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More Chaos in the Trump White House

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News Analysis |

In an unexpected but not uncharacteristic move by Trump, Rex Tillerson was sacked as the secretary of state and Mike Pompeo, the former director of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has been named as his replacement. Gina Haspel will replace Mike Pompeo at the CIA, she was previously serving as the CIA deputy director.

Trump tweeted in the early hours of Tuesday, announcing his replacements and thanking Rex Tillerson for his service. He also mentioned the fact that Gina Haspel is the first woman to head the CIA and congratulated all. Tillerson had been on a tour of African countries and had just come back to the US. Apparently, he was not aware of Trump’s decision and the president had not spoken to him. He was fired via tweet. An undersecretary of state, Steven Goldstein, was also fired from the White House for defending Tillerson.

According to Micheal Kugelman, an expert on South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Mike Pompeo is not so different from Rex Tillerson on Pakistan. Pompeo also wants to ‘change Pakistan’s behavior’ in the interest of the US vis a vis Afghanistan.

Goldstein said that the secretary of state had every intention of staying on the job and had good relationships with his counterparts. Pompeo enjoys a close relationship with the president. He has given many presentations to the president in person and makes sure that the presentations rely on colorful and illustrative infographics, considering Trump’s aversion to detailed reports. He has served in the US military but never having been in combat zones. He then went on to attend Harvard Law School, eventually running successfully for Congress in 2010.

He has previously been on the House Intelligence Committee, where he privy to the nation’s best kept secrets. He is considered to be more hawkish than Tillerson on key foreign policy issues for the US, such as Iran and North Korea, having once joked about assassinating Kim Jong Un. Gina Haspel is a career intelligence officer and joined the CIA in 1985 and has a 30-year long career in the CIA, where she enjoys a good reputation.

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She has had overseas experience, had been the Chief of station a number of times and has held several other senior leadership positions within the CIA. In February 2017, she was appointed deputy director at the CIA by Trump. She also ran a blacksite-or hidden location operated by the CIA-in Thailand where suspected Al-Qaeda members were tortured by water boarding. Even more controversially, she is said to have played a role in destroying the tapes that provided evidence for the torture.

This is not the first time that Trump had made sudden announcements like these. A total of 25 senior and junior members of the Trump administration have come and gone ever since he took office, either by resignation or by getting fired. Trump has only been in office for about 14 months. That’s almost a couple of replacements each month. Gary Cohen, a senior advisor to Trump on the economy, resigned recently in protest against Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Rex Tillerson’s firing comes at a critical time for American foreign policy. President Trump is going to meet the leader of North Korea in a historic meeting in May. The Afghan Taliban has recently been on the offensive against Afghan security forces.

White house communications director Hope Hicks had resigned prior to that. So far, the only people he hasn’t replaced are his own family members, although there have been speculations that Trump may have considered the possibility that Jared and Ivanka might be better off in New York than in Washington. In a press conference, Trump explained his decision to replace Tillerson. He said that he differed with Tillerson on a number of issues, most significantly, perhaps, the Iran Nuclear Deal.

He also said that he has great respect for Tillerson and hopes that Pompeo and Haspel will do a ‘fantastic job’, adding that he valued Tillerson’s commitment to public service, wished him well and that the relationship with him had been great. Reportedly, Tillerson had called Trump a ‘moron’ on one occasion, to which Trump responded by saying, “I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests and I can tell you who is going to win.” Several other senior Trump advisors refer to him as an ‘idiot’ or ‘dope’, according to revelation by Micheal Wolf’s book, Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House.

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Tillerson had previously been the CEO of ExxonMobil, since 2006. ExxonMobil is the 10th largest company in the world by revenue, earning over $218.6 billion in 2016. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and joined ExxonMobil in 1975 as a production engineer. He is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering in the US. In 2017, he left to join the Trump white house.

Tillerson held a press conference afterwards and explained that his commission as secretary of state will formally end at midnight, March the 31st. In a somewhat exasperated tone, he said, “Between now and then, I will address a few administrative matters related to my departure and works towards a smooth and orderly transition for secretary of state designate Mike Pompeo.” His own office will be assumed by deputy secretary of state for the time being.

From the background of Mike Pompeo and Gina Haspel, it can be concluded that Trump has surrounded himself with a secretary of state and a CIA director that are more hawkish than Tillerson was. It was assumed that Tillerson was the anchor that helped steer the ship in the Trump White House, to prevent it from becoming completely unhinged. He was also in favor of the Iran Nuclear Deal, something which Trump has criticized innumerable times, and diplomacy with North Korea.

This is not the first time that Trump had made sudden announcements like these. A total of 25 senior and junior members of the Trump administration have come and gone ever since he took office, either by resignation or by getting fired.

Pompeo once said that the CIA needs to be more ‘aggressive’ and Haspel ran torture sites. These attitudes seem to be much more in line with Trump’s ‘America First’ mantra. In other words, Pompeo and Haspel are Trump loyalists and Tillerson probably wasn’t. We can expect an aggressive shift in US foreign policy in what remains of Trump’s tenure as president, provided he doesn’t make sudden changes in these positions again anytime soon.

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Rex Tillerson’s firing comes at a critical time for American foreign policy. President Trump is going to meet the leader of North Korea in a historic meeting in May. The Afghan Taliban has recently been on the offensive against Afghan security forces. The Syrian quagmire appears to be very difficult, if not impossible to resolve. Tensions with Russia continue and a trade war with China might be in the making.

This shifting in Trump’s cabinet can have implications for Pakistan as well. Under Haspel, the CIA may look towards expanding operations within Pakistan. According to Micheal Kugelman, an expert on South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Mike Pompeo is not so different from Rex Tillerson on Pakistan. Pompeo also wants to ‘change Pakistan’s behavior’ in the interest of the US vis a vis Afghanistan.


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