Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has had a troubled year at the State Department, his attempts to improve the department met with scorn from other top officials, and his talk of diplomacy undercut, often very publicly, by the president.
The latest reports indicate his long-anticipated departure from State could be coming in the next few weeks, under a new plan pushed by Gen. John Kelly, which would see Tillerson ousted, and replaced by current CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
The story originated in the New York Times, and officials are saying that it actually got there directly from the White House, as a way of White House officials “sending a message” to Tillerson. The message, needless to say, is not a friendly one, though officials also say a final decision to oust him hasn’t been made yet. Ironically, Gen. Kelly, whose scheme this was in the first place, is said to have called the State Department initially trying to downplay the report.
Though Tillerson has publicly denied being unhappy or seeking to resign, it’s been repeatedly reported by top officials, including Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), that Trump has been damaging Tillerson’s efforts and undercutting him at seemingly every opportunity. Other officials say the Trump-Tillerson relationship has been souring for some time, despite Tillerson’s denials. Tillerson has been overtly refusing to take Trump’s hostile line on North Korea.
The nature of the reported change also suggests a change in the administration’s focus, with Tillerson having, for instance, ruled out imposing regime change in North Korea, while Pompeo, said to be a Trump favorite recently, has openly advocated it.
After meetings, officials say Pompeo and Trump stay behind to talk, and he seems to have the president’s ear. That’s disturbing, however, since Pompeo has largely been critical of diplomatic efforts throughout his career in politics, preferring to advocate bellicosity. Trump has never been one to favor diplomacy either, despite his talk of making deals, and while it makes some sense that he would want a top diplomat who is similarly averse to talking, it’s also clearly risky.
Tillerson, after all, despite being so often undercut, has been fairly popular abroad for his efforts to try to dial back talk of war. Though the administration may not always appreciate it, Tillerson has been doing a lot of damage control for them.
Indications are that Pompeo’s departure from the CIA would be followed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a pro-torture pick that’s also likely to attract a lot of scrutiny. Cotton is also an outspoken advocate of the drone assassination program.
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