HH: Some of us hear that Rexit was coming months ago, and that Mike Pompeo would be the 70th Secretary of State. Ce moi, ce moi, I admit, it was me. Now that it’s happened what’s it mean? To help us figure that out, I turn to Dr. Kore Schake. She’s the deputy director general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. She was a distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution, and is the editor, along with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, of the book, Warriors And Citizens: American Views of Our Military. Kore Schake has served at various policy roles, including at the White House, National Security Council, at the Department of Defense, for the office of the Secretary and Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the State Department for the policy planning staff. During the 2008 presidential election, she was senior policy advisor on the McCain-Palin campaign. Her recent publications include Safe Passage: A Transition From British to American Hegemony, and Republican Foreign Policy After Trump. She’s kind enough to join us from London this morning. Dr. Schake, welcome, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks for staying with us today.
KS: It is so great to be with you, Hugh.
HH: Let’s go immediately to what it means. Mike Pompeo is the hawk. Secretary of Defense Mattis, your co-author, is now the not hawk. Are they going to get along in the Cabinet?
KS: Well, I wouldn’t presume to speak for the Secretary of Defense, Hugh, but my confidence is that both soon-to-be Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Mattis are both professional enough to be able to do their job serving the American public and serving President Trump well and easily.
HH: What was the biggest problem with Rex Tillerson from your point of view as a specialist in that Department, having worked in that Department?
KS: I think there were three problems for Secretary Tillerson. The first is that he never seemed to find a wavelength in which to get along with his boss, and that’s really important. The interpersonal relationships of cabinet members actually have a lot to do with how policy comes out. And I think Secretary Tillerson always struggled with that. A second thing is that you know, everybody needs a voter base, and Secretary Tillerson set sail on a revision of the State Department that he spent an entire year thinking about and admiring the problem rather than getting it done, moving forward, giving a sense of clarity to the undertaking, and getting his staff behind him and supporting him. And the third thing, I think, that was problematic for Secretary Tillerson is actually the President’s fault, which is there are a lot of inherent contradictions in President Trump’s approach to problems. Just to use one example, the way that the President undercut our military relationship with South Korea in the last couple of days as we are on the eve of negotiations with North Korea about their nuclear program, and I think that would make the job hard for every secretary of State, the inherent contradictions. But Secretary Tillerson, not having a strong base of support in the Department up and running and behind him and working to advance his policies, and never establishing the kind of relationship with the President that would help him get done things that the President wants to get done in ways consistent with how the President wants them to come out.
HH: Now Kore Schake, you mentioned that Rex Tillerson made an organizational chart and he never filled it in. He just stared at it for a year. There are a lot of empty boxes. You’ve got some professionals like Brian Hook who are there who are well admired by everybody in the conservative movement and in the professional diplomatic community, but you’ve got empty boxes like the undersecretary for management, the deputy secretary for strategic arms control discussions. You’ve got assistant secretary for East Asia who don’t have support on the Hill. Does Mike Pompeo get to bring his people, in your view? How important is it that he be allowed to go and recruit a Jim Talent, that he be allowed to go and find people who might not be on the front tier of pro-Trumpism over the years?
KS: Well, it’s certainly important for any secretary to be able to surround themselves with a team that they feel gets them, has their confidence, is working to advance their agenda. But recall Secretary Gates went into the Pentagon with, what, one or two people and was a terrific secretary of Defense. I think the challenge is less how do I parachute in with a team than how do I get this entire large organization working in support of my objectives and my priorities? And Secretary Pompeo, I think, will be very good at that.
HH: Secretary Pompeo told me in my first interview for this show that not a conversation goes by, and he has often talked to the President four or five times a week, that North Korea doesn’t come up. When you view the Pompeo ascension at the Department of State, do you think that makes it more or less likely that we come to the punch in the nose, that we actually come to blows with North Korea? Or do we in fact have a diplomat who’s got the President’s ear and can talk him into a different approach?
KS: Well, I think whether we go to war on the Korean Peninsula has first and foremost to do with the actions of North Korea, because they’re the ones who are creating this crisis. But second, I think President Trump as the only elected official in this administration, he’s going to be the one who sets policy, and he’s set policy on all of the important issues, including North Korea so far. So I wouldn’t expect that Secretary Pompeo would make war more or less likely. I think that rests in the White House.
HH: All right, now let me focus in on the National Security Advisor, about whom there’s been a lot of speculation, H.R. McMaster, considered one of the great intellectuals of the American military establishment. You write a lot about the American military establishment. Do you think he is moving on? And if so, do you welcome a John Bolton? Or do you want another low key, say a Stephen Hadley-type in that job?
KS: Well, I think the national security advisor has three principle functions – first, to understand and advance the President’s agenda throughout the policies that the government takes up, second to do the coordination among the departments to make sure that we don’t just have a military strategy, we have a policy of economic and political and intelligence strains of operations that all add up to support the President’s objectives, and the third thing that the national security advisor does is be the President’s personal staff, to prepare the President for meetings with foreign leaders, and all of those interactions. President Trump’s difficult to staff, because he moves around a lot, he keeps his Twitter finger ready, and so that’s going to be challenging for anyone, I think. And it looks as though it was challenging for Lt. Gen. McMaster.
HH: Last question, Kore Schake, there’s always a first among equals. I don’t care where they sit around the table, there’s always a first among equals. Is that Secretary of Defense Mattis now? Or is it going to be Mike Pompeo?
KS: I wouldn’t presume to know the answer to that. I think the Secretary of State has traditionally been the senior member of the Cabinet. And one of the things I admire very much about the way Secretary Mattis has done his job is how much he has emphasized that diplomacy needs to lead on American policies, and that our defense policy is a supporting element of our broader diplomatic approach and our broader political strategy set by the White House.
HH: Dr. Kore Schake, always good to talk to you. Thank you so much for taking time from London with us this morning. I’ll be back in a moment with Hugh’s Views.
End of interview.