CIA Director Mike Pompeo, US President Donald Trump’s candidate to replace ousted Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, is a huge opponent of the Iranian nuclear deal and someone with a very positive attitude toward Israel, according to officials in Jerusalem.
Deputy Minister Michael Oren, a former ambassador to the US who met Pompeo when he was a congressman representing Kansas, said the presumptive secretary of state “is very positively disposed toward us.”
Oren, a historian who has written two books on US-Israel relations, said there are two kinds of secretaries of state, those who conform to the institutionalized outlook of the State Department, and those who “say to the institution, ‘I’m sorry, I have my ideas, and you have to conform to my ideas.’”
Most secretaries of state, including recent ones such as Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright, Tillerson and especially John Kerry, fell into the first category, Oren said.
“A different person would be a George Schultz, and I see Pompeo more in the mold of George Schultz.” Henry Kissinger as well, Oren added, fell into the second category.
Having a secretary of state who does not conform to the State Department worldview – a worldview molded by the preponderance of Arabists in the institution – “is very good for us,” he said.
One of the reasons there are so many Arabists in the State Department, he said, has to do with the simple fact that there are 21 members of the Arab League, and “if you are a State Department careerist, and you speak Arabic, you can get into 21 embassies. If you speak Hebrew, you can get into one. The State Department worldview is informed by many things,” he added, and “one of them is the career tracks.”
Oren said that while Tillerson was tough on budgetary issues – slashing funding and reducing staff – “in terms of outlook and messaging there was nothing he said or did that in my mind broke the State Department mold or challenged their worldview.”
Dore Gold, a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry who now heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, also praised the selection, saying that Pompeo is “a man with a deep understanding of the dangers of the Middle East.” With this understanding of the threats posed by Iran and others in the region, Gold said, Pompeo “would be fitting to become the architect of a new American role in the region.”
Having served for the last year as the CIA head, Gold said Pompeo is intimately familiar with American intelligence “on what is going on in the region, and he understands the dangers probably better than anyone.”
Asked if Pompeo was a good choice from Israel’s perspective, Gold replied, “anyone who is good for America, is good for Israel, and for all countries whose security is attached to the wings of the American eagle.”
Pompeo, 54, graduated first in his class from West Point, and then went on to serve as an officer in the Gulf War. Following his army duty, he went to Harvard Law School and was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. He also built a company providing components for military and civilian aircraft before running for a Kansas congressional seat in 2010 as a Tea Party candidate.
As a congressman and member of the House Intelligence Committee, Pompeo was a harsh critic of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. After being appointed to head the CIA last year, he tweeted that he looked forward to “rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”
As a congressman in 2014, he said it was possible to militarily stop Iran’s nuclear march. “In an unclassified setting, it is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces.”
As Trump is considering taking additional steps to either fixing the Iranian nuclear deal or walking away from it, he has selected as secretary of state a man who last year advocated extending sanctions on Iran’s weapons program, saying in a statement that doing so would provide Trump and Congress with “a solid foundation from which to pursue additional action against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
When Pompeo was appointed head of the CIA last year, Matt Brooks, the head of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said that throughout his years of public service Pompeo “has been a friend of American Jews and a true friend of Israel. His staunch opposition to the Iran nuclear deal shows he takes our interests to heart and we are proud to support him.”