Home/Daniel Larison/The Incredible Pettiness of Pompeo

The Incredible Pettiness of Pompeo

Mike Pompeo was asked a pointed question about his handling of the recall of the ambassador to Ukraine, and he responded in his typical arrogant and condescending way:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well this is not a commonplace situation, as you know. And you have drawn criticism from professionals. I want to — Bill Burns, who is the former deputy secretary of state, served Republican and Democratic presidents for over 30 years wrote an article in Foreign Affairs Magazine called “The Demolition of U.S. Diplomacy.” And here’s how he described what you allowed with Ambassador Yovanovitch. Secretary Pompeo allowed specious opposition research about Yovanovitch to circulate around the department and sat his hands as Trump slandered Yovanovitch on the infamous call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and warned ominously that she’s going to, quote , go through some things. He then goes on to say the ghost of Roy Cohn is smiling somewhere, comparing it to McCarthyism. Your response?

POMPEO: That’s crazy. I think Bill Burns must be auditioning to be Elizabeth Warren’s Secretary of State.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But sir, the question is, did you speak…

POMPEO: I mean, people have opinions, George, everyone’s entitled to theirs. Bill Burns is clearly looking for a spot in the next administration. That’s fine. He’s entitled to that view. I have to tell you, I’ve had a number of foreign service officers walk into my office and tell me how much they appreciate the way we’re handling this process.

Unlike Pompeo, Burns has a reputation for professionalism, so his attack on Burns here is pathetic and petty even for him. Pompeo is the most overtly partisan Secretary of State in modern times, so he probably can’t imagine someone who isn’t motivated by nothing except personal ambition and partisanship. His sniping at Burns for pointing out the obvious problems at the State Department is just what we have come to expect from Pompeo. He cannot respond to Burns’ criticism on the merits because there is no defense for how he has run the department into the ground, so he questions Burns’ integrity. He can’t answer the question honestly because his handling of Yovanovitch’s removal was very poor, so he tries to change the subject. He wants us to think that everyone is just as petty and small-minded as he is. So Pompeo responds the only way he knows how: dodging the question, impugning the motives of others, and flinging cheap insults. If Pompeo was looking for a way to make himself more radioactive to U.S. diplomats, he certainly found it.

Burns dismissed Pompeo’s insult and repeated his concerns about the damage being done to U.S. diplomacy:

Burns’ indictment of Trump and Pompeo’s failures is persuasive, and it is made all the more powerful because Burns is not known for hyperbole and alarmism. When faced with such a stinging rebuke, Pompeo has to lash out personally against the messenger because he has no answer for the legitimate criticism of those failures. Pompeo didn’t mean to demonstrate his own smallness and vacuity yesterday, but he did.

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.

leave a comment

Latest Articles