The centerboard of this administration’s foreign policy team will remain Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, still steady in balancing competing views. But there will be a lot more sail aloft, adding speed and also danger. The changes will likely be seen as a signal of greater U.S. willingness to use force, which will increase anxieties at home and abroad about possible conflict with North Korea and Iran.
.. Mike Pompeo, the feisty and politically ambitious CIA director who is likely headed to State, is the un-Tillerson. He’s flamboyant where Tillerson is guarded, sharp and sometimes snarky where Tillerson is reticent. He’s a far better communicator than Tillerson, and he’ll probably do better conveying to Congress, the public and U.S. allies his version of diplomacy than does Tillerson, whose dislike for his job is palpable.
.. The atmospherics will be a more activist, hawkish, extroverted U.S. foreign policy. Pompeo is good at the things Tillerson isn’t.
.. Mattis and Tillerson have been joined at the hip on most policy issues, especially North Korea. They presented a formidable united front in the Situation Room; the power axis may now shift a bit, because of the chemistry between Trump and Pompeo.
.. Pompeo has been aggressively developing covert options for North Korea, but he probably agrees with Tillerson that there is no “silver bullet” for solving this problem.
.. Tillerson’s plan to convene in Canada a meeting of the “sending states,” the 15 U.S. allies that sent troops to fight North Korea in 1950 under a U.N. Security Council resolution. Mattis was the first to endorse this idea publicly, and he still backs it strongly.
.. The wild card in the new team is Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), reputed to be the president’s choice to replace Pompeo as CIA director. Cotton has played an outsize policy role in recent months, especially in shaping Iran strategy. He cultivates the image of a hard man, lanky, laconic and Arkansas-tough. Like Pompeo, he combines book smarts with a high tolerance for risk. Pyongyang and Tehran should be worried. This team has not been selected to manage compromise.
.. U.S. allies will probably be worried, too. Tillerson was liked and trusted by key allies and seen as a check on Trump’s impulsiveness.
.. Most successful CIA directors quickly learn how much they don’t know; humility is part of the job description, along with boldness.
.. In the early months of the Trump administration, the Mattis-Tillerson alliance led many analysts to say that the “adults” were in charge of foreign policy, and that their influence checked the tweet-happy president. Trump hated that formulation. Now he’ll have a new team, one that is tuned more closely to his pitch.