Mr. Tiller­son’s fi­nal hu­mil­i­a­tion

The out­go­ing sec­re­tary of state was un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously fired by pres­i­den­tial tweet.

The Washington Post - - POWER POST -

REX TILLER­SON was poorly cast as sec­re­tary of state. The vet­eran oil ex­ec­u­tive never grasped some of the es­sen­tials of diplo­macy, in­clud­ing the im­por­tance of pub­lic com­mu­ni­ca­tion. He badly dam­aged the State Depart­ment by ig­nor­ing its pro­fes­sion­als, scores of whom de­parted, while con­duct­ing a pro­longed and ill-ad­vised re­or­ga­ni­za­tion. He dis­re­garded Amer­i­can prin­ci­ples by play­ing down hu­man rights, and he proved in­ef­fec­tive as a ne­go­tia­tor — whether with U.S. al­lies such as the Per­sian Gulf states or ad­ver­saries such as Rus­sia.

None of those weak­nesses, how­ever, ap­pear to ex­plain why Pres­i­dent Trump abruptly dis­missed, via tweet, Mr. Tiller­son on Tues­day — the last of many hu­mil­i­a­tions the pres­i­dent in­flicted on his top diplo­mat. Rather, Mr. Trump sug­gested that he and Mr. Tiller­son were “not re­ally think­ing the same” on key for­eign pol­icy is­sues, which is true. Mr. Tiller­son re­sisted the pres­i­dent’s steps to­ward void­ing the nu­clear deal with Iran and the Paris cli­mate treaty, and op­posed mov­ing the U.S. Em­bassy in Is­rael to Jerusalem. When Mr. Tiller­son spoke in fa­vor of diplo­macy with North Korea, Mr. Trump tweeted that he was wast­ing his time; then, the same day Mr. Tiller­son said ne­go­ti­a­tions with the regime of Kim Jong Un might be a long way off, Mr. Trump agreed to a sum­mit meet­ing.

Most dis­turbingly, Mr. Trump would not back the tough stances that Mr. Tiller­son struck, with am­ple rea­son, against the mis­deeds of Rus­sian ruler Vladimir Putin. Most re­cently the sec­re­tary said he agreed with the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment that Rus­sia should be held re­spon­si­ble for an at­tack on Bri­tish soil with deadly nerve gas. But Mr. Trump on Tues­day was equiv­o­cal, sug­gest­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion still needed to “get the facts straight.”

Mike Pom­peo, the CIA di­rec­tor and for­mer mem­ber of Congress whom Mr. Trump nom­i­nated as his next sec­re­tary of state, is more in tune with the White House. He shares Mr. Trump’s con­tempt for the Iran nu­clear deal, and he has spo­ken of regime change in North Korea as an ob­jec­tive. He re­port­edly has forged a rap­port with Mr. Trump and has been bet­ter re­garded as a man­ager at the CIA than Mr. Tiller­son has been at State. At best, Mr. Pom­peo could re­store morale and pro­fes­sion­al­ism at Foggy Bot­tom; a good start would be fill­ing the dozens of im­por­tant po­si­tions that re­main va­cant.

Mr. Pom­peo will nev­er­the­less start with some steep chal­lenges. Mr. Trump is two months away from the next dead­line for re­new­ing the sus­pen­sion of sanc­tions on Iran, and the sum­mit meet­ing he com­mit­ted to with North Korea was said to be pos­si­ble by the end of May. Bri­tain is look­ing to the United States for sup­port in re­spond­ing to the nerve-gas at­tack. On all those is­sues, Mr. Trump is court­ing dis­as­ter — from a con­fronta­tion with Tehran for which the United States is ill-pre­pared, to a rift with its clos­est ally.

Mean­while, Mr. Pom­peo and Mr. Trump’s nom­i­nee for CIA di­rec­tor, Gina Haspel, must still win Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion. Se­na­tors should have hard ques­tions for both: Mr. Pom­peo should be asked to ex­plain how the ad­min­is­tra­tion can void the nu­clear deal without trig­ger­ing a breach with al­lies, or war with Iran, and what it can hope to gain from a Korean sum­mit meet­ing. Ms. Haspel should ac­count for her role in over­see­ing a CIA “black site” where de­tainees were tor­tured dur­ing the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. As Mr. Trump’s con­duct of for­eign pol­icy grows in­creas­ingly chaotic, some check­ing by Congress is more needed than ever.

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