The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Political books are often bland. Mike Pompeo’s is savage.

‘Never Give an Inch’ recounts his hard-nosed tactics in the Trump administration, his love for the former president and his disdain for his enemies

Mike Pompeo served in the Trump administration as CIA director and secretary of state. He's now considering running for president. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
6 min

Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love is not like most books by nakedly ambitious people preparing to run for president. It’s more interesting and more vicious. It’s a master class in the performative anger poisoning American politics.

Mike Pompeo is a smart man — first in his class at West Point, Harvard Law Review — with a sharp tongue. In March 2016, as a four-term tea party congressman from Kansas, he warned that Donald Trump, if elected, would be “an authoritarian president who ignored our Constitution.” He reports Trump’s delayed reaction to this damning statement: “Mike, you were a mean son of a bitch that day.” He takes it as a compliment.

Pompeo is the only person ever to have run both the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department — and, as he writes, “the only member of the president’s core national-security team who made it through four years without resigning or getting fired.” How did he do it? He trusted in God, worked hard, kneecapped his enemies and kissed the president’s ring. Pompeo professes to love the ways in which Trump wielded power, and that love burns with a hard, gemlike flame throughout these pages. There’s no zealot like a convert.

But love is not the guiding light of “Never Give an Inch.” Hatred animates this book. It’s got more venom than a quiver of cobras.

Before plunging into the snake pit, let’s turn to some passages that will be fodder for future historians. Pompeo tells us over and over that he likes “pipehitters” — coldblooded killers in combat, take-no-prisoners allies in government. He found both in his 16 months at the CIA, where he bolstered the clandestine service and intensified its lethal operations. First, he made Gina Haspel, “a conservative’s conservative,” his deputy and ensured she would succeed him. (Haspel, he writes, had been unjustly “punished” for overseeing torture at the CIA’s black sites, and he “wanted to right that ship” by rewarding her.) Then he embraced Michael D’Andrea, a hard-nosed counterterrorism chief known as the Dark Prince, who “came to work every day with a figurative knife in his teeth.” Pompeo liked his style. “They tell me you’re an a--hole, a s---head, and impossible to work with,” Pompeo said at their job interview. (The book does not delete the expletives.) “Mr. Director,” D’Andrea replied, “I am not impossible to work with.” He was hired on the spot to run Iran operations, including a successful plan to assassinate the murderous Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. Killing America’s enemies was a highlight of Pompeo’s CIA, and he is very proud of it.

As Trump ricocheted between threatening to destroy North Korea with “fire and fury” and sweet-talking it into disarmament, he sent Pompeo to see Kim Jong Un. The meeting began with Kim saying: “Mr. Director, I didn’t think you’d show up. I know you’ve been trying to kill me.” Pompeo says he replied, “Mr. Chairman, I’m still trying to kill you.” Smiles all around. The tyrant swore he would give up his nuclear arsenal. Trump believed him. Spoiler alert: Kim was lying.

The hermit kingdom wasn’t the only country the president thought about attacking. As Pompeo delivered his daily Oval Office intelligence briefing in 2017, Trump wondered aloud: “How would we do if we went to war with Mexico?” Pompeo writes that Trump was “simply testing and expanding the range of ideas that might be useful in fulfilling his essential promises to the American people.” While he doesn’t explain how attacking Cancún would solve the immigration crisis, he does give you a whiff of the sycophancy that came with his service. In response to Trump’s impulse to buy Greenland, which wasn’t for sale, Pompeo recalls that it “was one of the best ideas” the president ever had.

His everyday proximity to the president as his intelligence briefer helped Pompeo ascend to Foggy Bottom in 2018. And here begins this book’s descent into purest vitriol.

Pompeo disdained America’s career diplomats. He describes them, by turns, as un-American, deceitful denizens of the “deep state,” and “overwhelmingly hard left.” Trump’s third national security adviser, John Bolton, is a scheming leaker who “should be in jail,” he writes. Barack Obama’s foreign policies, in Pompeo’s view, made him all but a terrorist fellow traveler. He portrays Obama’s spy chiefs John Brennan and James Clapper as masters of disinformation and the chief perpetrators of the “Russia Hoax” — the crime of reporting, first to president-elect Trump and then to the American people, the intelligence community’s conclusion that the Kremlin monkey-wrenched the 2016 election for its chosen candidate.

Pompeo spurned the CIA’s intelligence analysts when their conclusions clashed with his preconceptions. They inconveniently found that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, was complicit in the 2018 murder of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Pompeo’s sympathies lie squarely with the Saudi ruler. After all, he contends, Khashoggi was not a “journalist” (he puts the word in sarcastic quotes) but a political activist. After the killing sparked outrage, Trump sent Pompeo to reassure the crown prince of America’s support — and to give “the middle finger to the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other bed-wetters who didn’t have a grip on reality.” As you may have guessed, Pompeo hates reporters: They are, in his words, “wolves” and “hyenas,” and their work of encouraging leaks, he says flatly, “is illicit.”

On Oct. 2, 2018, Saudi agents killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. What has been done in the aftermath? (Video: Joyce Lee, Thomas LeGro, Dalton Bennett, John Parks/The Washington Post)

If Pompeo indeed runs for president, he may want to modulate the tone he has chosen in this tome. It’s like being locked in a room and forced to listen to 20 hours of Tucker Carlson reruns at top volume. But it’s certainly more entertaining and substantial than most campaign books. On the evidence of “Never Give an Inch,” Pompeo is a good husband, a good father, a good Christian and a great patriot. But no reader can fail to appreciate — as Trump did — that he really is a mean son of a bitch.

Tim Weiner has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for reporting and writing on national security. He is working on a history of the 21st-century CIA.

Never Give an Inch

Fighting for the America I Love

By Mike Pompeo

Broadside. 438 pp. $32.99

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