A Shakeup in Washington: Haspel & Pompeo In, Tillerson Out

Written by: Alex El Ghaoui

Rex Tillerson’s tempestuous reign as United States Secretary of State came to an end on March 13th, 2018, as President Donald Trump announced that Tillerson would be replaced by current CIA Chief Mike Pompeo, who would be in turn replaced by his deputy, Gina Haspel. 

Unsurprisingly, President Trump did not notify then-Secretary Tillerson of his dismissal before posting a tweet about it, bringing a chaotic end to Tillerson’s equally chaotic time in office. Throughout his term, Trump and Tillerson disagreed –  both privately and publicly –  on important United States foreign policy issues such as the North Korean Missile Crisis, the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Syrian Civil War, and the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia. Tillerson and Trump even publicly proposed different policy plans and objectives at times regarding key international diplomacy issues such as Saudi Arabia’s military campaigns against Iranian proxy fighters in Yemen. That their relationship had degraded became more than conspicuous when Tillerson was forced to hold a press conference affirming his loyalty to the President after rumors swirled of him calling Trump a “moron” during a closed-door meeting.

It is yet to be seen if newly announced CIA director Gina Haspel, the first ever woman to be promoted to the position, will be confirmed by the Senate as questions have resurfaced regarding her involvement in Langley’s feared – and now extinct – extraordinary rendition program. Notable critics of Haspel include former CIA officer John Kiriakou, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and California Senator Dianne Feinstein. Haspel has been accused by such critics of being unfit for the Directorship due to her involvement in illegal enhanced interrogation programs run by the CIA as well as in destroying evidence of torture at military bases and black sites around the world. As a Chief of Station of a black site in Thailand, for example, Haspel oversaw the torture of an Al-Qaeda operative thought to be a key influencer in the organization. During her stay, the operative was subject to waterboarding, sleep deprivation, physical abuse, and rectal rehydration. 

Mike Pompeo on the other hand, a former congressman from Kansas’ 4th district, is a favorite of President Donald Trump and has remained one of his most trusted advisors. In reference to the closeness of their relationship, intelligence advisors have reportedly started calling Pompeo the “Trump whisperer.” If confirmed, Pompeo would establish the rank-and-file relationship between the Secretary of State and the President that Trump so greatly desires. Unlike Tillerson, Mike Pompeo will provide unequivocal support and loyalty to the President. For example, Pompeo, a notable hawk, is vehemently opposed to the Iran Nuclear Deal, an international agreement Trump challenged and one that Tillerson supported. 

The President’s shakeup of his foreign policy team is an attempt to introduce compliance and acquiescence at the State Department and CIA. After expending considerable energy fighting against former Secretary Tillerson and other members of his inner circle, Trump is now surrounding himself with people who he perceives to be indisputably loyal. What Trump does not understand, though, is that Gina Haspel’s ideologies, rooted in globalism and American imperialism, will still be at odds with his own. President Trump has proved his isolationist tendencies by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

He has also publicly spoken against the Iraq War and other American military interventions in the region. In November of 2017, Trump tweeted, “Will be speaking to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey this morning about bringing peace to the mess that I inherited in the Middle East. I will get it all done, but what a mistake, in lives and dollars (6 trillion), to be there in the first place!” Trump does not seem to recognize that Gina Haspel and other neoconservatives in the defense and intelligence community played a significant role in the invasion of Iraq, the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, and other military interventions in the region; this means that Haspel will likely continue to push for military intervention in the Middle East as well as other foreign conflicts. Therefore, while Trump may have replaced Tillerson with an obedient advisor in Pompeo, he should not underestimate Gina Haspel as a contradicting force.