Code Pink activists hold placards to protest the nomination of Mike Pompeo (right) at a nomination hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 12, 2018 in Washington DC. Photo: IC

Right before the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s scheduled plan to meet with the UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday in London, The Guardian called Pompeo “a problem” in a report on Saturday. 

“American Secretaries of State can be earnestly dull, like John Kerry, or plain brilliant, like George Marshall; they can be Machiavellian, like Henry Kissinger, or intensely political, like Hillary Clinton. Mike Pompeo, the bluntly spoken, present-day incumbent who will discuss ‘shared global priorities’ with Theresa May in London, is simply a problem,” read The Guardian report. 

During the past one year of guiding US diplomatic policies, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) seemed to be rather busy, with reports of him talking about issues from North Korea to Venezuela and from Iran to Russia appearing in newspapers almost every day.

Through these reports, readers saw him busy making his rude and unreasonable remarks, stirring up trouble around the world and hyping the “China threat.”

In a recent speech at Texas A&M University in April, Pompeo admitted the institutional ethos of the CIA is “we lie, we cheat, we steal… it reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.” 

Rude and unreasonable 

 “I think this year has been an enormous success,” said Pompeo, speaking on the staircase of the half-filled State Department lobby on April 26, Foreign Policy reported. 

It seems that the US media did not share Pompeo’s view. Foreign Policy said in the report on April 26, “Despite lacking many serious diplomatic achievements, other than perhaps setting up the now-stalled talks with North Korea and further isolating Iran, Pompeo said he was restoring prestige to the department.”

Some of the US’ closest allies bristle at Trump’s brash style of diplomacy and doubt US diplomats speak with the authority of a president who regularly goes off script, according to half a dozen current and former State Department officials who spoke to Foreign Policy. 

There are some reasons why Foreign Policy is saying this. After Pompeo’s visit to the four countries in Latin America, a correspondent from China stationed in Latin America told the Global Times on condition of anonymity that Pompeo failed to play his role as the head of the US diplomatic department, and is instead more like a yenta trying to sow discord. 

In responding to Pompeo’s remarks on China, the correspondent said that the US once looked down at China, and has not adjusted its attitude when the latter caught up with it.  

Pompeo told Peru’s El Comercio newspaper on April 14 that “State-owned enterprises, companies deeply connected to the Chinese government that want to put infrastructure, telecommunications infrastructure inside of your country… we want to make sure everyone has their eyes wide open,” the VOA reported. 

During a joint news conference with Chile’s Foreign Minister Roberto Ampuero in Santiago on April 12, Pompeo said that China’s trade activity is often closely linked to its national security goals and warned against its “predatory lending practices,” Reuters reported. 

The frequency with which Pompeo makes such remarks on China is astonishing, Chinese experts said. 

Lü Xiang, a research fellow of China-US relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that Pompeo rarely talked about China before the US Vice President Mike Pence made a speech on China in October 2018.

Pence’s speech shows that inside the US government, some officials are responsible for negotiating with China while some are responsible for criticizing China. US President Donald Trump sometimes made friendly remarks to China while the vice president and the US Department of State would play “the bad guy,” Lü said. 

“Pompeo is managing US diplomatic affairs, but half of his role is as head of the publicity department,” Lü said. 

Apart from China, Russia is another target for Pompeo. Alongside Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó in Budapest in February, Pompeo said that the US should not let Russian President Vladimir Putin “drive a wedge between friends and NATO.” 

Pompeo’s rude and unreasonable attitude toward many international issues fails to serve US interests. After so many occasions mediating the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, Pompeo was asked to be left out by North Korea, experts said. 

North Korea said on April 18 it no longer wanted to deal with Pompeo and that he should be replaced in talks by someone more mature, hours after it announced its first weapons test since nuclear talks broke down, Reuters reported. 

Talking ‘threat’

“Traditionally, American secretaries of state should at least have some foreign policy experience, or like Kissinger, who has profound theoretical foundation. However, Pompeo obviously possess neither of these two features,” Lü told the Global Times. 

He said some American scholars once told him, “Pompeo looks like the US Secretary of State, but in fact, what he does is the job of the Assistant Secretary of State,” as his current method of working is scattered and unmethodical.  

