Tillerson firing set to showcase just how little the media know
It's coming...just wait for it. Any minute now, the press will declare President Trump's ouster of secretary of state Rex Tillerson as "chaos" and "disarray." Such baloney.
Tillerson was a good man, and he ably served the country in getting the Saudi Arabians to turn hard toward the West as the Iran threat loomed. That's a real achievement. The result we now see – from Saudis allowing women to drive to Saudis changing their stance toward Israel in a friendly direction to Saudis putting the screws to the local billionaire princeling financiers of Osama bin Laden and other lunatic forces, has been, frankly, breathtaking and spectacular. Who could have guessed such a hellhole could become something good, and so quickly? It was in no small part due to the efforts of Tillerson, an old oil man from his Exxon days, who knows the Saudis well and who was able to encourage them in the right direction without making them angry. The emergence of a new leader, Mohammed bin Salman, has been all good for both Saudi and the rest of the world's interests.
So of course the press is going to come out and say another exit in the Trump administration is more evidence of "disarray." Lots of good people have exited, of course, and this will be the superficial analysis. I can hear the computer keys clacking about it now.
But here's what's really going on. Tillerson was good for his task as he made it, but as a new stage in foreign policy dawns, particularly around Trump's high wire act in North Korea, some different talents are required. Tillerson was a corporate man, a person with the right savvy to rise all the way to the top in the rock-hard bureaucracy of Exxon, and he tended to retain some of that style of governance at State. That was fine. He also had a bit of a lefty tinge, as many corporate types do, on the social justice front, and that wasn't as useful. The fact that he said he took the job of secretary of state only because his wife told him to suggests someone whose heart wasn't all in it anyway. Tillerson had a desire to retain respectability with all sides, which isn't useful to Trump now that he is going unconventional in his diplomacy with North Korea. Something new is required, a new mindset, and from someone willing to take and go along with risks.
Mike Pompeo, of the CIA, seems to fit that bill perfectly. Adept at navigating Congress, very popular among the high-risk spooks at the Central Intelligence Agency he now leads, Pompeo will slip into the new role like a hand in a glove.
Trump himself finds more in common, personality-wise, with Pompeo, and the new North Korea gambit is all Trump.
As Thomas Lifson has noted here, writing about the exit of economic adviser Gary Cohn, it really is a personality thing:
President Trump actually likes turnover and is comfortable with uncertainty and disagreement among his closest staff, aka "chaos." Remember that his life experience is mostly in real estate development, and construction, which is project-based. That means that when a project is completed, many people depart. And when a new project begins, new staff is recruited. He may well consider the tax reform bill a project. The next economic project – tariffs to protect endangered industries, or maybe elimination of the carried interest provision – requires a somewhat different mix of talent.
Lifson's analysis of the North Korea gambit and why Trump could succeed, on the website today, is an absolute must-read for understanding how this stage is set up, which provides context for the changing of the guard.
In short, the claims of chaos and turnover, which will be the media mantra for weeks following Tillerson's exit, are all hype. People get fired all the time with Trump, frequently enough that it's not even a disgrace. It's a sight better than the Obama style of never firing anyone, no matter how incompetent. Loretta Lynch should have been fired on the spot for her tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton, yet she never was, and that style, repeated over and over through his presidency, opened the gates to corruption. With Trump, it's either perform or time to go. Look to what Trump is really doing in this context, based on the contingencies of the hour and his own management style. His work with Pompeo signals some farsightedness in the coming foreign policy tasks at hand.