A secretary of state is the president’s spokesman to the world. The secretary must reinforce the president’s view and work to strengthen relations with allies while creating solutions to America’s international challenges.
That didn’t always happen under Rex Tillerson, who was fired Tuesday morning by President Donald Trump. Though Tillerson was steady and respected, he and the president weren’t always on the same message and gave mixed signals to foreign diplomats.
The job now falls on Wichita’s Mike Pompeo, who became familiar with Trump while CIA director for a year and is regarded as an advisor the president trusts.
They are aligned on most issues. Pompeo will likely be Trump’s right-hand man if a summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un happens. Elsewhere, relations with European nations need shoring up, and Pompeo has been more outspoken than his boss about Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The new role continues a fast rise for Pompeo, a three-term 4th District congressman who had won a fourth term in November 2016 before being picked as Trump’s CIA director.
The first-in-his-class West Point graduate and Harvard Law graduate reached Congress on the Tea Party wave of 2010, beating Jean Schodorf and Wink Hartman in a hotly contested primary before an easy general-election win. He gained notoriety as a critic of then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton and her response to the 2012 attack on the U.S. military compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Pompeo’s military background suited him well at the CIA, where he was a hard-liner on North Korea and the Iran nuclear deal. His daily briefings with the president strengthened their relationship and presumably showed Trump that Pompeo was well-versed on America’s global challenges.
Pompeo now becomes a diplomat for the first time. He will have the benefit of international counterparts knowing he’s more likely to be speaking directly on behalf of the president than Tillerson.
Secretary of state is a challenging role that Pompeo will need time to master.
A softer touch will be needed internationally. Prone to be brash in Congress and at the CIA – a quality Trump likes – he now has to be part of world solutions rather than analyzing from the outside.
But Pompeo has been successful in tackling challenges, from Kansas congressman to now the world’s most recognized diplomat. The United States needs more from the relationship between its president and secretary of state. Consistent support from the president can’t be understated, as we’ve seen the past 14 months. The Trump-Pompeo association hopefully begins to fix the connection.