The New York Times reported on Thursday morning that sometime in the near future, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be ousted in favor of sitting CIA Director Mike Pompeo – and Pompeo’s job will be taken by hawkish Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton.
The Times made the report with high confidence, citing “senior administration officials.” Tillerson’s exit has been long-rumored due to his numerous clashes with US President Donald Trump. Spokespeople for both the White House and the State Department refused to confirm or deny the reports when asked.
Brian Becker and John Kiriakou of Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear interviewed Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK, an organization described on its website a “women-led grassroots organization working to end US wars and militarism, support peace and human rights initiatives, and redirect our tax dollars into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming programs.”
“I never thought I’d see the day when I would be rooting for the former head of Exxon,” Benjamin half-joked. “But given the array of characters in the administration, Tillerson has been one of the adults in what [Republican Senator] Bob Corker called the ‘adult day care center of the White House.’ He has been a moderating force there, and now that force will be gone.”
The new secretary of state, according to the report, will be Mike Pompeo, “a rampant anti-Russia, anti-Iran hawk,” according to Benjamin. “I think that we’re going to have a new set of characters in there who want to go to war with North Korea, who think that we can bomb Iran’s nuclear sites, that want to see regime change in both of these countries and don’t think about the consequences of that.”
Tillerson has taken the role of mediator during his tenure as chief diplomat, setting him at odds with the more hawkish Trump. Infamously, Trump once tweeted that Tillerson was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
“This means a ramp-up of US aggression against North Korea,” Benjamin predicted. “I think it means that the hope that we had for negotiations with North Korea are out the window. I think there are going to be larger US military exercises that portend a ‘decapitation’ of Kim Jong-un. I think we’re in for a very difficult period with North Korea, and unfortunately North Korea is not going to back down.”
Both Benjamin and the hosts were also concerned about the prospect of Cotton as CIA director. Kiriakou, who spent a decade in the CIA, doubted that the inexperienced Cotton would be able to command the loyalty of his subordinates were he appointed spy chief. “It’s part of the CIA culture,” Kiriakou explained. “If they don’t like or respect a president or a director, they know they can outwait these guys.”
“If you’re in the CIA, and you’ve made it up to the senior service, you’ve been there 25 or 30 or 35 years. Presidents and directors come and go constantly. So what they do is, when they receive an order from the director, they say ‘yes sir, we’re going to get right on that.’ Then they just sort of slow roll it until it goes away.”
At age 40, Cotton is the youngest US senator and has very little experience in intelligence. As such, Kiriakou expressed doubt that the old guard at the CIA would follow his edicts. This would make the true power behind the CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel, a 32-year veteran agent with an unsavory reputation.
“What I remember about Gina Haskell is that she oversaw the torture program [of suspected terrorists Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in 2002]” said Benjamin. “We will have somebody at the head of the agency who said that waterboarding is not torture. I think it’s extremely scary that somebody who was involved in the torture of detainees, and later took part in destroying the videotapes of those interrogations, will be the one behind the scenes who is leading the CIA.”