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Pompeo’s Bad Diplomacy

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

Daniel DePetris reviews the first four months of Mike Pompeo’s tenure at the State Department:

His record as a diplomat and a communicator of U.S. foreign policy, however, is not so solid. Pompeo deserves enormous credit for taking personal ownership of the Trump administration’s diplomacy with North Korea. Whereas a secretary of state traveling to Pyongyang would once have been seen as a history-making moment, Pompeo has flown there so many times—the most recent being last weekend—that it barely bats an eye anymore.

It’s true that Pompeo has been very busy and has traveled extensively since he became Secretary of State, but for all his activity he does not have much to show for it. As DePetris notes, Pompeo has taken ownership of engagement with North Korea, but to date this has yielded very little. He created the Iran Action Group to implement the illegitimate reimposition of sanctions following the destructive decision to renege on the JCPOA, and he issued the list of preposterous demands that Iran will never accept. The Saudi coalition war on Yemen has intensified during this same period of time, and it has done so with U.S. approval and support. To a very large degree, Pompeo has been the public face of all three of these policies, and in all three cases there has been little or no progress to report. On most other issues, U.S. diplomacy has been MIA in no small part because the administration continues to deprive the department of resources and numerous positions in the department and abroad remain unfilled.

What stands out most in the few months that Pompeo has been at State is that he has told obvious whoppers to the public and Congress about important foreign policy issues. The worst of these in my opinion was the decision to lie to Congress when he provided the bogus certification to ensure that U.S. refueling of Saudi coalition planes continued without interruption. A close second would have to be his repeated false claims that North Korea agreed to “final, fully verified denuclearization” at the Singapore summit. These are cases where Pompeo asserted things that everyone could see to be false, and to date he has been allowed to get away with doing this.

Pompeo is different from his predecessor in that he will speak to reporters much more regularly, but he is even worse at handling tough and challenging questions. When pressed to explain why the Singapore summit declaration made no mention of verification, Pompeo snapped at the reporter and derided the question as “insulting and ridiculous and frankly ludicrous.” When he was recently asked about the report based on a State Department memo that said he issued the bogus Yemen certification to protect arms sales, he feigned outrage. Pompeo is much more talkative and gregarious than Tillerson, but he is more hostile to the press in his interactions with them.

Pompeo’s own inclination to see diplomacy as an all-or-nothing proposition hasn’t helped matters, and his ridiculous “swagger” P.R. campaign has been an embarrassment that makes current and former career diplomats cringe. It should come as no surprise that someone with no meaningful diplomatic or foreign policy experience has not been a particularly good diplomat.

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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