Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo: Tony Karumba / AFP / Getty Images
Mike Pompeo takes over the State Department with three decided advantages over his predecessor: familiarity with foreign policy, experience in government and a good rapport with President Trump. Rex Tillerson, by contrast, had none of those.
The background: Tillerson made a difficult situation worse by failing to develop a strong relationship with the foreign service. He did not get the department fully resourced and depended on only a small core staff. His focus on restructuring amounted to a corporate CEO’s attempt to superimpose a structure he knew well onto a fundamentally different organization. Not surprisingly, the effort came to naught and many experienced hands abandoned ship.
What’s next: The initial challenge for Pompeo is to shore up his department and fill the long list of vacant overseas posts. It will help if he can somehow persuade the president to rein in both his tweets and his son-in-law, and to better weigh the likely consequences of major decisions before making them. He will need to manage all that amid preparations for a North Korea summit, international fallout from metals tariffs, a pending decision on the Iran nuclear pact and mounting differences with China and Russia — not to mention the ongoing probe by Special Counsel Mueller. It doesn’t appear as though Pompeo will enjoy much of a break between jobs.
Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “A World in Disarray.”