The most important qualification for any secretary of state is the trust of the president. Rex Tillerson never had it. Mike Pompeo already does, which may give him a better chance at succeeding where his predecessor failed.
Pompeo, currently director of the CIA, is Donald Trump’s choice to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom the president constantly undermined with critical quotes and tweets. Tillerson also had policy differences with Trump, supporting both the Paris accord on climate change and the Iran nuclear deal. Meanwhile, Tillerson’s aggressive budget cuts and an ill-conceived reorganization plan alienated potential allies in both the State Department and Congress.
Pompeo, a former member of Congress, may prove more adept at winning friends on Capitol Hill. And he has won favor with Trump through his hawkish views on Iran, his willingness to aggressively defend the administration’s foreign policy and his former military service.
But Pompeo has also gone against Trump on some issues. At his confirmation hearings, for example, he rejected the future use of torture, and — at least in Congress — was a forceful advocate for human rights.
That doesn’t mean that he’ll be able — or willing — to restrain Trump’s worst instincts. The president will still make off-the-cuff decisions, send unhelpful tweets and subcontract large, ill-defined areas of foreign policy to relatives. It also remains to be seen how Pompeo’s presence at the helm will affect Trump’s posture toward North Korea and Russia, which Tillerson — once seen as too close to Russian President Vladimir Putin — blasted in a news conference on his way out the door.
Pompeo’s best chance for success lies in persuading his boss that he is not, as Trump once said, “the only one that matters” in foreign policy. To cultivate allies, deter adversaries and address long-term threats, robust diplomatic engagement is as necessary as the threat of military force.
Tillerson failed to persuade his boss of that case. Pompeo must succeed in his place.
FROM AN EDITORIAL ON BLOOMBERG VIEW