The Corner


Who Would Want to Be Secretary of State?

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Our unpredictable president strikes again, firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this morning.

The move itself had been rumored since at least November. The White House said Tillerson was asked to step down Friday, but at least one outlet is reporting that Tillerson learned from Twitter this morning.

I’ll ask a question no one else seems to be asking: If you’re Mike Pompeo, why would you want to be secretary of state? You already have a good working relationship with the president. Pompeo reportedly attends the president’s daily intelligence briefing in person almost every day. If you’re the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, any president is almost always eager to see you; you’ve got news and it’s usually something important. You’re the one with the most information and the best answers; you’re in the White House all the time. You’re trusted and valued.

We’ve seen that Trump will decide to have a summit with North Korea and not consult his secretary of state before announcing it. If you’re secretary of state, you’re usually either in Foggy Bottom or overseas. At any given moment, this president can jump on Twitter and announce to the world that you’re wasting your time.

So utter contempt and disregard for a man trying to enact the president’s own policies. Who does the president think Rex Tillerson is, Jeff Sessions?

Maybe Trump’s problems with Tillerson stem from no preexisting relationship. (Think about it, when was the last time a president had a secretary of state who he had no previous working relationship with?) Ideally, a president and secretary of state have something of a mind-meld so that the secretary can negotiate effectively on the president’s behalf. Perhaps Pompeo, having spent so much more time with Trump than Tillerson, will know where Trump’s “red lines” are and be more effective at helping Trump reach agreement with other countries.

Perhaps Pompeo will we welcomed at Foggy Bottom; some State Department employees are desperate for a change. We all ought to wish him well, and wish Gina Haspell well as the new CIA director. But one can’t help but wonder if in a year or so Pompeo will find himself in a similar situation — trying to offer diplomatic advice to an inherently undiplomatic president who doesn’t like being told what to do.

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