Upon Reflection (14 March)

Time to consider weekly global headlines in an ever-changing world

Selected News Headline

14 March 2018

Trump Fires Rex Tillerson and Will Replace Him With C.I.A. Chief Pompeo

13 March 2018, New York, United States – New York Times – More ‘Trumpy’ times to come. With the ‘firing’ of US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, the United States is yet again in a state of chaos by the hand of its highly unpredictable president.

Tillerson, was long suspected of being on Trump’s ‘removal list’ having clashed with his boss on a number of sensitive foreign affairs matters including Iran and North Korea, as well as being known for once having called his boss a ‘moron’. Tillerson is to be replaced by Trump loyalist and former CIA head, Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo is considered a good choice for the White House. He knows how to flatter the president, including how to spin Trump’s remorseless Twitter feed into something useful for US national security.

Pompeo also shares Trump’s scepticism on the Iran nuclear deal. He will maintain pressure on Pyongyang leading up to the now highly anticipated meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a date to be set, and, as a security hawk, will likely place more pressure on the Russian presence in Syria.

Which then leads us to what 2018 can expect from the Trump administration with Pompeo in charge of American diplomacy.

He’s likely to talk Trump around into filling some of the long vacant spots in the State Department so US diplomacy can regain a little more initiative.

He is likely to maintain his boss’s anti-Iran posture, which is arguably where some wild cards can be dished out. More covert assistance to anti-Assad rebels in Syria is almost a certainty. Pompeo knows well the lay of the land of Putin’s Russia and will want some victories on his watch against Kremlin strategists. Weakening Russia’s and Iran’s position in Syria by using the ‘silver bullet’ of covert assistance for anti-Assad forces; passive support for Israeli airstrikes against government-held targets, as well as against Hezbollah and Iranian positions and accommodating some Turkish ‘requirements’ against Kurdish northern Syria, might just build up a momentum against Moscow and Tehran.

It is unlikely that any deal will be done with the North Koreans regarding their nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

If the meeting between Trump and Kim goes ahead, there’ll be some spectacular photo ops for the leaders involved, but little substance.

North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs are after all the only guarantee of a ‘sovereign’ North Korean deterrent designed to preserve the Kim regime from external attack. Kim will remember what happened to Mummer Gadhafi after he relinquished his ballistic missile and WMD programs. Being sodomised to death or strung up on a lamppost will not be how Kim would like to be remembered. Only if China becomes North Korea’s security guarantor, effectively making North Korea a Chinese vassal state, might the strategic situation radically change in Northeast Asia – to China’s favour. And Chinese acceptance of this will depend on whether it trusts the Kim regime to act as a loyal vassal of the PRC. How South Korea and Japan would view North Korea’s subservience to Beijing is anyone’s guess, but it’s not a stretch to suggest they would not eagerly embrace this as the ‘best of all worse options’.

Then there’s the elephant in the room – the Russia investigation and how Pompeo would navigate this tricky terrain with his boss.

Trump has publicly stated many times how he would like to see Putin and Russia as ‘international partners’ in preserving the peace. As a security hawk, Pompeo knows full well Russia’s capacity to act as an international wrecking ball. It is unlikely that he would share Trump’s desire for closer US-Russian relations. Can Trump be talked around on this matter? Will this issue eventually claim Pompeo’s scalp too?

Move over West Wing, move over Designated Survivor. The drama about to unfold in this very real White House, filled with characters that no script-writer could ever conceive of, is about to get weirder and even more ‘Trumpier’.

Become a member

Come under our wings and become a member for free.

Sign Up Now

Get email updates from Sage