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March 19, 2018 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Trump’s America

On Tuesday 13 March 2018, the White House announced the dismissal of Rex Tillerson from his role as Secretary of State. After clashing over issues of foreign policy in Russia, North Korea and Iran, Trump announced via Twitter the departure of the nation’s leading diplomat. Tillerson spoke to the press on Tuesday morning, stating “What is most important is to ensure an orderly and smooth transition during a time that the country continues to face significant policy and national security challenges”. He thanked Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, for their time spent working together in office, but notably declined to mention President Trump — with whom he shared a public feud after reportedly calling him a “moron” in July 2017, after the President had expressed a desire for an increase in the US’s nuclear arsenal.

The decision to oust Tillerson came within 24 hours of his comments on the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on 4 March. The victims were found poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent in Salisbury, England. Tillerson stated Russia was “clearly behind the attacks,” after the poison was identified as being developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. He said that those responsible “must face appropriately serious consequences”. The official statement from the White House acknowledged the attack as “reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible,” but declined to name Russia as a culprit. In an address to the United Nations on 13 March, Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador, said that the United States believes Russia is responsible for the attack.

President Trump has announced that CIA Director Mike Pompeo is likely to take over Tillerson’s role, signifying a dramatic shift in foreign policy. Pompeo is known for his hawkish views, supporting a military approach to Iranian and North Korean conflicts, and being a vocal advocate for the torture of terror suspects. In an equally controversial nomination, the President has tapped Gina Haspel to head the CIA in Pompeo’s place. In 2002, Haspel oversaw a secret prison in Thailand that detained and  tortured two terrorist suspects, before destroying evidence of the operation in 2005. One of the men in custody was Abu Zubaydah; he was waterboarded 83 times within the space of a month, held in solitary confinement, and lost an eye during his time in CIA custody. He was unable to provide the CIA with any information on terrorist activities. For her involvement in this operation the American Civil Liberties Union described Haspel as being “up to her eyeballs in torture”. The nomination also has critics in the Senate, with Republican Senator John McCain referring to Haspel’s past as “one of the darkest chapters in American history”.

This change in makeup is not unusual for the Trump administration, but highly irregular in comparison to past presidencies. The DC based Brookings Institution has tracked White House turnover rates for more than three decades. They have found the rate of firings, resignations and reassignments amongst President Trump’s staff to be “unprecedented”. In the first year of their administrations, George W Bush and Barack Obama saw a turnover rate of 6% and 9% respectively. Comparatively, President Trump is looking at a 34% change within the same period. This latest move in the volatile administration has many critics amongst Congress and foreign diplomats. The switch from a moderate Tillerson to a political partisan Pompeo may have serious implications on diplomatic efforts moving forward, as more aggressive foreign policies are expected to be implemented.


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