Trump announced he was firing Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state after the former Exxon chairman and CEO had served just over 13 months in office, and has replaced him with with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Tillerson is scheduled to leave office on March 31.
Trump Reacting Against Russia, Iran Supprot for Syria
Political analyst and historian Dan Lazare said Trump’s decision expressed his anger at Russia and Iran’s continued support for the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.
"Under pressure from the Saudis and Israelis, he may have decided to bring Pompeo on board to signal his displeasure with Russian-Iranian advances in Syria," Lazare said.
Pompeo, a former Republican congressman has long expressed views strongly and consistently hostile to Russia, Lazare recalled.
"Pompeo… has been a hawk from the beginning, a Tea Partier who once described WikiLeaks as ‘a non-state hostile intelligence service,’" he said.
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The CIA chief has publicly accused Russia of reasserting itself aggressively, invading and occupying Ukraine, threatening Europe and doing nearly nothing to aid in the destruction and defeat of the Islamic State terror group (outlawed in Russia), Lazare noted.
"So at first glance [Pompeo’s] appointment would suggest a more hawkish shift on the part of the administration as a whole," he said.
Tillerson Approved Growing Hostility Towards Russia
Lazare pointed out that Tillerson too had approved a striking shift toward hostility against Russia during his year as secretary of state.
"Tillerson was supposed to be friendly to Moscow since as CEO of Exxon Mobil, he engineered a partnership with the Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft. But then, as Russiagate heated up, he shifted… and reinvented himself as a Russia-baiter on par with anyone on Capitol Hill," the historian said.
However, Trump may have replaced Tillerson with Pompeo for other reasons that are still unclear, Lazare cautioned.
"First glances are almost always deceiving when it comes to the ever-mercurial Trump… Actually, we don't know what [Pompeo’s appointment] means since Trump at this point is churning through top advisers at the rate of about one per week," he said.
Despite refusing to oppose anti-Russia sanctions and choosing Pompeo as his next foreign policy chief, Trump still occasionally was sending more friendly signals to Moscow, Lazare observed.
"The president has been making… friendlier noises [on] Moscow. He has embraced the House [of Representatives] Intelligence Committee finding that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election. Unlike Tillerson, he has so far refused to blame Moscow for the attempt to kill ex-Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal," he said.
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It was possible that Trump might want Pompeo to defuse criticisms from hawks in Congress while the president himself sought to cooperate with Russia on such issues as North Korea, Lazare suggested.
"Given that [Trump] could use Putin's help in reaching an agreement with Kim Jong Un, it could mean he is actually moving toward a more pro-Russia stance and plans on using the warlike Pompeo to deflect criticism from the Kremlin bashers in Congress," he said.
Pompeo May Target North Korea Rather Than Russia
Independent Institute Center for Peace and Freedom Director Ivan Eland proposed that as secretary of state, Pompeo might focus his more aggressive instincts toward North Korea in order to put more pressure on the country’s Kim Jong Un to abandon his nuclear program.
"Mike Pompeo is more hawkish that Tillerson, a former businessman, so US policy against North Korea might be tougher," Eland said.
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However, there were probably limits about how far Trump would allow Pompeo to polarize relations with Moscow, Eland added.
"Trump will probably not let US-Russian relations deteriorate too far," he said.
Pompeo still has to be confirmed as the next secretary of state by the US Senate.