Not the few, the wretched few left at the husk of our State Department under a leader who reportedly called President Donald Trump a “*&%^-ing moron” but has not bestirred himself to stand up for the importance of diplomacy or against the plan to decimate the department’s senior ranks.
At this point, neither allies nor adversaries who meet with Tillerson can be under any illusion that he speaks for anyone but himself.
And the current chief diplomat, if he can even be called that, must yearn to escape the service of a president who said this when asked about reports that Tillerson is being forced out: “He’s here. Rex is here.”
Like Tillerson, CIA Director Pompeo has been seen as unwilling to stand up for his people.
But unlike the former ExxonMobil CEO, the 53-year-old former Kansas congressman has become a Trump favorite, personally delivering the president’s intelligence briefing every day.
For that matter, Kansas itself seems to have become a White House favorite.
With Pompeo reportedly in line to become the next secretary of state, Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach advising Trump on (mostly hypothetical) voter fraud, Gov. Sam Brownback nominated for an ambassadorship and the state’s disastrous tax policy under Brownback now the model for the nation, that’s too much the case.
But for all of Trump’s populist rhetoric, he is nothing if not a credentialist. (Has he mentioned yet today that he went to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania?) Pompeo is both a West Point- and Harvard-educated lawyer. He’s also someone who makes a show of looking up to the president, and that deference has won him Trump’s trust.
Were Pompeo to spend some of that capital to make the national security and even money-saving case for diplomacy, he might be able to fill some of the most crucial, still-empty posts around the world.
And if anyone has a shot at getting Trump to stop calling North Korea’s unbalanced leader Kim Jong Un “Little Rocket Man” and a “sick puppy,” Pompeo does.
As we say, that hasn’t been Pompeo’s inclination thus far.
On the contrary, during his short time at the CIA, he has embarrassed the agency by meeting with a conspiracy theorist pushing the idea, debunked by the CIA itself, that the Democratic National Committee email incursion wasn’t a hack by Russia but an inside job intended to “make Trump look bad.”
Pompeo has reorganized the agency to make the unit looking into collusion with Russia report directly to him. He has defended Trump’s controversial response to the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, and incorrectly claimed “the intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.” (Actually, the assessment took no position on that question.)
It would be hard to get ahead of Pompeo in the extravagance of his praise for the president he serves. In Trump, he sees “instincts that are incredible,” intelligence that “will provide insights, thinking about things in a way that we haven’t” and patriotism “of the most extraordinary level.”
So we can only hope to be surprised by Pompeo, whose rise from tea party candidate to 2 1/2-term congressman to top spy to potential secretary of state has been so brisk that Sen. Bob Corker told the Washington Post, “I could barely pick Pompeo out of a lineup.”
As recently as his confirmation hearing for the CIA post, Pompeo still knew that Russia is much more of a threat than the president has ever acknowledged.
In recent years, he said, Russia "has reasserted itself aggressively, invading and occupying Ukraine, threatening Europe, and doing nearly nothing to aid in the destruction and defeat of ISIS.” Yes, yes and yes.
But Pompeo joined Trump in his baseless criticism of the Iran nuclear deal and is so enthusiastic in his support of Israel that he’s likely to support Trump’s controversial consideration of “how and when” to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As a defender of the Bush-era torture of terror subjects, Pompeo seems unlikely to check some of Trump’s worst instincts about the wider world, and especially the Muslim world. After the Boston Marathon bombing, for instance, Pompeo charged that “silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts and more importantly still, in those that may well follow.”
If Mike Pompeo does get this vitally important post, he will have to reach out to the Muslim allies we desperately need. And show some of the extraordinary patriotism he sees in the president. Enough, in fact, to challenge his boss’s view that buddying up to maniacs and mean-tweeting allies adds up to a cohesive foreign policy. And because real friends tell the truth, Pompeo must signal that Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner can’t handle the world on their own.