Is It All About Chemistry?

Is It All About Chemistry?

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Trump’s decision to tweet Tillerson to oblivion and to anoint CIA Director Pompeo as his Chief Diplomat looks on the surface to be a no-brainer for the President. Trump and Tillerson did not agree on many current and pending foreign policy issues. Trump also saw him as a member of the old school. The embarrassing fact that he disposed of his Secretary of State like tossing something into the garbage is not surprising given Trump’s uncivilized style.

The question observers can ask is if Trump really gets a long-term replacement with Mike Pompeo? At first blush that might seem to be the case.  They appear to agree on policy, ideology, style, and chemistry. Pompeo follows the President on most issues. From North Korea, to Iran, to the Middle East, Pompeo is reportedly on the same page as the President. It has been suggested that he also supports Trump’s foreign policy “doctrine”; American First.  

In his role as CIA Director Pompeo must have gained a sense as to how to interact with the President. Evidence of this fact is that he personally gave Trump many of his morning intelligence briefs. Their styles seemed to mesh and it seems likely that Pompeo conveyed a military-legal-mid-western “smart” which was to Trump’s liking.

It would seem that for Pompeo the challenges will be administrative and morale problems at State. It is unknown if he is, or whether he even will be, interested in improving the abysmal environment that has been created at Foggy Bottom over the past fourteen months. It remains to be seen how Pompeo will interact as a diplomat on numerous fronts; not only on the world stage but coming into the White House not as a resource—intelligence information—but as policy maker. Will he be able to work on policy not intelligence with Mattis? Will the NSC (particularly if Bolton replaces McMaster) let State sit at the table?  Will the Kushner-Greenblatt—Freedman Middle East negotiating team let the new Secretary of State in the room?

For Pompeo the real test will be if Trump will tolerate objections to his ideas or policy decisions. There is no evidence that Trump can accept any partner in decision-making who does not fawn all over him. The challenge for Pompeo will be whether he will merely yes the President or will he speak to the issues.  Does Pompeo have the integrity to stand up for his principles even when he knows he will clash with Trump? He may have been assured now that this will always be the case.  Despite such reassurances, however, there is no reason to assume that Trump will permit a Cabinet member to remain who disagrees with him.

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