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President Trump, a week ago.
President Trump, yesterday
: “President Trump ousted on Tuesday his secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, the most dramatic in a cascade of personnel moves that suggest Mr. Trump is determined to surround himself with loyalists more willing to reflect his ‘America First’ views. Mr. Trump announced he would replace Mr. Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director and
former Tea Party congressman, who has cultivated a close relationship with the president and has taken a harder line than Mr. Tillerson on critical issues like Iran and North Korea.”
WHAT IT MEANS:
- “Mr. Tillerson’s dismissal, on the heels of Gary D. Cohn’s resignation as Mr. Trump’s chief economic adviser after a dispute over steel tariffs, pulls the Trump administration further out of the economic and foreign policy mainstream and closer to the nationalist ideas that animated Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. It also suggests that after a year of chaotic on-the-job training, Mr. Trump has developed more confidence in his own instincts and wants aides and cabinet members with whom he has good chemistry and who embrace his positions.”
- As is his style, Trump fired Tillerson in a tweet, without giving him a heads-up. His firing—coincidentally, perhaps—came a day after Tillerson criticized Vladimir Putin and promised repercussions for the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in the UK, though the White House says Trump made the decision on Friday: “The White House is insisting the decision to fire Tillerson had been made before his comments Monday evening—that he was informed of the decision in the early-morning hours Saturday, before returning from a trip to Africa. But a statement from a top State Department spokesman Tuesday indicated Tillerson had no advance warning of his termination beyond a heads-up that Trump would tweet something.”
- Tillerson’s spokesman was fired Tuesday after releasing a statement that read: "The secretary did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling."
- Assuming the Senate goes along, CIA director Mike Pompeo will move to State and CIA deputy director Gina Haspel will become the first woman to head the clandestine agency.
- Haspel has a troubling history: “As a clandestine officer at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.”
- Pompeo, a hardliner, suits the president’s worldview: “Mr. Tillerson’s anticipated replacement, Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, was among the harshest critics of the 2015 nuclear agreement that world powers brokered with Iran. If confirmed, Mr. Pompeo will take over the State Department just as the president is weighing whether to ditch the deal altogether—even if it outrages European allies.”
- And the shakeup could have profound foreign policy implications, too. From the Times: “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. One senior administration official who often sat in the backbenches of those meetings last week described Mr. Trump’s growing frustration at being hemmed in by his two principal national security cabinet members.”
- Also from the Times: “As the White House absorbed the news about Mr. Tillerson, rumors swirled that the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, and the secretary of Veterans Affairs, David J. Shulkin, would soon follow him out the door. The sense of disarray was deepened by the purging of Mr. Tillerson’s inner circle and the sudden dismissal of a personal aide to Mr. Trump.”
- About that personal aide: “President Trump’s personal assistant was fired after he was denied a security clearance because of financial problems related to online gambling and tax issues, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. John McEntee, who has worked with Trump since early in his presidential campaign, was reportedly escorted out of the White House on Monday. He left so abruptly that he reportedly left his jacket in his office. The Secret Service is investigating McEntee over his alleged online gambling problems and ‘mishandling’ of taxes, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing senior administration officials.” McEntee immediately went to work for the president’s reelection campaign.
. We were, to be fair, warned that Donald Trump would be a chaos president, and he is. But whereas he started as a chaos president uncertain of his footing, now he’s a chaos president who seems to be feeling his oats, at least enough to elbow out dissenting voices. But man, what a cluster this West Wing is.
- Tillerson should not in any way be lionized. He was a godawful secretary of state, perhaps the worst in modern history, who gutted and demoralized the agency. He was completely ineffectual and impotent and accomplished nothing of substance. Don’t feel sorry for him—he has his hundreds of millions of Exxon dollars to go home to.
- But Tillerson was marginally sane on the Iran deal and wary of Trump’s impulsive actions on North Korea. He was also critical of Putin, whereas Trump is decidedly not. These are the things—not rank incompetence—that got him canned. There’s a good chance Pompeo will cater to Trump’s whims on Iran, North Korea, and Russia—and that will hardly be a step up.