The removal of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from power and the replacement of CIA chief Mike Pompeo will create new crises at the White House. In the domestic circles of the United States, Tillerson was considered one of the few symbols of political rationality in the Trump cabinet. However, Pompeo has always been a symbol of extremism in the political and security structures of the United States.
Consequently, the domestic circles of America believe that Tramps has thrown Tillerson out of power, radicalism and extremism in his government. Accordingly, Tramp will henceforth be more costly in the international system and foreign policy of his country.
The U.S. president has ousted the Foreign Minister while Washington and Pyongyang have not yet begun talks on the disagreements. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is scheduled to make a final decision on a nuclear deal with Iran in about two months. In such a situation, the U.S. Secretary of State is about to create new crises in the White House.
Although the American political structure (especially in the field of foreign policy) has little connection with the presence of people in power, the presence of Pompeo as a symbol of extremism at the top of U.S. foreign policy equations represents a more serious confrontation between Trump’s government and the international community.
Pompeo’s presence at the head of the U.S. foreign policy equation has raised a lot of concerns among Washington’s allies, especially the European ones. One of the issues in which Pompeo and Trump are shared is to confront the existence and nature of the European Union.
Pompeo, as the head of the CIA, has played a significant role in supporting extremist right-wing and nationalist groups in Europe over the last year. In some of his positions, Donald Trump has explicitly supported phenomena such as election and called for the modeling of other European countries. Europe’s return to nationalism is a major policy that Tramp and Pompeo have followed and are pursuing in the last year (especially in 2017). Obviously, this process will intensify during Pompeo’s presence at the U.S. Department of State.
As Guardian reported, Rex Tillerson will go down as one of the worst secretaries of state in U.S. history. And yet, with his departure and replacement by CIA director Mike Pompeo, things could get a whole lot worse for U.S. national security.
Donald Trump made clear his disdain for diplomacy from day one of his presidency, and that he views foreign policy as an endeavor for the military, not the state department. He proposed enormous increases in the military budget while attempting to slash the state department budget by roughly a third. Trump appointed generals to be secretary of defense, national security advisor (twice) and White House chief of staff, while appointing as secretary of state someone with no diplomatic experience.
If Trump’s contempt for diplomacy somehow wasn’t clear, he did his best to actively undermine his secretary of state, criticizing him in public on a number of occassions. In the fall of 2017, as Tillerson attempted to open a diplomatic process with North Korea, Trump tweeted to the world, “I told Rex Tillerson … he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.” When a Middle East dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar broke out in 2017, as Tillerson scrambled to calm the situation and mediate, Trump undercut him by publicly siding with Saudi Arabia.
So it should come as no surprise that Tillerson would find out he was fired when his boss tweeted the news to the world.Despite this poor treatment, it is hard to shed a tear for Tillerson. He has been a good soldier in enabling a military-first foreign policy, in which the state department is relegated to an afterthought.
He has worked aggressively to gut the state department, not filling key positions, and implementing freezes on hiring, all of which have contributed to a hostile environment and low morale. The nation’s most senior diplomats have resigned over the last year, leading to a wave of exits of career diplomats at all levels that has depleted the ranks of the nation’s diplomatic corps. It will take years to rebuild the state department in the wake of the damage inflicted by Trump and Tillerson.
Guardian continues that On leading America’s diplomacy with the world and running the state department, Tillerson has been an utter disaster – but his policy views were about as moderate as they come inside the Trump administration. He has been one of the administration’s strongest voices for diplomacy with North Korea.
He was reportedly an advocate of remaining in the Paris climate change agreement. And he supposedly tried to keep the U.S. in the Iran nuclear deal.If and when Pompeo replaces him, we should be deeply concerned – both because of Pompeo’s more hawkish views, and where they might take America on the critical foreign policy decisions coming down the pike.
The fate of the Iran deal is once again hanging in the balance, and with it potentially more conflict in the Middle East. Trump has set a 12 May deadline for getting European allies on board with changes to the Iran deal, and has reportedly said that he will exit the deal if those changes aren’t made.While Tillerson advocated remaining in the deal, Pompeo has been a vocal critic of the 2015 agreement.
If the U.S. unilaterally withdraws from the deal, there’s no telling where tensions with Iran – which is already fighting proxy wars in Syria and Yemen – could go.This development doesn’t bode well for diplomacy with North Korea, either. As Trump prepares for a possible summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Tillerson’s exit could signal a much harder line on talks.
Whereas Tillerson has been a proponent of diplomacy with North Korea, Pompeo’s public language on North Korea has been more aggressive, and he has openly hinted at regime change. A negotiation with North Korea is one of the most difficult diplomatic endeavors one can imagine – and Pompeo, like Tillerson, has no diplomatic experience.
And then there’s Russia. Tillerson has hardly been tough on Russia, prioritizing attempts at cooperation over pushing back against clearly destabilizing actions by Russia, including its interference in the 2016 election. While Pompeo held critical views of Russia during his time in Congress and has admitted that Russia interfered in the election, it’s unclear for which policies Pompeo will advocate.
To those ends, there are reasons for concern: at Trump’s request, Pompeo met with a conspiracy theorist peddling the falsehood that the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s emails in 2016 was an inside job, not Russian hacking. He also falsely claimed that the CIA concluded that Russian meddling did not affect the election’s outcome. As war rages in Syria and Ukraine, and Russia continues interfering in U.S. politics, Pompeo will be a key player in leading U.S. policy on all.
At the end of the day, the president directs foreign policy, and no change in personnel will alter the unique chaos of Trump’s foreign policy. But if past is prologue, Pompeo appears much more willing than Tillerson to toe Trump’s line – a very dangerous prospect.This development may prove that no matter how bad things look, in Donald Trump’s administration, they can always get worse.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics
The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.
Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.
These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.
The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.
“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.
The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.
To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.
Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.
In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.
Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.
Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.
To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting; guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.
Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.
“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.
Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.
The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”
Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn
US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.
So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.
Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”.
That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.
The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards.
That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.
The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.
Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer
When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?
But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.
So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point.
Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.
Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.
I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.
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