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Getting Diplomacy Wrong

Mike Pompeo, CIA director (Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons)

Mike Pompeo delivered a bad speech at the VFW national convention in Orlando today in which he unwittingly condemned himself and the Trump administration’s abuse of diplomacy:

When we get this diplomacy wrong, it’s selfish. It preferences the will of others over that of Americans and it affords politicians easy accolades without doing the hard work to secure real achievements. And we’ve learned the hard way that short-sighted diplomacy, bad decisions, have long-term consequences. And when we make those bad decisions, it doesn’t do honor to your service, because, in fact, it helps the bad guys win.

Pompeo thinks he is attacking the record of the Obama administration when he says this, but his description of bad diplomacy fits his own tenure as Secretary of State and the Trump administration’s foreign policy record perfectly. Trump’s foreign policy has frequently involved catering to the wishes of client states at the expense of American interests. Among other things, that has meant trampling on the Constitution to keep U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen going, abusing executive power to circumvent Congress and sending weapons to war criminals, overturning decades of U.S. policy to recognize Israel’s claim to illegally annexed territory, or covering up for the Saudi crown prince’s ordered hit on Jamal Khashoggi.

Pompeo has been one of the biggest cheerleaders and salesmen of this approach. He and Trump think handing out freebies to despots and illegal occupiers is just fine. To flatter the president, Pompeo has lied about what North Korea agreed to at the Singapore summit for more than a year, and he has been one of the first to offer Trump “easy accolades” for diplomatic success that hasn’t occurred. There have been no “real achievements” to speak of with North Korea or with any of the other governments that Trump and Pompeo have sought to browbeat and intimidate with sanctions and threats. Pompeo hasn’t really done any of the “hard work” that he accuses his predecessors of ducking, and not surprisingly he has nothing to show for his time as Secretary of State except festering crises that U.S. policies created or made worse.

Short-sighted, bad decisions do have long-term consequences, and we are seeing how the decision to renege on the JCPOA and reimpose sanctions on Iran has been extremely short-sighted, contrary to U.S. interests, and detrimental to regional stability. The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign has strengthened the IRGC inside Iran, and it has bolstered hard-liners who have claimed vindication following the U.S. violation of the deal. In short, Pompeo and Trump have been helping “the bad guys win” through their heavy-handed, destructive economic warfare and unrelenting hostility.

If Pompeo really thought of his work in terms of service rather than self-aggrandizement, he would have the humility to acknowledge that many of his predecessors handled equally difficult or even harder challenges much better than he has. He would refrain from denouncing them out of political opportunism, and he wouldn’t be so quick to denigrate serious efforts at diplomatic engagement as “appeasement.” But then he wouldn’t be the “swaggering” blowhard Mike Pompeo that we have all come to know and distrust.

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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