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Mike Pompeo Could be the Most Significant Secretary of State in Decades
CIA Director Pompeo testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, February 13, 2018 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(Photo cred:t Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Mike Pompeo Could be the Most Significant Secretary of State in Decades

Kenneth R. Weinstein

CIA Director Mike Pompeo is well prepared to be our next secretary of state – and has the potential to be the most significant secretary of state since George Shultz (who served under Ronald Reagan). Pompeo brings deep insight, unique experience, and a broad, strategic mindset to foreign policy.

His strong relationship of trust with President Trump can bring back morale and a sense of purpose to the State Department, as well as credibility when talking to our allies and partners.

I’ve known Pompeo since his service on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He has demonstrated strong understanding of the role of intelligence in shaping policy options as well as the role of covert operations to exert pressure in challenging situations where diplomacy needs to be complemented to be effective. This experience will be especially important because America’s intelligence assets are often co-located with our diplomats at embassies and consulates around the world.

Pompeo also possesses something else: an ability to focus on detail even when he manages the big picture of America’s relations with allies and strategic competitors from Europe to the Middle East and Asia.

Pompeo’s focus on detail became clear when he and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., traveled to Vienna in July 2015 at the height of the debate over the Iran deal. Their purpose was to question officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency firsthand, due to a suspicion that the Obama administration had pushed for guarantees for Iran by third parties that didn’t need to be disclosed to Congress. Pompeo and Cotton’s suspicions proved correct.

As we head into a critical showdown over the future of the Iran deal by May 12, this ability to put the big picture and small detail into perspective will be critical. Pompeo will have to assess if the Iran deal can credibly be reshaped with far tougher measures against Iran’s ballistic missile program, ending the deal’s “sunset clause” while encouraging our allies to stand firm against Iran’s proxies, including Hezbollah. This entails getting our European allies to come to a deeper comprehension of the urgency of Iran’s revisionist challenge in the Middle East. Pompeo’s elevation to secretary of state allows Trump to present a unified front when renegotiating, increasing the odds that the U.S. either improves the deal or walks away.

Because of the legacy of the Obama administration’s strategic retreat, Pompeo will arrive at Foggy Bottom confronting challenges more serious than any of his more recent predecessors. Not since James Baker moved back into the White House as chief of staff in 1992 has a president replaced a secretary of state in the middle of a term. Along with helping to guide policy options on Iran, Pompeo will also be critical to shaping Trump’s response to the North Korean offer for a high-stakes Trump-Kim Jung Un summit.

On North Korea, all Americans and our allies should be reassured by Pompeo’s involvement. Twenty-seven years of negotiating with North Korea has demonstrated that its strategy with the international community relies heavily on deception and dividing America’s allies to buy both time and legitimacy. Pompeo’s experience as CIA director and as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence gives him a deep understanding of the North Korean threat and insight on how the regime operates. This will be of enormous benefit as he counsels the president.

Pompeo’s approach to foreign policy transcends intelligence and defense-related matters. He has a holistic approach to policy, and understands the need to reach out and consult with our allies on common challenges. Moreover, he understands how domestic policy can give us leverage in foreign affairs. One of the most powerful developments for American foreign policy in recent decades has been the energy revolution in the United States, and our ability to decrease our reliance on foreign sources of oil and serve as a new supplier for the global market. At a conference at the Hudson Institute on the shale revolution in 2016, Pompeo was asked what advice he would give to a hypothetical president-elect. He said, “I would ask … him or her to use his bully pulpit to communicate that the United States is going to have a low-cost energy source for the foreseeable future so long as this president is in office, encouraging investment in the United States of America.” Pompeo clearly understands that American jobs, our immense energy resources, and our national security are intertwined.

My colleagues and I at Hudson have had had the good fortune to work with Pompeo on numerous occasions. He is a careful and respectful listener who understands the need to synthesize ideas and build coalitions. He acts decisively with strategic purpose—exactly the kind of secretary of state needed as we head into this turbulent period.

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