the control system of cars of pesky journalists but the rest of you guys dont pose a threat to us. We could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue in NYC and get away with ii. But again, that is small potatoes. We are into bigger things like the anthrax letters to get our message through who really rules America. So sleep well, it is later than you think.

      12/7/17 2:12 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...

      6

      Rich.

      Here’s your “deep state”.

      House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence disagrees.

      http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/12/07/top-doj-official-demoted-amid-probe-contacts-with-trump-dossier-firm.html

      Do the math.

      M

      12/7/17 3:46 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...

      7

      Btw.

      Rich.

      When you fall back on the typical bi-partisan BS….

      Trump’s appointment is REALLY pissing me off…. This is… Unconsciousable.

      WTF!!!!!!!!!!

      http://m.theweek.com/speedreads/741909/veterans-affairs-department-defunding-major-program-homeless-vets

      M

      12/7/17 5:36 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      8

      Mitch,

      Relax. Deep State will have Trumpie stroking out before his term is up. That slurred speech is a dead giveaway.

      12/7/17 10:53 PM | Comment Link

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