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Pompeo’s Terrible 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

Jackson Diehl assesses Mike Pompeo’s tenure at State after seven months, and he delivers a damning verdict:

Now, after a month that has seen the secretary offer smiles and excuses to Saudi Arabia’s murderous Mohammed bin Salman, trash Congress for “caterwauling” and inspire a rare revolt by Senate Republicans, it’s time to offer a verdict: Pompeo has managed to worsen the State Department’s already abysmal standing with every significant constituency. Legislators, major allies, the media, career staff, even North Korea are alienated. The only satisfied customer may be President Trump — and even he has grounds for grievance.

When Tillerson was unceremoniously fired by tweet, some of the former Secretary of State’s detractors might have thought that there was no way that his successor could be worse. As it turns out, they were wrong. Pompeo is a more active and publicly visible Secretary of State than his predecessor, but this has not really been an improvement over Tillerson’s curious taciturnity. Pompeo talks to the press a lot more than Tillerson, but when he does so it is often to mislead them or berate them for asking questions he doesn’t want to answer. Where Tillerson was obsessed with a destructive and pointless “redesign” of the department, Pompeo has embraced the Trump administration’s Iran obsession as his own, and the latter has been far worse for the U.S. and the Middle East than Tillerson’s ineptitude. He is not noticeably more successful than Tillerson in his efforts, but he can’t blame his failures on having a poor relationship with the president. Indeed, Pompeo’s primary concern seems to be keeping the president happy with him no matter how many enormous whoppers he has to tell to the public and Congress.

Pompeo has done a particularly poor job of managing his relationship with members of Congress, especially the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is one of the more overtly partisan and ideological Secretaries of State in recent memory, and in addition to that he misleads and lies to the Senate quite often. When he issued his bogus Yemen certification on behalf of the Saudi coalition, he was lying to cover for the coalition’s obvious indifference to causing large numbers of civilian casualties. His mendacious op-ed in defense of the Saudi relationship was outdone only by the “briefing” last month ahead of the first vote on S.J.Res. 54 as an exercise in spouting propaganda for the benefit of a foreign government. Pompeo has torched whatever credibility he had, and these aren’t the only issues where he has madeobviously false claims. The Secretary of State has taken the old adage about an ambassador being an honest man sent abroad to lie for the good of his country and turned it on its head: he is a dishonest man who has returned from abroad to lie to his country in defense of foreign despots.

On top of all that, there are still many vacancies in the top posts at the State Department. Diehl continues:

Seven months after Pompeo’s arrival, nearly half of key posts at State remain empty, according to the Partnership for Public Service. Pompeo has yet to fill the jobs of a chief financial officer and four of six undersecretaries, as well as ambassadors to Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey, among others.

It turns out that replacing Tillerson doesn’t fix anything, and Pompeo has proven to be every bit as bad a Secretary of State as I and other critics feared he would be. Back in October, I described Pompeo’s record as one of bad diplomacy. After seeing his performance over the last two months, I have to revise that from bad to terrible. That is an entirely predictable outcome, and it is what happens when someone with nothing butdisdain for diplomacy is appointed to be our government’s chief 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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