‘Rex-it’ effect in US foreign policy
Since the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump has been astonishing global watchers with his unpredictable, harsh, and sometimes reckless style in policy implementation. Most recently, he fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, announcing on Twitter that he would be replaced by Mike Pompeo, director of the CIA. Despite all his flaws and inexperience in the foreign policy arena, the former Exxon CEO Tillerson was among the few sane and cooler voices in the Trump administration. Thus, the way the transition will affect U.S. foreign policy making is of interest to policy makers across the world.
Tillerson has already taken his place in U.S. history as one of the shortest-serving secretaries of state, and left behind a State Department that has lost its effectiveness and prominence in U.S. decision-making. Under Tillerson’s stewardship, 60 percent of top-ranking U.S. career diplomats resigned and the number of new applications dropped by half. Most of the top positions and a large number of ambassadorships around the world remained unfilled. Although the picture reflected more of a lack of political acumen in the Trump administration in general rather than Tillerson’s own personal weaknesses, the fact remains that he was ineffective in bringing required changes to the State Department while watching its dilapidation.
The timing of Tillerson’s departure might become quite significant especially for the Iran nuclear deal, as Trump will decide on it on May 12, and Pompeo is known for his hawkish position on this. In a nutshell, after years of painstaking negotiations, Iran and the P5+1 countries, consisting of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, signed a deal in July 2015, restricting Iran’s nuclear program in return for the gradual lifting of international sanctions against its economy. However, Trump has been voicing strong dislike against the deal since his election campaign, and Pompeo’s elevation might just tip the U.S. policy to annul the agreement.
Choosing Pompeo to replace Tillerson precisely reflected Trump’s displeasure about the latter’s moderate stance on the nuclear deal with Iran. In contrast, the former CIA director, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 as part of the conservative hardliner Tea Party Movement, opposed the deal all along. With his generally conservative and hawkish stance, Pompeo would obviously fit the Trump administration more easily than the temperate Tillerson.
Tillerson’s departure also came at an unfortunate moment for Turkey-U.S. relations as he was trying to mend strained ties. The nomination of Pompeo has raised doubts about his possible stance on the U.S.-Turkey standoff especially in Syria because of his earlier comments against Turkey. There is particularly an ambiguity about the future of the latest talks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the outgoing secretary of state. The State Department has already denied the Turkish statement that there was an agreement regarding the future of Manbij town in northern Syria as well as the U.S. support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish group affiliated to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria. As there was no recordkeeping during the meeting, only time will show whether Pompeo would want to continue with the supposed deal.
One thing is certain though; as Trump just completed his 425th day in office while setting a record in staff turnover among his A-Team — more than “triple that of Obama and double that of Reagan” during their first year in office —U.S. diplomacy will now be controlled totally by hawks in the administration, which most probably is not good news for global politics.