The Corner


The Assault on Pompeo’s Legacy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto in Budapest, Hungary, February 11, 2019. (Tamas Kaszas/Reuters)

In the final days of the Trump administration, a number of commentators have attempted to define the legacy that Mike Pompeo leaves behind. His stewardship of the State Department had its weaknesses, but many of the takes out there have been rather unfair, skewering Pompeo for some of the strongest aspects of his tenure, such as implementing the administration’s strategy to counter China. At the New York Times, Lara Jakes offers one such perspective (it links a tweet by Javad Zarif in the first paragraph to illustrate the “dubious” nature of Pompeo’s legacy) but still gets this part right:

Mr. Pompeo has described himself as a disciple of “realism, restraint and respect” — an approach advocated by his longtime financial backer, Charles G. Koch, a conservative billionaire whose network of donors gave more campaign contributions to Mr. Pompeo than to any other congressional candidate in the country in four House elections from 2010 to 2016.

. . .

Yet Mr. Koch’s continued financial support is far from assured. With a focus on soft-power diplomacy instead of war, the Charles Koch Institute — his policy foundation — is pouring $7 million in new grants to two left-leaning think tanks, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the International Crisis Group, that will have influence in the Biden administration.

Mr. Pompeo’s support for expanding NATO, striking Iran and keeping United States troops in conflict zones have not been forgotten, said Will Ruger, the foundation’s vice president for policy and research.

“I don’t believe that the secretary is a card-carrying realist and restrainer,” said Mr. Ruger, whom Mr. Trump nominated in September to be his ambassador to Afghanistan.

Pompeo — a persistent critic of Beijing’s perfidies, an architect of the Iran maximum-pressure campaign and the Abraham Accords, as well as a reliable Russia hawk — is no “restrainer.” As I suggested in my reporting on Pompeo last month, his State Department was in significant respects a vehicle for the old Republican foreign-policy consensus, much in the same way that the White House’s work with the Federalist Society on judicial appointments put reputable, establishment-oriented conservatives on the bench.

This approach had its faults. The secretary of state made his peace with the president’s America First politics and, barring a post-January 20 repudiation of the president, seems likely to remain a member of the MAGA tribe in good standing. He’d do his legacy a favor by openly discussing the ways in which his refusal to publicly show any distance from Trump headed off decisions with disastrous impacts for U.S. national security and by condemning Trump’s role in the violence at Capitol Hill. To argue that his loyalty to the president was a national-security imperative is reasonable, but that argument’s validity expires tomorrow.

Still, Pompeo advanced a worthy foreign policy that accelerated Washington’s turn against China, crippled Tehran’s ability to project power, and brought the Middle East closer to peace. By no means is he a proponent of realism and restraint, at least as the non-interventionist beltway set understands these terms. That’s actually to his credit.


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