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Pompeo’s Foreseeable Failures

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in a press conference with U.S. President Donald J. Trump during the NATO Foreign Ministerial in Brussels on July 12, 2018. (State Department photo/ Public Domain)

Richard Sokolsky and Aaron David Miller review Pompeo’s tenure at the State Department and find it badly wanting:

Pompeo’s “our way or the highway” approach to diplomacy—of issuing diktats and never giving an inch—may make him look tough in Trump’s eyes, but is no way to conduct effective diplomacy. America needs a secretary of State who’s tough but pragmatic; understands that negotiations aren’t zero-sum games but need to be win-win propositions; and provides honest counsel to the president even when he disagrees. These aren’t Pompeo’s strengths; he has proven far more adept at managing Trump than U.S. foreign policy and has embraced an ideological and uncompromising hard line that aligns with his own temperament, convictions and perhaps his presidential ambitions in the Republican Party.

Pompeo’s poorrecord as Secretary of State shouldn’t come as a surprise. If success at the job requires pragmatism, an understanding of negotiations, and honest advice, Pompeo was never going to succeed. Pompeo has made a point of telling Trump whatever the president wants to hear while lying to the rest of us to cover for the Saudis and for the Trump administration’s own failures. He has always seen negotiations as zero-sum in which one side wins and the other side “surrenders,” and that makes him an unusually inflexible and unreasonable representative for the U.S.

After the Obama administration concluded the negotiations that produced the JCPOA, Pompeo explicitly accused them to surrendering to Iran. Along with Sen. Cotton, Pompeo was one of the most fanatical opponents of the nuclear deal in Congress, and like other Iran hawks he has never had any interest in securing a “better” deal. Like other opponents of the JCPOA, Pompeo hates it because it is successful and deprives them of their pretext for conflict with Iran. Since he was confirmed, he has taken the same all-or-nothing approach to talks with North Korea and has issued his preposterous demands to Iran because he doesn’t understand diplomacy and because he disdains the compromises that it requires.

We knew to expect all of this from Pompeo before he became Secretary of State. That’s why he wasn’t fit for the job, and it’s why he should never have been confirmed. Almost a year later, he has managed to do the impossible and make Tillerson look relatively competent by comparison. Pompeo’s failure as our government’s chief diplomat was entirely predictable, and his record is proof of what happens when you appoint someone who despises diplomacy to run the State Department.

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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