President Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Tuesday, in a decision that ends months of speculation about Tillerson’s future, and former Pentagon official Jed Babbin believes it also ends a disappointing tenure for the nation’s top diplomat.
Babbin also urges President Trump to make concrete demands before going forward with face-to-face meetings with North Korea.
News of Tillerson’s firing came from Trump’s Twitter account Tuesday morning.
“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!” tweeted Trump.
News reports later indicated Tillerson learned of his firing from the tweet, but reports had circulated for months that Trump and Tillerson might go their separate ways and that Pompeo was the leading candidate to replace him.
Babbin says it was time for a change.
“I hate to say it, but I think he pretty well failed,” said Babbin, who served as deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration and is now a contributing editor at the American Spectator.
Babbin says Tillerson was ineffective because he mishandled some of the biggest national security issues facing the U.S.
“In December, he basically begged the North Koreans to come to the negotiation table. He said, ‘We’ll talk about the weather. We’ll talk about the shape of the table. We’ll talk about anything you want without preconditions.’ That was precisely the wrong thing to do,” said Babbin.
“He has been opposing the president on getting rid of the Iran deal that Obama made. I think that’s the prescient reason why Mr. Trump fired him,” said Babbin.
And Babbin believes Iran policy might be a key reason Pompeo is Trump’s choice to replace Tillerson
“I think he’s going to be much more on President Trump’s wavelength. He certainly has the president’s confidence, which Tillerson did not, and I think that speaks well for his relationship with the outside world. After all, he’s going to be our top diplomat and someone in that position has to be on the president’s wavelength and Tillerson certainly wasn’t,” said Babbin.
Pompeo is likely to win Senate confirmation without much trouble. The same cannot be said for Gina Haspel, the deputy CIA director whom Trump is tapping to replace Pompeo.
“She going to have a very rough time getting confirmed and she may not be confirmed. The Democrats are going to go completely ape about the fact that she supervised the enhanced interrogation program. She was heavily involved in the extraordinary renditions business. She’s not going to get a warm reception on Capitol Hill by any means,” said Babbin.
Babbin says the early reviews on Haspel are mixed.
“She’s been head of the clandestine service. She’s gotten a lot of top awards at the CIA. She’s a CIA career professional. It seems like she could work out. On the other hand, I’m hearing from a lot of my sources in that community that she pretty much is a Brennan clone and that’s not a good thing,” said Babbin, referring to controversial Obama-era CIA Director John Brennan.
“I think that Mr. Trump would not have selected her if he was not confident that she would support him on things like getting out of the Iran deal,” said Babbin.
The White House has explained that the Tillerson-Pompeo switch is happening now so that the new diplomatic team can be running at full steam heading into the talks with North Korea in May.
Babbin says regardless of who is on the negotiating team, President Trump needs to insist upon some preconditions before ever meeting with Kim Jong-Un.
“There has to be preconditions to any such negotiation. There almost always are. Any major summit is set up with the other side meeting some preconditions that we establish. The fact that the president jumped into this without setting preconditions is something that’s a really big mistake,” said Babbin.
However, Babbin believes Trump can correct that mistake with very specific demands.
“The only real precondition, the only thing that means anything, would be for them to verifiably mothball their nuclear testing and their missile testing. That means we would have to have inspectors in North Korea, which frankly I think they’ll never allow,” said Babbin.
While hopes rise for some sort of easing of nuclear sanctions as a result of the upcoming talks, Babbin is pouring the cold water of reality over the event. He says every North Korean leader has reneged on their promises.
“They have broken every single agreement that they have ever entered into. They renounced the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Heck, they’ve even renounced the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953. So you can’t trust these guts in any way unless you have immediate, intrusive, and at-will inspections of everything in North Korea there’s not going to be a basis for any agreement,” said Babbin.
And that’s just fine with him. He says no deal is probably the best outcome from the summit.
“I think there’s no room for agreement here. There is room for our sanctions to continue to work and President Trump needs to have considerable praise and credit for that. That’s the only reason they’re coming to the negotiation table right now and we need to keep [the sanctions] up indefinitely,” said Babbin.