Pompeo can make the State Department great again

Pompeo can make the State Department great again
With Pompeos Rise, Uncertainty Deepens for Iran Nuclear Deal
For much of his tumultuous tenure, President Trump has made impulsive, gut-level pronouncements — about dealing with Democrats on immigration, tearing up the Iran nuclear deal or supporting stricter gun control — only to be walked back by his more cautious staff.

In the past two weeks, Trump has directed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports over the fierce objections of his top economic adviser and agreed to an unprecedented meeting with North Koreas dictator despite concerns from national security aides. On Tuesday, Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who had forged a tight working relationship with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to try to rein in some of Trumps most impetuous decisions.

The controversy stemming from the sale of land to an educational institution with ties to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is threatening to derail March’s crowded policy calendar and throw the government’s plans for the economy into disarray. Opposition parties are boycotting budget hearings parliament has yet to confirm the central bank’s new leadership team, and the finance minister’s trip next week to a Group of 20 meeting in Argentina is in doubt. The administration also has to try to shepherd labor market reforms through the Diet after dropping key proposals due to erroneous data, and respond to Trump’s recently announced steel and aluminum tariffs. While Abe’s ruling coalition has the numbers to win votes on these issues, forcing through legislation without talking to opposition parties could further damage his popularity.

With Pompeos Rise, Uncertainty Deepens for Iran Nuclear Deal

I made that decision by myself, Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. Though he was talking about North Korea, it is a mantra that has never rang truer in his nearly 14 months as president.

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Trumps moves have shaken and alarmed a West Wing staff who fear the president has felt less restrained about acting on his whims amid the recent departures of several longtime aides, including communications director Hope Hicks and staff secretary Rob Porter. Late Monday, Trumps personal assistant John McEntee, who had served from the earliest days of his campaign, was fired after losing his security clearance, further depleting the ranks of those the president feels he can trust.

White House allies in Washington suggested Trump has been liberated to manage his administration as he did his private business, making decisions that feel good in the moment because he believes in his ability to win — regardless of whether they are backed by rigorous analysis or supported by top advisers.

This, they said, is the real Trump — freewheeling by nature, decisive in the moment, unafraid to chart his own course.

With Pompeos Rise, Uncertainty Deepens for Iran Nuclear Deal
With Pompeos Rise, Uncertainty Deepens for Iran Nuclear Deal

Hes running the White House like the Trump organization, said one person close to the president, describing Trump as increasingly at the center of command in White House decision-making and checking in on the status of various projects by the hour. While Chief of Staff John F. Kelly is running operations, the ally said Trump is taking a more hands on approach to everything from political messaging and strategy to the management of the Cabinet.

In contrast, Mr. Tillerson had let known his increasing concern about Russias activities, and even about Mr. Putin, who famously presented him with an award for his deals with Russia while at Exxon. On Monday, his last day as secretary of state, he agreed with the British government that Russia was most likely behind the nerve gas attack on a Russian living in England — while the White House has hedged about Russias responsibilities. Mr. Pompeos views are not known.
Five Things You Need to Know to Start Your Day
Five Things You Need to Know to Start Your Day

Other people who have worked with Trump in the past said his recent moves are an indication he is concerned with the state of his presidency.

His comments are certain to alarm European allies who have spent the last few days negotiating with Mr. Tillersons closest aide, Brian Hook, on a way to add to the agreement that limited Irans nuclear program, rather than reopen or scrap the deal. Those moves were intended to keep Mr. Trump from ditching the agreement in mid-May, when he faces a deadline over continued suspension of American nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.

When hes under pressure is when he tends to do this impulsive stuff, said Jack ODonnell, former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. Thats what I saw in the business. When he began to have pressure with debts, when the [Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City] was underperforming, is when he began acting very erratically.

