Rex Tillerson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Exxon Mobile Corporation.

The Tillerson Departure

In recent days, rumours have circulated suggesting that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s tenure may very soon be coming to an official end. The New York Times reported that the White House has developed a plan to oust Tillerson and replace him with current CIA Director Mike Pompeo. In this piece, U.S. Navy Officer Anthony Clay examines the potential impact of Tillerson’s departure and replacement with Pompeo.

For an in-depth, bespoke briefing on this or any other geopolitical topic, consider Encylopedia Geopolitica’s intelligence consulting services.

If this reporting is correct he will be one of the shortest serving Secretary of States in American history. It takes going back to the Truman administration in order to find a similarly tenured SECSTATE that left office for reasons other than the end of a President’s term. Rumors of his impending departure have been circulating since the first few weeks of the administration, and he has stated that he would rather be back in Texas, but felt it was his duty to carry out his assignment to the best of his abilities.

Tillerson is not without his criticisms. He had zero previous government experience, instead coming to post from his previous role as CEO of Exxon Mobile, and, oddly enough, a President of the Boy Scouts. He is famously close to Russia and Vladimir Putin in particular. There has been examination of his actions in office too, with his reluctance to talk to the press, or even bring them along on trips, and the apparent gutting of the State Department with a dearth of appointed positions filled and career diplomats leaving in droves. And then there are the problems of his relationship with his boss. President Trump has publicly questioned his fitness for the position, and there were reports of Tillerson calling Trump a “f*****g moron.”

So while he may not be the model of what one would expect of the nation’s chief diplomat, his departure brings up a number of questions and a number of concerns. It is widely stated that Tillerson has been one of the “adults in the room” charged with managing the temperamental President, and hopefully steer him to make sound decisions. Along with SECDEF James Mattis, Secretary of Homeland Security H. R. McMaster, and Chief of Staff John Kelly, Tillerson has tried to keep the White House on the straight and narrow.

He has managed, with a varying degree of success, to not hemorrhage our international alliances. What will become of that now without Tillerson in place? Mattis and Tillerson have both travelled nearly non-stop since taking office to assure allies that their decade’s long partnership will not be cast aside in an early morning tweet storm. By comparison, Pompeo is a Tea Party republican with strong leanings toward hard line approaches. He has distinguished himself by being overtly political as the chief spy, a traditionally apolitical posting, and is not known for nuance when it comes to adversaries. His personality may only add gasoline to Trump’s fire. But he also seems to be liked at the CIA and could bring some of that popularity to the State Department.

What the State Department needs is a charismatic leader, which Tillerson has most definitely not been, who maintains good stead with Trump. One who can stem the tide of early retirements and voluntary departures of employees, and push the president to fill the appointment gaps. It would be beneficial for that person to also act as a buffer between the whims of the President and the slow grind of international politics. Whether Pompeo is, or even will be, the man remains to be seen, but with his experience as a congressman, and now in the Cabinet, he has the background to make it work.

Anthony Clay is a Surface Warfare Officer in the United States Navy who has served in every operational fleet, and most geographic Combatant Commands. He has an International Relations Degree from Tulane University and a Operations Research Masters Degree from the Naval Postgraduate School. Anthony is currently assigned to a staff posting within a numbered fleet.

For an in-depth, bespoke briefing on this or any other geopolitical topic, consider Encylopedia Geopolitica’s intelligence consulting services.

Photo credit: Vice Presidential Records of the Photography Office

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