Mike Pompeo could create a 'bad cop, worse cop' scenario as secretary of state, raising uncertainty in the Middle East

  • US President Donald Trump made waves on Tuesday by abruptly firing former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and choosing CIA director Mike Pompeo for the spot.
  • Trump said that Tillerson's departure had much to do with his views on the Iran nuclear deal.
  • Pompeo, like Trump, has a tougher approach to Iran, leaving some experts to believe the US may soon end the deal while others think it's all rhetoric.
  • At the very least, Pompeo's appointment will provide a unified front on Trump's foreign policy message.


With President Donald Trump's decision to swap out Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for CIA director Mike Pompeo, the status quo in the Middle East could quickly disappear.

Tillerson had been known to tow a cautious line in his foreign policy approach, leading many to criticize his ineffectiveness, but Pompeo has been much more vocal on his hardline approach to global policies, particularly regarding Iran.

One of the biggest issues in the Middle East, Pompeo has compared Iran to ISIS and called the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which lifted sanctions in exchange for limiting the country's nuclear capabilities, a disaster.

Trump said Tillerson's departure had much to do with his views on the Iran deal, leaving experts to believe significant change is on the horizon.

Pompeo's appointment may signal the end of the Iran deal, or just more rhetoric

Pompeo's tough-talking rhetoric on Iran has experts questioning what the future of the Iran deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which limits Iran's uranium enrichment, will look like.

While the deal is still in place, President Trump decertified the deal in October and has threatened to pull the US out of the deal if its "flaws" weren't fixed.

Andrew Miller, Deputy Director for Policy at the Project on Middle East Democracy said on Twitter that Pompeo's appointment could have "significant consequences" in the Middle East. 

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CIA director Mike Pompeo

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a meeting with CIA Director nominee Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., in his Capitol office on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Mike Pompeo (L) is sworn in as CIA Director by Vice President Mike Pence (R) as wife Susan Pompeo (2nd L) looks on at Eisenhower Executive Office Building January 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pompeo was confirmed for the position by the Senate this evening.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES - JUNE 28: Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., right, chairman of the Select Committee on Benghazi, conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center, June 28, 2016, to announce the Committee's report on the 2012 attacks in Libya that killed four Americans. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., also appears. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Representative Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director nominee for President-elect Donald Trump, swears in to a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Pompeo is seeking to reassure senators that he can shift from an outspoken policymaker to an objective spy chief if confirmed.

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a meeting with CIA Director nominee Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., in his Capitol office on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) arrives to testify before a Senate Intelligence hearing on his nomination of to be become director of the CIA at Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) finishes swearing in Mike Pompeo, flanked by his wife Susan Pompeo, to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the vice president's ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mike Pompeo gets a hug from supporter Jennifer O'Connor after arriving at the Sedgwick County Republican headquarters at Market Centre in Wichita, Kansas, on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

(Fernando Salazar/Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images)

Adam Schiff (D-CA) left, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) center, and moderator Chuck Todd, right, appear on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015.

(William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for the director of the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) attends his confirmation hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Pompeo is a former Army officer who graduated first in his class from West Point.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) listens as Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) speaks during his confirmation hearing to be the director of the CIA before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Pompeo is a former Army officer who graduated first in his class from West Point.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., speaks during the news conference before a group of House Republican freshmen walked to the Senate to deliver a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday, March 30, 2011. The letter called on the Senate to pass a long term continuing resolution with spending cuts.

(Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

US Congressman Mike Pompeo (C), R-Kansas, sits in the dark after a power failure with US Senator Pat Roberts (L), a former Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and former US Senator Bob Dole (R), R-Kansas, as he prepares to testify before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, January 12, 2017, on his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the Trump administration.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., center, nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is introduced by former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., right, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., during Pompeo's Senate Select Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building, January 12, 2017. The hearing was moved from Hart Building due to a peer outage.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Incoming Trump administration cabinet secretary nominees including Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson (L-R), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director nominee Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis arrive for meetings at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 13, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mike Pompeo (2nd L), flanked by his wife Susan Pompeo (2nd R) and their son Nick Pompeo (R), signs his affidavit of appointment after being sworn in as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) in Pence's ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

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Miller said Tillerson's swift departure leads US allies to believe in the "increasing likelihood that Trump pulls out of JCPOA." 

But Rodger Shanahan, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute, told Business Insider that Pompeo's tough approach to Iran is mostly rhetoric.

"Just because you're tougher talking on Iran doesn’t mean you're going to change the policies on the ground," Shanahan said.

While Shanahan doubts the US would pull out of the deal in the "foreseeable future," he believes Pompeo's hardline views may still shape policy.

"He might be able to achieve amendments to the nuclear deal by making Europeans run scared that the Americans will decertify it, but I'm not convinced," he said.

Trump may have chosen Pompeo to be his mouthpiece 

Shanahan believes Pompeo's appointment is part of Trump's efforts to bring in officials who share, not challenge, his views.

According to Shanahan, Pompeo's role in the administration is not to advance policy, but to provide a united front for Trump's foreign policy. 

"In the current environment, policy unity is the most Pompeo can accomplish. Trump doesn’t want a Secretary of State who’s diluting his message," Shanahan said.

Shanahan said that while Tillerson played "good cop to Trump’s bad cop" on Middle East issues, Pompeo and Trump will likely serve as “bad cop” and “worse cop” in future policies. 

Still, with recent budget cuts and many state positions yet to be filled, Shanahan says Pompeo will ultimately lead to more of the same. 

"You'd think Pompeo would get more face time with the president but the way the State Department has been hollowed out, do they have the diplomatic heft to actually do much better than Tillerson did? I think the answer is not particularly in the current state," he said.

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