The Senate’s duty and the dangerous rise of Mike Pompeo

While Pompeo’s rising star in the White House is easy to understand, it also speaks to deeper issues plaguing the American political psyche.

March 17, 2018 21:34
3 minute read.
The Senate’s duty and the dangerous rise of Mike Pompeo

Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo arrives for a closed briefing before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. May 16, 2017. . (photo credit: REUTERS/AARON P. BERNSTEIN)

The revolving door at the White House continued twirling on March 13, with President Donald Trump firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and tapping the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, as his replacement. The decision places Pompeo, a Tea Party Republican and Trump loyalist, as Washington’s top diplomat at a critical point in American engagement on the international stage.

With major decisions on the horizon, including the fate of the Iran nuclear deal, future US involvement in the volatile Middle East and looming talks with North Korea, the choices and demeanor of America’s highest foreign envoy will have a major impact on the direction and success of US foreign policy moving forward.

These are critical, non-partisan issues deeply rooted in the heart of US national security concerns. The Senate – which is constitutionally charged with confirming top presidential nominees – must take a neutral, non-partisan approach when considering Pompeo for the position.

Tillerson’s firing is hardly surprising. The mega-rich former oil executive with the slow Texas drawl never really looked comfortable representing America on the world stage, choosing instead to focus on slashing budgets and increasing efficiency at the State Department. Abroad, he struggled to maintain his stature and influence among foreign counterparts, as President Trump publicly undercut him on key issues like North Korea and turmoil in the Persian Gulf. He departs Foggy Bottom just 13 months after he claimed the job, leaving a noticeably weakened State Department in his wake.

Pompeo seems a far more natural fit for the position, at least under Trump. The Republican congressman from Kansas, who rode the Tea Party wave into the House in 2010, made a name for himself as a lawmaker by advocating hardline positions on issues like Iran and Guantanamo Bay and harshly grilling Hillary Clinton over the 2012 Benghazi attack. Since taking over as CIA director, he has remained noticeably outspoken but largely deferential to Trump, a style that has allowed him to capture and hold on to a favored seat in the president’s volcanic good graces.

But while Pompeo’s rising star in the White House is easy to understand, it also speaks to deeper issues plaguing the American political psyche.

That one of Congress’ most partisan members is now secretary of state-in-waiting demonstrates the extreme polarization of US politics.

If he is confirmed, the person charged with representing America to the world at large will also be one of the country’s harshest partisans.

As Washington’s most senior diplomat, his ability to succeed will depend far more on his negotiating style and gift for compromise than on the bluster or unabashed vitriol that catapulted him to his current position.

In considering Pompeo for the top diplomatic post, senators from both parties have a responsibility to consider the far-reaching impact of the decision before them.

The State Department, which emerges badly damaged from Tillerson’s tenure, is already reeling – morale within its halls has reportedly tanked and career foreign service officers have departed in stunning numbers. With the US mired in a 17-year war in Afghanistan and facing growing threats from dangerous foes like Iran and North Korea, placing a hardline conservative at the helm of American diplomacy risks over-militarizing US foreign policy and raises the chances of another major war even higher.

The author is a graduate student focusing on national security, diplomacy and intelligence at the University of Texas’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. His work has been featured in publications including The Jerusalem Post, The Dallas Morning News and Task & Purpose.

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