By Hussain Abdul-
When President Donald Trump appointed Rex Tillerson, America saw the incoming Secretary of State as the embodiment of Trump’s foreign policy: Like Trump, Tillerson was a Washington outsider who was determined to shrink the State Department and its footprint around the world.
Tillerson had also won the highest Russian
Tillerson lived up to his fame. He left senior positions at his department
All of this behavior made Tillerson seem like a perfect fit for Trump and his team. However, there is one important detail: Tillerson and Trump did not see eye-to-eye on how to deal with the
The only difference, however, between Tillerson, on the one hand, and Pence, Mattis, Haley, McMaster
And with people who are as dependent on him, like Tillerson, Trump usually likes them to be “yes men,” or officials whose sole role is to parrot what Trump said and defend it. Tillerson was not a “yes man”. He broke with Trump at least twice on issues that were irrelevant to America’s foreign policy: When the media reported that Tillerson had called Trump a moron in private, the Secretary of State refused to deny the claim publicly like the White House requested. And when Trump defended White Supremacists, whose rally in Virginia had resulted in the killing of a young American woman, Tillerson refused -- in a TV interview -- to endorse Trump’s statements. When pressed, Tillerson said that he disagreed with Trump on the rally.
Chemistry had been lost between Trump and Tillerson a few weeks before the U.S. president fired his Secretary of State, in a humiliating way, over Twitter. While Trump’s timing remains puzzling, some American commentators have suggested that Trump created a wave to overshadow his humiliating defeat at a special Congressional election in Pennsylvania, where the Republican candidate -- whom Trump and his family had endorsed and campaigned for heavily -- lost to his Democratic opponent, in a district that Trump had carried in 2016 with a twenty-point margin.
Meanwhile, Mike Pompeo, the former Congressman whom Trump had appointed
Like Trump, Pompeo enjoys giving inaccurate statements that cause news splashes, or even result in stock markets tumbling. And like Trump, Pompeo seems to have little appreciation of how words coming out of the mouths of U.S. officials affect the world.
But, for all his bluster, Pompeo’s appointment as Secretary of State should not be expected to cause drastic changes in U.S. Foreign Policy. Trump will continue to make his own whimsical foreign policy, sometimes even surprising his closest advisors like when he approved meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, thereby catching McMaster -- who was sitting in the room at the meeting with South Korean officials – off-guard.
Apart from meetings and statements, and even with the more hawkish Pompeo at the helm of the State Department, Trump will still find it hard to shape America’s foreign policy the way he exactly wants. U.S. Generals will not go to war on a whim, while U.S. allies, especially in Europe, will not go along Trump’s policies, especially on Iran. Hence, the U.S. president’s foreign policies will not carry more weight than they do now, that is, more weight than the weight of his tweets.
Those who know Washington agree that U.S. presidents have
Yet no matter how influential American presidents are on foreign issues, their power does not give them the ability to run the world as whimsically as Trump wants to.
Like in domestic policy, foreign policy also has its players -- inside the U.S. and outside of it. Even when former President George Bush was riding on a tide of popular and Congressional approval after 9/11, he had a hard time taking the U.S. to war with Iraq, and his team had to spin some stories about WMDs and Saddam Hussein’s non-existing connection to Al-Qaeda to drag America to a war that never won popular approval.
Like Bush discovered, the hard way, it might take Trump some time to realize that what stands between him and his “bold” ideas on foreign policy will take more than replacing Tillerson with a more acquiescent Secretary of State like Pompeo. Until further notice, established policies and institutions will maintain the upper hand in U.S. foreign policy, even with a president as “loud” as Trump.
*Opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Anadolu Agency's editorial policy