Rex Tillerson Is Gone: The Foreign Policy Winds Shift

Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Did President Donald Trump fire his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson via a tweet? Who the hell knows? The point is Tillerson is no longer the top diplomat for the United States, and that makes a broad spectrum of people happy and the right people upset.


The knee-jerk reaction was to believe the narrative: that after 16 months of being called the secret facilitator of Trump’s collusion with Russia, Tillerson was removed for having a strong response to the possibility of Russia poisoning former spies — but that doesn’t hold water. Tillerson’s failure to bring a translator to his visit to Turkey as Ankara continued to threaten Syrian Democratic Forces East of the Euphrates should have brought about his resignation, but little to no coverage was given to the head of American diplomacy relying on a foreign country to properly translate. But what likely brought him down was his soft stance on Iran and willingness to alienate multiple Gulf State allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in favor of Qatar, which has been an issue for this White House since early 2017 due to Qatar’s relationship with Iran, which terrifies its Gulf State neighbors.

Tillerson will be replaced by the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Mike Pompeo, whose under-secretary, Gina Haspel, will now move up to run the CIA. This isn’t really news to anyone familiar with foreign policy; in fact, the Russian-funded publication Sputnik reported the possibility of Pompeo replacing Tillerson in December 2017. Of course, the analysis in Sputnik says the move would indicate an escalation across the board between Moscow and Washington DC, in likely a desperate attempt to make the U.S. rethink putting in place a strong foreign policy apparatus — no one ever accused the Russians of being stupid.


What’s At Stake

With multiple people being poisoned with military grade nerve agents in the middle of England, brutal and unjustified bombing of civilians in Syria, and aggressive bullying tactics in Ukraine, Russia had to know a firmer stance was coming whether from Tillerson or whomever replaced him. Pompeo is a well-known anti-Putin figure in the American foreign policy establishment, so this move most certainly has the Kremlin recalibrating all of its military adventurism across the globe.

If confirmed, Gina Haspel will be the first woman to ever lead American clandestine services, but don’t expect any statues anytime soon. Haspel is probably a more controversial figure than Americans realize, but it is a safe bet that the Iranian Republican Guard Council and al-Qaeda, with all its affiliate offshoots and bastards, know her name. She was accused of being involved in extraordinary rendition in 2002-03 when suspected al-Qaeda members and associates of Osama Bin Laden were taken to a secret jail in Thailand. She was also linked to the use of “enhanced” interrogation tactics like the waterboarding of an informant 87 times.

Her enemies fear her, but Haspel’s confirmation hearing will most certainly be used to relitigate the early efforts of the post-9/11 intelligence gathering tactics. A simpler way of saying that is we will have to hear about torture performed in the name of keeping America safe. It will be a dreadfully partisan affair that will no doubt lead to relitigating the Obama foreign policy until the conclusion is reached that, besides Iran, it’s pretty much the same foreign policy.


U.S. policy now is officially to not use those interrogation tactics any longer as it is the nastiest of business, but these moves by the White House are a crystal clear signal to those opposing American foreign policy: the United States is done being nice. Diplomacy is always the preferred path, but it is evident diplomacy alone will not motivate belligerent actors like Iran, Russia, North Korea, China and Pakistan. The best course of action for those not wanting to be moved by U.S. power, soft or otherwise, is to call Pompeo before he calls you.

Expect a tighter messaging from the White House in the weeks to come. Messaging is everything in diplomacy.


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