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Mike Pompeo, the Unqualified Zealot

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

This Wiredprofile of Mike Pompeo includes a number of interesting details. Here is a quote from Pompeo ally Tom Cotton that helps to explain the Secretary’s anti-Iranian zealotry:

As Cotton told me, “He believes—as I believe—that while Iran is not a great power like Russia or China, it has the potential be an even more destabilizing power than those countries because it’s really a revolutionary cause that’s hijacked the apparatus and the powers of the state.”

Pompeo and Cotton are both fanatical Iran hawks, and the fascinating thing about this quote is that they seem to believe their own propaganda. They view Iran as if nothing has changed in forty years, and they imagine that Iran is capable of being more destabilizing than two of the world’s major powers. The problem isn’t just that they’re wrong in their assessment of the danger that Iran poses, but they are impervious to decades of evidence that shows that they are wrong. Viewing Iran today as “a revolutionary cause that’s hijacked the apparatus and the powers of the state” is like applying analysis from the 1930s to the Brezhnev era for the USSR. It is absurdly outdated and it leads the people that believe in it to pursue insane and destructive policies. You wouldn’t want low-level analysts to buy into this nonsense, and you certainly don’t want the head of the State Department indulging such ideological fantasies. There is no penalty in the Republican Party for Pompeo to indulge these views, because irrational anti-Iranian hawkishness is taken for granted and expected.

The profile also touches on Pompeo’s partisan sniping:

Inside the State Department, Pompeo’s approach to the mission at hand has been to bring partisan politics into day-to-day diplomacy, seeming to castigate and reverse nearly every policy of Trump’s predecessors, from climate change and Iran to even the policy on South America. He often appears to go out of his way to score political points and denigrate the approach of the Obama administration [bold mine-DL]. In interviews he has described his work on Hezbollah as “cleaning up for what the previous administration failed to do,” and the Trump administration’s support of Venezuela’s opposition leader as “precisely the opposite of the way that the Obama administration behaved” during the 2009 pro-democracy protests in Iran, known as the Green Movement.

Pompeo’s determination to make every issue into an occasion to bash Obama and praise Trump may help him in the short term with the president, but it is destroying his credibility with everyone else. He goes out of his way to score points against Obama because that is what the president does and wants from his subordinates, but it often means twisting oneself into knots to attack the previous administration when there is no cause to do so. Pompeo routinely makes a mockery of the job he is supposed to be doing, but in doing so he sabotages his own future political ambitions by making himself an untrustworthy and disliked Trump lackey.

One of the interesting things about most Secretaries of State is that they usually enjoy high favorability ratings during their tenure, because they are perceived to be representing the country as a whole and are not viewed in the same way as partisan actors. Within a few months of being appointed, Pompeo was not viewed very favorably. Only 35% had a favorable view of him, and 38% viewed him unfavorably. Serving in the Trump administration has probably been a factor in keeping his numbers down, and overall partisan polarization has made it more difficult for any Cabinet member to be viewed favorably by partisans from the other side, but his slash-and-burn style of engaging with Congress and the public has made things worse for him. Pompeo is probably the most partisan Secretary of State in decades, and that is one of the reasons why he is one of the least popular to hold that position in modern times. According to Gallup, Pompeo ranked lowest of any modern Secretary of State at the time when they first surveyed public opinion about the new Secretary of State. Much to Pompeo’s chagrin, he came in behind John Kerry. It is doubtful that the public has a more favorable view of him now than they did then.

Pompeo is an ideologue and a hyper-partisan, and he is no good at his job. He ought to resign after his year and a half of failure, but he is far too arrogant to consider ever doing such a thing.

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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