Mr. Tillerson and Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, had run something of a tag team to keep the president in check, finding common ground on policies from the Middle East to East Asia before stepping into the Situation Room. For the better part of a year, that put Mr. Trump in the position of having to overcome their unified advice, which also was sometimes aligned with the White House national security adviser, H. R. McMaster.

ODonnell pointed to the mounting pressure on Trump with the Russia investigation by independent counsel Robert S. Mueller III and the scandal surrounding Trumps alleged affair with a pornographic film star. I think he likes the vision of himself being in control, ODonnell said. I doubt he realizes the consequences of North Korea just like he didnt realize the consequences in business of walking in and firing someone at the Taj without thinking about it. Its Trump.

Critics warned that Trump was overseeing a massive consolidation of groupthink within the West Wing, driving out top advisers who have challenged him on national security and economic decisions and elevating those who confirm his protectionist leanings — a signal, perhaps, to numerous cabinet members that they must fall in line or be the next to go.

National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn resigned in protest over the tariffs decision. Tillerson, who had crossed Trump on the Iran deal and was more critical of Russian misbehavior than the White House has been, was summarily fired in a presidential tweet hours after returning from a week-long trip to Africa.

Part of the reason for Mr. Trumps eruption then was that Mr. Tillersons suggestion of secret talks with North Korea surprised President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who called the White House to complain, according to people with knowledge of the exchange. That Mr. Tillerson failed to take into account Seouls possible reaction was one of several embarrassing stumbles, arising from his own inexperience and decision to insulate himself from the departments diplomatic corps.

Attention is now focused on the fate of national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who has had a rocky relationship with the president and has battled an internal power struggle for months.

While other cabinet officers made their goals plain, Mr. Tillerson never set clear diplomatic priorities other than to pursue Mr. Trumps slogan of America First, a term he never really defined. In an odd admission more than eight months into the job, Mr. Tillerson told employees in September that his top priority was to make the State Department more efficient. Yet he never fully addressed what diplomats should be doing with that greater efficiency.

Video: Rex Tillerson fired as secretary of state

Eliot Cohen, who served as a State Department counselor in the George W. Bush administration, said Tillerson was the worst secretary of state in recent memory. But Cohen, who led one of the two never-Trump letters signed by dozens of national security experts during the campaign, said Trumps intent to nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him will lead to even less internal debate.

Tillerson had dismissed the idea of direct talks with North Korea just days before Trump announced a summit with Kim Jong Un. By contrast, Pompeo on Sunday lavished praise on Trumps strategy with Pyongyang.

At the State Department Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Tillerson said the president had called him from Air Force One just after noon — more than three hours after Mr. Trump had tweeted the news of his firing to his 49 million followers — to inform him personally of the dismissal. Mr. Tillerson said he planned to immediately step aside from his post, turning over all responsibilities by the end of the day to John J. Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state.

Fired by Trump over Twitter, Tillerson doesnt thank him

We have a very similar thought process, Trump said of the CIA chief.

I have gotten to know Mike very well over the past 14 months, and I am confident he is the right person for the job at this critical juncture, the president continued, in a written statement distributed by the White House. He will continue our program of restoring Americas standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

3 Things That Doomed Rex Tillerson

This means conversations will be more of a never, never land than they already are, Cohen said. You will hear nothing faintly resembling candid disagreements.

Leaders of both parties predicted it could take a while to confirm CIA Director Mike Pompeo as the new secretary of state and Gina Haspel as Pompeos replacement at the CIA, leaving the State Department officially rudderless at a time when the administration faces pressing challenges surrounding newly announced talks with North Korea, looming deadlines for continued compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, Russian aggression in advance of the 2018 midterm elections, the rollout of new tariffs and a deteriorating situation in Syria.

The departures of Cohn and Tillerson, in particular, also represent a move by Trump toward his more nationalistic instincts. Both men came to the White House after successful careers as top executives at international corporations — Tillerson at ExxonMobil and Cohn at Goldman Sachs. They defended such things as climate change treaties and trade deals — positions that led far right critics, such as former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon, to deride them as globalists — and now that viewpoint will be far less represented in Trumps administration.

