On 13th March, the US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he is replacing the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Reports of replacing Tillerson, citing clashes over various policy issues with Trump, were reported for quite some time. Tillerson’s time as Secretary of State was the shortest stint in last 130 years. The appointment of Pompeo has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.
After his appointment, Tillerson, with time, grew increasingly at odds with Trump’s lifestyle and policies. The former oil executive was of the opinion that the US should abide by the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal and Paris Climate Deal.
Experts believe that Tillerson was appointed Secretary of State by Trump because of his good relations with oil-producing countries like Russia and the GCC countries. Prior to the 2016 presidential election, Trump never met Tillerson. The proposal of appointing Tillerson as Secretary of State was first given by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and was later reiterated by Robert Gates, Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. After his appointment, Tillerson, with time, grew increasingly at odds with Trump’s lifestyle and policies. The former oil executive was of the opinion that the US should abide by the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal and Paris Climate Deal.
Trump referred to differences over Iranian nuclear deal as a reason for dismissing Tillerson. The latter viewed the deal as the best way to curb Iranian nuclear ambitions. But the former termed the deal as an embarrassment for the US and threatened to withdraw from it entirely. Both Trump and Tillerson had contrasting views on various foreign policy related issues including Qatar crisis and use of diplomacy to engage North Korea. Trump himself has admitted that he did not consult with Tillerson about meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in May, which indicates the nature of the relationship between the two officials.
Analysts are also of the opinion that Tillerson tried to run the affairs of State Department through corporate mindset. This approach was not suitable for a public office like Secretary of State. His decision of accepting about 30 percent cut in department budget led to losing support of the majority in the State Department. His redesigning of the department also proved disastrous. 60 percent of career ambassadors left during Tillerson’s first year and the intake of new Foreign Service Officers went from 366 to 100.
Despite having similar views on Iranian nuclear deal and Paris climate accord, President Trump and Pompeo have differing views on Russia. As CIA Director, Pompeo has adversarial views about Russia and its President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, Tillerson’s successor Mike Pompeo has a complete contrasting worldview and is more in line with Trump’s viewpoint. Both officials opposed Iranian nuclear deal and Paris Climate Deal. Despite having similar views on Iranian nuclear deal and Paris climate accord, President Trump and Pompeo have differing views on Russia. As CIA Director, Pompeo has adversarial views about Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. He has criticized Moscow’s aggression towards west and other countries. But some experts believe that Pompeo has softened his extreme views after becoming CIA Director. The softening of his views can also be analysed by how he downplayed Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
In terms of Israel-Palestine issue, Pompeo was not Trump’s central figure to solidity the peace efforts. He has been a staunch supporter of Israel. In February 2017, he secretly met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and listened to his concerns regarding the skepticism that the White House will not support a two-state solution. During his stint at CIA, he also played a role in maintaining ties between Trump administration and Palestinian Authority’s security and intelligence forces.
After becoming CIA Director, he sought a more aggressive approach towards Tehran. In his various speeches at White House, he has argued that a more bellicose policy should be adopted against Iran. He also remains vehemently opposed to the Iranian nuclear deal. Experts remain confused about the impact of Pompeo as Secretary of State on the future of Iranian nuclear deal. Some believe that his opposition to the nuclear deal will remain restricted to rhetoric. The next sanctions waivers of Iranian nuclear deal are due on May 12. President Trump has already threatened that he will not renounce the upcoming sanctions waiver unless radical changes are made in the nuclear deal. It will be interesting to see how Pompeo plays.
Like Iran and Russia, Pompeo also has hawkish views about North Korea including calls for regime change. His views can create distrust in Pyongyang and can create obstacles for follow-on talks after Trump-Kim talks. Moreover, if the Iranian nuclear deal is blown up by the Trump administration than North Korea will have no reason to reach a deal with the US.
Apart from his hawkish views on various foreign policy issues, Pompeo will bring an extensive experience of dealing with the Congress. His good chemistry with President Trump can influence various policy decisions that the White House will take in future. Unlike Tillerson, Pompeo will remain be supportive of President Trump’s foreign policy thinking. It will be interesting to see how Pompeo will exercise his authority. He will have the option to either remain supportive of Trump’s foreign policy decisions as a loyalist, or become Tillerson II to bring stability in the US foreign policy.
Fahad Nabeel is currently pursuing M.Phil in International Relations from National Defence University. He has graduated in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Virtual University of Pakistan. Fahad has considerably researched on regional geo-political issues and militancy trends. Currently, he is working as a Senior Research Associate at CSCR.