Article originally published by LNP. Copyright held by Steinmann Communication, 2018
In case you have wondered what happened to this correspondent in the past couple of months, let me put your anxiety aside. I have not been banned from publication, nor have I given up writing about this increasingly topsy-turvy world. Instead it seems I have been seduced by the charms of the Florida Gulf Coast like so many of my “snowbird” compatriots.
But even the soporific sunshine and gulf shrimp could not keep reality from intruding last week with the early morning Twitter announcement that Rex Tillerson was out and Mike Pompeo was in as secretary of state.
It was long rumored that T-Rex was ripe for replacement in Trump World. Disagreements on key policy issues — Iran sanctions, climate change, NATO’s role vis-a-vis Russia, Charlottesville and American values, Middle East peace, the location of our embassy in Israel, even strategy on North Korea — probably would have been enough to sink the secretary even without that unconfirmed remark he made in July 2017 about President Donald Trump being a “moron.”
A secretary of state needs two things to succeed: the support of the rank and file of the State Department and the confidence of the president. Sadly, Tillerson had neither.
Perhaps nothing proved the latter more than the way in which Tillerson was let go. He did not just ride off into the sunset.
According to his spokesman, Steve Goldstein (who has since been fired for his unbridled honesty), the secretary of state learned that his services were no longer needed via the same tweet that greeted the world Tuesday morning.
Of course this president, like any president, is entitled to surround himself with a team of his choosing. The Cabinet and White House staff should be people who enjoy the confidence of the president and are in tune with his thinking on matters great and small. Apparently CIA Director Mike Pompeo is such a person, and his deputy, Gina Haspel, who will fill his shoes at the CIA, is another. Pompeo and the president pretty much agree on everything.
Now that we have seen more than a year of Trump in action, we can confidently predict that Rex will not be the last Cabinet member to have an unceremonial departure, nor will the revolving door of White House aides stop turning. There are already rumors about the national security adviser and a couple of Cabinet secretaries who could be the next to go. [Ed. – Before we could post this commentary, Gen. H.R. McMaster resigned and John Bolton was announced as his replacement.]
That is the new reality, and we may have no choice but to make the best of it.
As Trump tirelessly reminds us, he is the only one who matters. Until or unless the American public tires of our current reality, we will continue to have more of the same. No matter what our opinion of what this “new reality” may be, we can only hope that one way or another this unique experiment can achieve some degree of success on those big foreign and domestic issues that are just too important to fail — Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, trade, the economy, infrastructure, etc. The complexities of these issues are such that I suspect we will have to examine them in some detail in the months to come no matter who is among the cast of characters in the administration.
In the meantime, it is just about time for me to head back to the beach.
William P. Kiehl is a retired Foreign Service officer who served 35 years with the U.S. Information Agency and U.S. Department of State in Europe, Asia and Washington. He was also a diplomat-in-residence at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle. He resides in Lancaster County.