That said, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo knew exactly what he was getting into (and by the way, as former CIA director would know exactly the basis for a counterintelligence investigation of the president) when he took the job. He now spends his time frittering away his reputation and flacking for a president who seems bent on shrinking the United States' footprint in the world.
Pompeo’s recent speech in Cairo was widely panned. It takes quite a poker face to read lines like this: “The good news is this: The age of self-inflicted American shame is over, and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering.” Ah, if it were only so.
In reality, the United States is receding from the international stage and abandoning its role as a defender of universal human rights. “Not surprisingly, human rights, democracy promotion and the importance of internal reform—all American values that have been part to U.S. policy in the Middle East for decades—were nowhere to be seen in Pompeo’s address,” observed veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller. Pompeo’s flattery of his host was truly nauseating:
The secretary complimented his host, Egyptian President [Sissi] on his efforts to “unleash the creative energy of Egypt’s people, unfetter the economy, and promote a free and open exchange of ideas,” and on the acquittal of Americans wrongly convicted of improperly operating NGOs in the country. Egypt’s estimated 60,000 political prisoners went unmentioned, and there was no serious mention of reform anywhere in the Arab world.
And let’s not forget, the promise of American leadership is utterly at odds with the real actions we are taking. (Miller writes, "Listening to Pompeo, one might be forgiven for thinking that America’s influence was rising, not declining, in the region, that the U.S. was poised for engagement, and that Iran, Turkey and Russia weren’t playing enhanced roles with newfound leverage.”)
While Pompeo touted our ongoing commitment to defending the Kurds, destroying the Islamic State and holding back Iran, “Pompeo’s words not only fly in the face of cruel regional realities that are likely to make a mockery of his aspirations, they hang over the head of a president who has neither the patience, interest nor the commitment to actually achieve any of them,” Miller notes.
Pompeo was at it again on Sunday in a remarkable appearance on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” He insisted that there has been no confusion, none at all, regarding Trump’s decision to immediately bug out of Syria. Then again, “We’re going to do so in an orderly and deliberate way. A way that protects America’s national security, a way that allows us to continue the important mission that they were on — the counterterrorism mission. The effort to make sure that with the destruction of ISIS is not only complete, but that their resurgence is not possible.”
But since we have already commenced withdrawal with none of that in place, Pompeo hastened to add it doesn’t matter that we have/had troops there. (“The United States of America can project military power from lots of places in the world. The absence of a couple thousand soldiers on the ground in Syria in no way materially diminishes the capacity of the United States of America and our amazing armed forces to deliver American power to accomplish our objectives anywhere in the world.”) Hmmn. Ask the Kurds, the Syrians, Iran and just about every other power in the region whether that makes sense. (If so, Pompeo and other Republicans owe President Barack Obama an apology for pulling troops out of Iraq.)
So what about the Kurds? Hey, Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan chatted! “The Turks have made clear that they understand that there are folks down in Syria that have their rights.” Uh-huh.
The worst part of his interview, however, was Pompeo’s double talk on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi — which the administration refused to connect to the Saudi crown prince and about which Pompeo disingenuously denied conclusive proof of such to members of Congress. Here’s his response in full (so you can fully appreciate the abject dishonesty):
America’s position both privately and publicly is the same. This was an outrageous act, an unacceptable murder. Those who were responsible will be held accountable by the United States of America. We’re determined to do that. We’re determined to get at the facts just as quickly and as comprehensively as we can. We’ve had a policy that’s been remarkably consistent with respect to this. We — we — we like the rest of the world value human rights all across the globe. And the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was outrageous and we’ll hold those responsible accountable. And then we’ll talk about all the important things we do with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and all the support they provide to keep Americans in Kansas and Colorado and California and in Washington, D.C, safe.
In fact, we’re not holding anyone responsible. There have been no consequences for the Saudis in general or the crown prince specifically. There Pompeo was in Riyadh on Sunday, all smiles with the regime that murdered Khashoggi. The Saudis kill a journalist; Pompeo gives them a lovely photo op.
When asked about the preposterous claim that Islamist terrorists are entering the United States via our southern border, Pompeo clumsily tried to sidestep the question (“Terrorists try to get into our country lots of ways. ... And we need to make sure that the weakest link in our national security isn’t our southern border”). Of course, only six people on the terrorism watch list were apprehended in the first half of 2018, but facts aren’t going to get in the way of Pompeo throwing his own credibility into the dumpster fire to provide cover for Trump’s inane immigration policy.
One thinks back to the anonymous op-ed in the New York Times, when we saw the hubris of those who serve in this administration on the pretext that they are saving the country from Trump. Instead we see these men and women, Pompeo in particular, spin Trump’s nonsensical actions, rationalize an incoherent foreign policy, try to normalize Trump’s conduct toward Putin, defend our retreat from the world and further devalue the word of the secretary of state.
“It would seem that the price, for Cabinet officials, of being part of this Administration is the requirement for ‘Trump management,’ ” says former ambassador Eric S. Edelman. “For most this means slathering on the praise and adulation in ways that are unseemly and inevitably come at the cost of credibility. For a secretary of state there can be no higher cost.”
Pompeo will be judged harshly by history, but that’s no consolation for the damage he is helping Trump do to the United States' influence and stature in the world. Make no mistake: It will take years to rebuild the State Department’s morale, institutional expertise and credibility that Pompeo and his predecessor have frittered away.