It was just a matter of time before the axe eventually fell on Rex Tillerson, the American Secretary of State under President Donald Trump. Close watchers of White House politics came to an early conclusion that Tillerson who got the boot March 13, was incompatible with his boss. In fact, the ex-Secretary of State had a different idea of how the US should relate with the World from his boss, President Trump.
On the Iran Nuclear deal for instance, while Trump favoured an outright repudiation of the deal, Tillerson was in support of keeping the deal which in Trump’s view was capable of allowing Iran more time to develop her nuclear programme.
Similarly, Tillerson differed with Trump on the Paris Climate Change accord as he pushed for US stay when his boss openly declared his preference to pull the US out of the agreement. Trump had described the Paris accord “a costly burden” on his country.
The relationship between the two got to a head last Summer, when Tillerson reportedly made a comment referring to his boss as a “fucking Moron”. He denied the comment in the same way as Trump repeatedly denied firing the Secretary of State even when it became obvious that the duo were no longer on the same page in the management of US foreign policy.
Given his background as a CEO of ExxonMobil prior to his appointment, Tillerson was expected to be a great negotiator, the type that takes place before oil deals are struck in the international market. Analysts predicted that he would deepen economic diplomacy as basis for US foreign policy given his background as a businessman.
It is not clear how much he achieved in this direction before his exit last week. Some analysts are even of the view that he did not have the desired atmosphere to make serious impact on US foreign policy having stayed in office for a little over a year before his sack. More over, his not very cordial relationship with President Trump, somehow affected his overall performance on the foreign policy beat.
Throughout his electioneering campaigns, President Trump left no one in doubt that he would be “his own foreign policy arrow head”. He made several controversial pronouncements, most of which he has not as much as mentioned since his inauguration January 20, 2017. At best, he is still toying with implementation of some of his controversial foreign policy pronouncements.
And with such a mindset, US foreign policy analysts were of the view that any methodical adherence to the fundamentals of diplomacy in the delivery of US foreign policy might just be at variance with Trump’s rather strange ideas. It was therefore, not a surprise that he frequently clashed with Tillerson and ultimately gave him the boot.
On the contrary, the new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo appears to be cast exactly in Trump’s mould. The out-going Director of the influential – Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) is Trump’s soul mate on major foreign policy issues such as Iran and the Paris Climate Change Accord.
Unlike Tillerson, Pompeo has varied experiences cutting across the military, politics and the private sector. Before coming to head the CIA, Pompeo served in the Military, supervising the “Iron Curtain” before the collapse of the Berlin wall and the unification of East and West Germany. He retired from the military and together with some renowned industrialists set up the Thayer Aerospace Company in West Point. It was from his private business that Pompeo was elected a Congressman in 2010 on the platform of the Tea Party from Kansa’s Fourth District.
While in Congress, Pompeo served on the House Select Committee on Intelligence during the Obama administration and was a fierce critic of Obama’s foreign policy.
Giving his earlier comments on both the Iran Nuke deal and the Paris Climate Change accord, it is expected that he would push for US withdrawal from both. That would however, be as afar as Congress would support his policy options in those directions.
Beyond Iran and the Paris climate change agreement however, Secretary Pompeo would have a lot of other issues to deal with. He comes on board at a time when President Trump is considering a possible meeting with North Korean Leader, Kim Jong-un. The negotiations to the build up of the meeting might as well be his acid test.
Another big issue is America’s relations with Russia on one hand and Trump’s relationship with Russian leader, Vladimir Putin on the other. Trumps alleged links with Russian authorities have become one of the most controversial issues in US diplomacy since his assumption of office.
Since the scandal of Russia’s alleged meddling in the US 2016 presidential elections blew open, series of investigations have gone underway with key officials sacrificed along the line including the Director of FBI, James Comey, to allegedly cover up the protracted probe.
It is left to be seen how Pompeo would manage the relationship with Russia, which has been for long regarded as America’s primary antagonist in the international system, while sustaining the perceived friendship between Trump and the Russian leader, Putin.
The increasing wave of terrorism in Africa should also occupy the attention of Pompeo. Ironically, Tillerson was sacked hours after he returned from a comprehensive tour of Africa, including Nigeria to work out strategies with allies to deal with terrorism on the continent.
As former director of CIA, Pompeo should have more than official knowledge of the roots and activities of terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram and the consequences on America’s interests abroad. How he brings his supposedly deep knowledge of terrorism to workable solutions might as well define the level of his success as he mounts the saddle.
America’s relationship with China is one that should take centre stage in Pompeo’s handling of the US foreign policy. China has become very crucial to the health of American economy. In view of her significance therefore, a clear policy on China has been difficult to work out. It understandable when considered that America is hugely indebted to China through government guaranteed trade bonds; trade imbalances in favour of China and China’s centrality in pushing international action against North Korea to reverse her nuclear programme. It is one area where Pompeo’s skills as a diplomat, intelligence Chief, Military officer and businessman would all be tested as he hits the ground as America’s Chief Diplomat.
Last week, Trump left for California shortly after announcing Tillerson’s sack to inspect the prototype of the border wall he intends to construct on the Mexican border. The controversial immigration buffer and the equally controversial travel ban on some countries are part of the Trump – era foreign policy issues which Pompeo would have to grapple with.
On the whole, Pompeo would have his hands full as he takes on one of America’s most difficult jobs.
The future looks bright for him since Trump has openly spoken glowingly about his competencies and their shared vision of American foreign policy. The pledged confidence from President Trump not withstanding, Pompeo would have to shove aside the “arrogance” typical of an intelligence chief of his calibre and wear the garb of a true diplomat, if he is going to succeed on his new assignment.