The tumult in the Trump administration continued today with the president’s justifiable firing of Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonHillicon Valley — Blinken unveils new cyber bureau at State Blinken formally announces new State Department cyber bureau Hillicon Valley — TikTok, Snapchat seek to distance themselves from Facebook MORE as secretary of State, with the intent to nominate CIA Director Mike PompeoMike PompeoNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Psaki: Sexism contributes to some criticism of Harris Mnuchin, Pompeo mulled plan to remove Trump after Jan. 6: book MORE as his replacement and Gina Haspel as the next CIA director. While another serious strike against stability in governance for this most unusual president, the action is a net gain for American national security.
There is much good in nominating a woman to be the nation’s first female CIA director. There also is much good in nominating someone who has a strong relationship with the next secretary of State, if Pompeo is confirmed. The CIA supports all arms of American foreign policy, not just the military, and increasing connections at the top of the CIA and State Department is good for the country’s security.
Nominating Haspel has real down sides. She is directly linked to some of the darkest moments in CIA history. Haspel’s involvement in the willful destruction of evidence about CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques program was an act of defiance of Congress and the 9/11 Commission. It may have won her huzzahs in small circles, but the rule of law is threatened when government officials knowingly violate lawful congressional and commission investigations. I was on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence when word came out about the destroyed tapes, and it was correctly viewed as a brazen and dangerous act against our democracy.
Pompeo leaves a mixed legacy at CIA. On the positive side, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the mission and workforce. He obviously had the ear of the president, which is essential for any CIA director. Pompeo listened to complaints about former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanThis Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead In dramatic shift, national intelligence director does not rule out 'extraterrestrial' origins for UFOs Durham's latest indictment: More lines drawn to Clinton's campaign MORE’s well-intended reorganization plan and did make some modest adjustments. On the other hand, he continued the trend started by former CIA Director Porter Goss of not checking his partisan impulses on Capitol Hill.
Pompeo too often used the authority of his office to back President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE’s strange, persistent assertion that the intelligence community concluded Russia did not influence the outcome of the 2016 election. This is false, and Pompeo almost certainly knew this. Most recently, Pompeo was strong and accurate in saying the intelligence community did not, and would not, look at the domestic impact of Russia’s interference in our nation’s 2016 election. This was a good, corrective move, but his earlier statements will stain his legacy of violating the cardinal imperative of talking truth to power.
Russia likely will see no gain in President Trump’s latest moves. Tillerson will be remembered as one of the worst secretaries of State in modern times. Tillerson had no relationship with the president, was widely disliked by the workforce, and seemed to have no goals other than wanting to streamline the department. His vision was far too small for the import of the job.
Moscow will likely evaluate Tillerson’s departure as a sign of his ineffectiveness and not that better times are ahead in U.S.-Russian relations. Pompeo, should he be confirmed, has consistently condemned Russia as being somewhere between competitor and adversary. Russia should take no comfort in Pompeo’s base instinct.
Pompeo clearly has a relationship with the president, which is vital for American diplomacy. The State Department has been dangerously sidelined by the Trump administration, causing imbalance in the making and execution of national security policy. It is vital for America for diplomacy to regain stature vis-à-vis the Pentagon. More careful, balanced American foreign policy is not in Moscow’s interest.
Turnover after the first of an administration is normal, but like all things, President Trump has taken turnover to a new level. This much change makes us look chaotic, unpredictable and unreliable. It is doubly damaging that it takes place in a time that China and Russia, our chief competitors, are doubling down on retaining their leaders and following strategic paths.
Presidents only get one chance to maximize their first-year political capital, and while Congress has passed sweeping legislation on taxes that the president signed, President Trump has done little to bend the world in our direction. Even with a team more like him in place, our nation will not get a second chance to get it right the first time.
Todd M. Rosenblum was a senior defense and homeland security official in the Obama administration, was a career official at the U.S. Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency, and a staff member on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He is now a senior fellow in the Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security at the Atlantic Council.