MIKE POMPEO’S confirmation hearing to become secretary of state arrived at a moment when the Trump administration is grappling with a chaotic confluence of actual and looming foreign crises — including some of its own making. President Trump is contemplating military strikes against Syria while also pushing for a U.S. pullout; he has committed to attempting to negotiate a nuclear deal with North Korea while threatening to repudiate the nuclear pact with Iran. He is waging a trade war against China and Japan while counting on their strategic cooperation against the regime of Kim Jong Un. And he is doing all this with a badly depleted national security apparatus: Dozens of senior positions are vacant at the State Department, and the newly arrived national security adviser, John Bolton, has started with a purge of senior staff at the White House.
Mr. Pompeo, who has a reputation as a hawk and who in Congress relentlessly pursued groundless attacks against Hillary Clinton’s State Department, did his best on Thursday to be reassuring. He stressed that he favored diplomatic solutions with Iran and North Korea; he played down the likely consequences of a decision by Mr. Trump to scrap the Iran deal next month. Importantly, he promised to defend the State Department’s budget and to quickly seek to fill its many vacant positions, which would be a welcome departure from the odd management style of the departed Rex Tillerson.
As has frequently been the case during the past year, it was not always clear if Mr. Trump and his nominee are in agreement on major issues. Mr. Pompeo was tough on Russia, saying conflicts with it were caused by “Russia’s bad behavior”; Mr. Trump tweeted Wednesday that “much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation.” Mr. Pompeo acknowledged that sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s regime had been inadequate and promised to “reset . . . deterrence.” But Mr. Trump tweeted that there was “no reason” for poor relations and suggested the United States should aid the Russian economy and “stop the arms race.”
In this, Mr. Pompeo sounded much like his predecessor Mr. Tillerson, who often pushed Mr. Trump to be tougher on Mr. Putin and to resist reflexive impulses to pull U.S. forces out of Afghanistan and Syria. On human rights, as in support for the State Department, Mr. Pompeo sounded like an improvement, saying “we should defend American values every place we go,” including to allies such as Egypt. Democracy promotion, he said, “is an important tool of foreign policy” — an idea that neither Mr. Tillerson nor Mr. Trump has supported. Though he reiterated his opposition to gay marriage, Mr. Pompeo said he would defend the rights of LGBT people both in the State Department and abroad.
Democrats who pressed Mr. Pompeo on his record, including his questionable statements about Muslims, have legitimate concerns. But rejecting or delaying his nomination, as Mr. Trump juggles multiple crises without adequate counsel, probably would make an already parlous situation worse. Mr. Pompeo should be deployed to Foggy Bottom in the hope that he will fulfill his promise to revive and reassert U.S. diplomacy.