- - Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Only yesterday, the sacking of a secretary of State — and in public — would have severely shocked the capital. But this is now, when few things surprise and nothing shocks.

Rex Tillerson is out, and that’s the way the world works. Mike Pompeo is in, and somewhere the bookies are making book on how long he lasts. With Donald Trump, you never know. The president says he likes chaos, and he knows how to make it. He even paid tribute to the latest “year of the woman,” promoting Gina Haspel, the deputy director of the CIA, to succeed Mr. Pompeo as the nation’s chief spook.

Marvel not that the Donald has accomplished so much, a sage might say, but marvel at how much more the Donald might accomplish if he were not such a president with a rustic’s coarse manner and lack of public couth. But then he wouldn’t be the Donald, and the president in his place might not accomplish anything.

This president, like every president before him and every president to follow, has every right to choose men and women in sympathy with his administration. He’s entitled, come to that, to staff his Cabinet only with true believers. Presidents always do. Nobody invites a viper into his breast. Rex Tillerson was never a viper, but neither a true believer, and never pretended to be. He once called Mr. Trump “a moron,” so it was said, and the president, even with his Twitter account at the ready, never denied it. Nor did he exact a punishment. It’s not hard to believe that any one of several of the president’s predecessors would have exacted severe retribution.

Mr. Tillerson was informed by the president that he was out after it was in the newspapers; indeed, he learned about his sacking when a reporter called to ask for comment. Such rudeness and lack of what the president’s mother would have called “manners” should scarcely have surprised Mr. Tillerson. He had worked for the president for more than a year, long enough to take full measure of a boss.

Mr. Tillerson was one of a threesome who took it on themselves to restrain certain of the president’s more robust (and sometimes impolite impulses), along with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and sometimes H.R. McMaster, his national-security adviser. The president has appointed a number of particularly good and loyal lieutenants who could make his job easier and more effective if he could listen, but the president is supremely self-confident in all things, and listening to experience is OK in its place, but not necessary if you’re Donald Trump.

One senior administration official tells The New York Times that Mr. Trump was suffering growing frustration at being “hemmed in” by his two most important national security advisers. He wants to get tough on Iran and North Korea, and neither Mr. Tillerson nor Mr. Mattis always agreed on how to do that.

“When you look at the Iran deal,” the president said Tuesday as he was leaving for California, “I think it’s terrible. I guess [Mr. Tillerson] thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something. And he felt a little bit differently.”

Finding a senior administration official who agrees with the president’s blunt world view, and there’s no one more senior than a secretary of State, naturally alarms the European allies, who are always naturally alarmed about something America does. Now they’ll have an opportunity to get to know a new senior administration official who doesn’t “disagree on things” with the president.

Mike Pompeo, as a member of the House of Representatives, was a fierce skeptic of Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. As the sordid details slowly emerged from their hiding places it became clear that such a deal could only have been the work of a president dedicated to “leading from behind.” Mr. Pompeo further shares President Trump’s determination to put the interests of America first in its relationships with nations that put their own interests first, but would never say so in the plain language that plain folks speak.

“We’ve had a very good chemistry right from the beginning,” Mr. Trump said of his new secretary of State to reporters at the White House. Chemistry is crucial between a president and his main man on the world stage. There will be a learning curve for the Europeans, but why not? The president’s own constituents are still learning, and that learning begins with the recognition that, like him or not, Donald Trump is the only president we’ve got.

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