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A Failed Secretary of State

Then-Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-KS, speaking at a rally in 2013. He faces a senate grilling for his secretary of state nomination today.Mark Taylor/Creative Commons

Jackson Diehl comments on Mike Pompeo’s terrible performance during the coronavirus crisis:

Has any secretary of state been worse in an emergency? It’s impossible to think of a more feckless performance since World War II. Pompeo’s dreadful week followed a month in which he has been all but invisible on the coronavirus issue, apart from one appearance at Trump’s daily press conference-cum-reality show.

While more responsible leaders have struggled to contain the pandemic, Pompeo has pursued pet causes as if nothing else were happening. That’s especially true of the “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, which he, more than any other official, has promoted.

Pompeo was doing an abysmal job as Secretary of State in better times, so it comes as no surprise that he is doing even worse now that more is expected of him. His tenure has been defined by issuing lots of unrealistic ultimatums and flinging lots of undiplomatic insults. Neither of those is useful or constructive, especially in an emergency like this one. Pompeo’s main contribution to the administration’s response to the outbreak has been to troll Iran and China in public in a desperate bid to distract attention from the president’s bungling. Behind the scenes, he has been one of the leading officials agitating for military escalation in Iraq. In the ghoulish opposition to sanctions relief for the Iranian people, Pompeo has been the chief ghoul.

Pompeo’s poor management of the department has also been on display in the response to the outbreak:

Frustration with State’s handling of the issue is growing both internally and externally.

Lawmakers and staffers are raising questions about why Pompeo has not been more up front about his workforce’s cases of the virus, while also expressing concerns about a lack of uniform guidance from Pompeo on how employees should adjust their work habits.

The department “has not put forth a coordinated, robust response, which I fear puts the health of its own employees at further risk, and further jeopardizes the health and well-being of the American people,” Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter to Pompeo dated Monday.

On top of that, Americans that find themselves stranded in other countries have struggled to get the help they need from U.S. embassies and consulates:

American citizens abroad aren’t getting the support they need from U.S. embassies and consulates as they scramble to return home amid the global coronavirus outbreak, a group of Democratic lawmakers says, raising new questions about the State Department’s handling of the pandemic that has shaken worldwide trade and ground most international travel to a standstill.

While Americans stuck overseas seek his department’s help, Pompeo is more concerned with poking other governments in the eye and trying to start a war with Iran.

The Secretary’s sabotage of the G7’s joint statement because the other governments refused to use Pompeo’s preferred “Wuhan virus” language is a good example in miniature of his ineptitude as a diplomat. Instead of setting aside his rhetorical jab, he made sure that it prevented this group of U.S. allies from reaching agreement. The only thing that seems to interest Pompeo is in affixing blame to and scoring points against other states, and he would rather do that than doing the work and making the compromises that real diplomacy requires. Diplomatic failure and sabre-rattling have been the hallmarks of Pompeo’s time running the State Department, and he has responded to the pandemic by doing more of the same. Diehl concludes:

That doesn’t change how this secretary of state will be regarded by history: Pompeo’s pandemic performance will ensure his place among the worst ever.

That is what comes of putting an obviously unqualified and highly partisan hack in such an important position. The Senate should never again confirm someone so unsuited to the job to serve as Secretary of State.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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