A year ago, when Pompeo took the position of Secretary of State with the lowest approval rate in the US Senate, opinion of him was summarized as follows: a hawk – he talks tough on China, Russia and North Korea; a layman of foreign policy – he is not familiar with diplomacy; and loyal – he obeys Trump’s instructions. 

What Pompeo does in Europe can further reflect the true features of the US foreign policy that he leads. 

“Threat” is a word that European media often connects with Pompeo. During his February visit, Pompeo warned Hungary to be cautious of Russia and China, but was rejected by Szijjártó at a press conference, blasting Pompeo’s warnings as “enormous hypocrisy,” Russia Today reported in February. 

Germany is one of the countries Pompeo attacks a lot. For example, Nord Stream 2, a pipeline taking Russian gas to Germany, is a thorn in Pompeo’s side. He has urged Germany to give up the project many times, and even planned to use sanctions to stop Nord Stream 2. On April 10, Pompeo acknowledged that European countries, primarily Germany, are unwilling to accept the US suggestion. 

It seems Pompeo dislikes France as well. In early April, he urged France not to approve the digital services tax, as it would hurt US technology firms. However, days after his warning, French lawmakers approved the country’s proposed tax on the revenue of digital giants in the National Assembly on April 9.

Pompeo also warned that the US may not share some information with NATO allies if they incorporate Chinese technology in their networks, Bloomberg reported on April 4. The report added it was “the most explicit warning to date,” and the UK and Germany rebuffed the US on the issue.

“Is the EU ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats here in Brussels?” Pompeo asked in a speech delivered in Brussels last year, The Guardian reported. 

The report also noted, “His degree of ignorance on Europe is startling,” calling his speech “mostly a regurgitation of the prejudices, half-truths and stereotypes beloved of right-wingers and Eurosceptics.”

Worse than Tillerson

Pompeo belongs to the “new generation” of American politics and the Republican Party. 

Serving as a soldier, then a lawyer, he became a federal congressman in his early 50s in 2011. He had not enjoyed any kind of reputation until Trump nominated him to be the CIA director in 2017.

Insiders who are familiar with US foreign policy told the Global Times that Pompeo regarded the CIA position as an opportunity to make him prosperous. 

Through his daily intelligence briefing to the US president, he won Trump’s trust and took over from former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Some said Pompeo hopes to use this position as a springboard to become the US vice president, and perhaps even president in future. 

As a result, Pompeo has adopted a strategy of following Trump’s lead. On the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, he restrains his tough stance against North Korea and has visited it multiple times. 

He also noted that he and Trump speak “almost every day,” CNN reported in March. 

Wu Xinbo, director of Fudan University’s Center for American Studies, told the Global Times that many American scholars said the nation’s top diplomat frequently talks tough to cater to his boss to accumulate political capital for his future career. 

“But this should not be the way a top diplomat should adopt,” Wu said, noting American scholars hold two different attitudes toward Pompeo: The liberals don’t like him, saying his foreign policy hurts America’s image; while the conservatives believe perhaps people like Pompeo can deal with rivals, such as Iran and North Korea. 

Lü described Pompeo as a “political speculator,” who knows how to use the simplest methods to please Trump. On the other hand, “lack of talents” is another problem for Trump, according to Lü.

“He didn’t exactly have a tough act to follow in Rex Tillerson, who was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Pompeo has not proven much more effective in managing US foreign policy than his hapless predecessor – and in some ways he’s even worse,” Aaron David Miller, former adviser and negotiator in Republican and Democratic Administrations, and Richard Sokolsky, former member of the secretary of state’s office of policy planning, wrote in Politico Magazine in March. 

“In contrast with his predecessor, he hasn’t managed to alienate his boss and has emerged as a cautious and savvy Trump whisperer. The problem is that what he’s whispering neither advances American interests and values nor the nation’s foreign policy,” Miller and Sokolsky wrote, “America needs a Secretary of State who’s tough but pragmatic; understands that negotiations aren’t zero-sum games but need to be win-win propositions; and provides honest counsel to the president even when he disagrees. These aren’t Pompeo’s strengths.”
Newspaper headline: Lack of diplomacy