At the time, Rex Tillerson seemed like a strange, out-of-the-blue choice to be Donald Trump’s Secretary of State. Really? The guy from Exxon is going to be in charge of the most expansive seat of diplomacy in the world? What…what does the man even believe as it pertains to politics or foreign policy? It was an odd choice that seemed to invite unnecessary scrutiny from the left, given Tillerson’s “Order of Friendship” award from Vladimir Putin a couple of years prior. Still, for a president determined to make a clean break from the Washington establishment, the choice made a certain amount of sense, even in its strangeness.
More than a year down the road, Tillerson has been given his walking papers. The move comes, perhaps, not a moment too soon. Whatever Trump had hoped to get out of his Secretary of State, he was disappointed. Tillerson’s name has been on the chopping block since at least last summer, and he has departed from the president on every major matter of foreign policy since he took the post. If he did anything to win Trump’s affection it was in his paring down of the State Department bureaucracy; beyond that, the men reportedly did not get along and disagreed vehemently on everything from the Iranian nuclear deal to North Korean negotiations.
Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick to move into the vacant position, seems to be much more aligned with the president’s agenda. “Friends Don’t Let Friends Do Business With Iran” – that was the name of a Foreign Policy essay that Pompeo wrote in the waning months of the 2016 election. In it, he explains why working with the Iranian government was not the innocent, peaceful boom to the U.S. economy that many business leaders were hearing from the Obama administration. He is an advocate for strengthening the Iran nuclear agreement…or walking away from it entirely. This puts him on Trump’s page, meaning we won’t see anymore of this “the State Department says one thing, the president says another” situation that we’ve had for the last year.
The big problem we’ve had with Tillerson is that our foreign allies (and, for that matter, our enemies) know that he didn’t necessarily speak for President Trump. They knew this because Trump would often contradict him on Twitter and they knew this because to listen to Trump’s vision of foreign policy was to hear something completely different than they were hearing from Tillerson. That’s no good. You may as well not even have a State Department if things are going to be like that.
Pompeo has, on the other hand, been a fierce advocate for the administration’s positions, and he will undoubtedly continue to be one in his new place near the top of the political food chain.