Pompeos hard-line positions on Iran are also more in lockstep with Trumps — a consideration for defenders of the multilateral nuclear deal with Tehran, who need Trump to waive certain sanctions again on May 12 if it is to remain intact. In January, Trump agreed to waive sanctions one last time, and only as an ultimatum for making changes to the law in Congress — changes lawmakers say they cannot make until the White House comes to an agreement with European nations about the changes they will accept.

Video: President Trump Fires Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson Ahead Of North Korea Negotiations | TIME

Trump and Tillersons biggest policy disagreements

Last week, Trump said he liked having divergent viewpoints within the White House. But at Cabinet meetings, Trump has allowed reporters in to witness a display of unusual obsequiousness. In December, for example, Vice President Pence commended Trump once every 12 seconds for three minutes.

If you are going to work for the president, you fight it out, and if you lose you dont go behind the presidents back and attack it, you defend the policy, said Steve Moore, an economic adviser to Trump during the 2016 campaign. If you cant do that, you shouldnt have taken the job in the first place.

Trump let me know how highly he thought of Pompeo, said Corker, who could not recall having ever met the current CIA director but added that he had heard good things. The two are expected to meet on Capitol Hill later this week, and Pompeos confirmation hearing is expected to be held in April. A hearing the committee was scheduled to have with Tillerson on Thursday to plan the State Department budget has been canceled.

But there are signs that aides have fewer chances to fight for their positions.

Corker was close with Tillerson and last year said that Tillerson was one of only three Cabinet members that separate our country from chaos. Corker has also indicated in the past that he thinks the Senate cannot approve a secretary of state who will simply be a yes man for Trump. When asked whether Pompeo would be more willing to tell Trump what he wanted to hear than Tillerson was, Corker said, I dont know.

Video: Trump on Mike Pompeo hiring and Rex Tillerson firing

Last Thursday, Trump decided on the spot during a 45-minute meeting with South Korean officials in the Oval Office that he would accept an invitation from Kim to meet for talks — stunning senior aides, including Mattis and McMaster, who warned about moving too quickly.

Jon Wolfsthal, who served as senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council under former president Barack Obama, said most presidents would have convened an interagency meeting with the relevant federal agencies before making such a momentous decision.

A president could hear from his Cabinet about whether it was worth the risk and, if it was worth the risk, how they would make the announcement, who to inform first, Wolfsthal said.

Nine Issues that Divided Trump and Tillerson
Nine Issues that Divided Trump and Tillerson

Trump asked his South Korean interlocutors to announce the news in the West Wing driveway as he hastily tried to reach the leaders of Japan and China. Tillerson, who was traveling in Africa, was represented at the Oval Office meeting by a deputy.

The following day, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sowed confusion by telling reporters that the meeting was contingent on Pyongyang taking active steps to denuclearize, before one of Sanders aides later clarified by saying there were no preconditions to the summit.

The impression people are being given right now is that Trump feels he has been poorly served by his staff, Wolfsthal said. Cabinet secretaries arent doing job he wants. He is relying much more on himself.

Or people who reflect his own image. One of the top candidates to replace Cohn, Larry Kudlow, a conservative television commentator who served in the Reagan administration, had previously spoken out against Trumps tariff plan. But Trump on Tuesday said Kudlow now has come around to believing in tariffs as a negotiating point.

Trump also met recently with former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, who is viewed as more hawkish on Iran than McMaster or Tillerson.

I think the Chinese are reeling from this presidency, said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

She noted that Beijing has sought to develop ties to both Tillerson and Kushner, who has lost standing amid questions about his inability to gain a security clearance and financial debts tied to his familys real estate business.

The Chinese ambassador has been going around quietly seeing very senior former officials and asking them who to talk to, Glaser said. How can they influence this administration? Every day is a new surprise for them.

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