Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Do we need a confirmed secretary of state? Of course. Should the Senate confirm any nominee a president puts forward for consideration on that principle alone? Absolutely not.
With crises brewing from North Korea to Syria to Yemen to Venezuela, President Trump’s abrupt decision to fire Rex Tillerson looks like a bad idea. Despite the Republican Senate leadership’s attempts to conduct as little oversight as possible on many of Trump’s nominees, each one deserves careful scrutiny as we fulfill the constitutional requirement of “advice and consent.”
Many have pointed to CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s public service — in uniform, in Congress and in our intelligence service — as a qualification to serve as our nation’s top diplomat. I applaud that public service, too, but it is not enough to guarantee he is the right person to serve in the position for which he has been nominated.
Words matter. Beliefs matter. Policy positions matter. And Pompeo’s rhetoric and actions raise major concerns.
The secretary of state should be the loudest, holdout voice for international diplomacy, dialogue and negotiations in the Oval Office. Throughout his career, Pompeo has shown little preference for diplomacy and consistent support for militaristic interventions.
One of my main concerns about Pompeo is that he would not be an independent counselor to a president who needs to hear objective advice and debate, given the president’s ill-formed worldviews and problems with facts. Based on my review of the nominee’s record and his answers to questions during our meeting and in his confirmation hearing, I am very concerned about Pompeo’s willingness to stand up to the president and deliver a healthy counterpoint.
America needs to work with and lead our allies in pursuit of our shared national security interests and values. But Pompeo has demonstrated repeatedly that he is willing to back up the president’s go-it-alone approach to international affairs. Nowhere will that be more consequential than the Iran nuclear deal. Pompeo spoke out loudly against diplomacy, advocated launching up to “2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity” and supports the president’s eagerness to tear up the agreement. (That Iran has complied with the terms of the deal appears to be irrelevant.)
America’s credibility is at stake. We must approach potential changes or add-on agreements to the nuclear deal with extreme care. Our allies will be essential partners in keeping Iran from ever becoming a nuclear weapons nation — an objective that is clearly important to our national security.
Pompeo also favors unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. Pompeo’s stance will likely encourage Trump to ensure that the United States will soon become the only nation in the world not at the table discussing global efforts to combat climate change. The Paris accord decision may exemplify the president’s vision of “America first,” but this is one of the clearest signs yet that “America first” really means America alone.
It is also worth asking how Pompeo will represent our diverse country to the world. He has made false associations between American Muslims and terrorism, stating that perceived silence in condemning attacks “has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit.” He has cited verbatim the following passage from a sermon castigating members of the LGBTQ community: “America had worshiped other gods and called it multiculturalism. We’d endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.” Such damning statements are completely antithetical to American values and compromise Pompeo’s credibility in advancing global human rights — a principal objective of our foreign policy.
Our top diplomat needs to be the consistent champion of diplomacy and to be publicly, repeatedly underscoring that America best achieves its national security objectives through diplomacy — not by agitating and turning its back on its traditional allies. Our top diplomat needs to lead in America’s global engagement with countries around the world. Pompeo’s record gives little confidence he will be that person, and prioritizing military action before fulsome attempts at diplomacy are completely exhausted is a recipe for disaster.
In my view, Pompeo is not the right person to be secretary of state for the American people. I have reached that conclusion based on my policy priorities, my belief in the importance of diplomacy and my support for American values — not politics or partisanship, as some have ascribed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s action. In fact, the committee works best when it conducts U.S. foreign policy in a bipartisan manner, recognizing Congress’s role as an independent and equal branch of government. While I held a leadership role on the committee, now, and even going back centuries, that role has served the American people and the world well. I know it will continue to do so.
But diplomacy matters. America’s smart power matters, and the international norms and values the United States helped create and must protect matter, too. That is why I regret I cannot support Pompeo’s nomination.
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