In Pompeo’s Pitch for President
There is another push for President Pompeo.
I reported that for the first time for this magazine in front of three sources. In any case, this boost is still coming from Mike Pompeo. The former secretary left little doubt that she had spoken in Iowa last week. “It feels like home,” Pompeo told the Westside Conservative Club in the Des Moines suburbs. Then he paused for a moment, seeming to fear how potted it sounded, and then rebounded appropriately. “Me.”
The former foreign secretary continued, “I’m not far from the road … you met Wichita [Kansas]. “Pompeo commented to the audience giggling,” I see a lot of cameras in the background. [Is] Will there be a big announcement? “Pompeo replied,” But my announcement today is really about you, “moaned an audible audience.
Pompeo has been within striking distance of the Oval Office for some time. In 2018, the new secretary of state took a remarkable two-year turn from an ambitious, if aimless, backbencher – a Trump-skeptical member of Congress who suddenly turned into the new president’s consigliere.
Pompeo was a surprising choice for the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. But then many of Trump’s first cabinet decisions came as a surprise.
From a likely insincere dance with Mitt Romney, to choosing the man who would actually become his Secretary of State, Exxon Honcho Rex Tillerson (whom Trump once met before offering him the job) to installing James Mattis at the Pentagon. Trump’s first cabinet highlighted the softest underbelly in the former president’s political operation: the staff.
Important, but now forgotten, both Pompeo and Mattis were on NeverTrump godfather’s wish list, William Kristol, to launch a conservative, independent presidential campaign against the New York-based Wheeler dealer. This is true; Once upon a time, Pompeo’s relationship with Trump was limited, if not nonexistent, save for a few selfish subtleties at the end of the campaign. They were definitely not tight during elementary school. The then-Congressman was an enthusiastic and loyal replacement for Marco Rubio – the 2016 Senator of Florida model, anyway.
But the next day, Trump liked the cut of Pompeo’s jib. For a populist, Trump is something of a credible snob that those around him admit. The president-elect was delighted with the willingness of the West Point Valedictorian and Harvard Law Review alumnus to board the pirate ship.
He sent him to Langley.
Where Pompeo didn’t stay long. He wasted no time – or an opportunity for Facetime. Trump’s interest in the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) passed charitable, but when the president received it in those early days, then-director Pompeo is said to have always made sure to apply the personal touch. He made the not-very-convenient hike from Virginia to hold court at the White House, and Trump got to know his spy master perhaps as well as Mike Pence, the president’s seemingly inexhaustibly loyal lieutenant at the end of the ticket.
And Trump certainly got to know his second “Mike P” much better than Secretary Tillerson. By the fall of 2017, Pompeo seemed to be downright licking his chops. He drew both subliminal and public contrast with Tillerson.
Tillerson, for his part, had been installed at Foggy Bottom, but approached the job as a management consultant rather than a diplomat. He pursued a thriving State Department “redesign” that has since been graciously scrapped. Pompeo made it clear that he didn’t have such Picayune worries.
Speaking at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a neocon-friendly think tank that like Pompeo found surprisingly happy campers in the Trump years, the CIA director attacked the micromanagement of his predecessor John Brennan. Brennan, who later became a die-hard, if insane, anti-Trumper, had advocated a “modernization effort” at the CIA. Sound familiar? It was hardly a hop to compare with Tillerson’s arduous style. And Pompeo let Tillerson – that is, Brennan – have it.
“I think less of organizational charts than mission,” Pompeo told the FDD crowd I was accepted into. “I told our team this. I asked everyone to say,” Don’t print the organizational chart! “. Alluding to Exxon, Pompeo said,” I mean, the best companies in the world are restructuring their teams every day. ” He continued, “Start with the mission, not the organizational chart. The organization and team will fill themselves in if everyone is focused on the mission.”
Process was for the ruble. Whether it was the Boy Scout’s “Code of the West” that didn’t allow Tillerson to deny calling Trump “an idiot” or whether Trump was just in a Hawkish mood – the early administration, not to be forgotten, was defined by a pretty insane urge to tear up Barack Obama’s Iran deal, “fire and anger” with North Korea, and what looks like a green light for regime change in Doha – or whether it was just that Pompeo Tillerson was using such tricks outmaneuvered, it matters little now because he has replaced the 45th President.
In a little less than three years in high command, Pompeo extinguished this Iran deal – likely permanently from the looks of the early Biden government. Unusually for a diplomat, he went into the most intrepid maneuver of the Trump presidency, the assassination of the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the legendary Qasem Soleimani. Pompeo viewed Soleimani and many other senior members of the Iranian apparatus as terrorists – a designation that Biden’s occupation has not undone. The US-brokered Abraham Agreement, the normalization between Israel and several Sunni autocracies, is rightly viewed by Pompeo and alumni of the administration as the culmination of an otherwise ruinous year 2020.
But in order not to be parodied as an unreconstructed Neocon, Pompeo also showed that he can play ball. Though the Pyongyang press was never a fan, and Trump renegade John Bolton made it clear that the former CIA director wasn’t sure about this, Secretary Pompeo was essentially doing his duty as a loyal soldier, as the 45th president’s good dealings made with North Korea was. It was a strategy that, despite being denounced, was nonetheless half a thaw, in the worst case partially relieving a customer state in Beijing, and apparently preferable to the night of fight rhetoric currently coming from Lloyd Austin’s Pentagon. Pompeo installed veteran Viceroy Zalmay Khalilzad and granted Trump’s wish to set the table for the withdrawal from Afghanistan, an exit that is still available if Biden is interested, which it is not.
Pompeo has also proven smarter than its doubters are willing to admit. Pompeo is not a foreign policy retainer, let alone a foreign policy Trumpist. He stands to the right of the ex-president and was even brave enough to employ former NeverTrumpers in the upper echelons of his State Department. Indeed, Bolton is probably right. Pompeo, for example, would never have followed North Korea policy like Trump. But he has proven himself to be a master picking and choosing the elements of the new zeitgeist that he likes and selling the new mix as a cohesive sequel from past to future.
Case in point: Pompeo took a term, “principled realism,” favored by former Trump apparatchiks like Michael Anton, a foreign policy moderator, and loaded it up. He even had the common sense to monkey the “endless wars” his old boss spoke of. “Endless wars are the direct result of weakness,” said Pompeo in the days after Soleimani was assassinated. Fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here, you could say.
As of now, Pompeo has something that it didn’t do five years ago: a real record, hate it or love it. No longer is he a meandering ex-businessman from the Koch country, the well-recognized all-star who may have been underachieved, “the Benghazi guy” known only as Hillary Clinton’s Commissioner Heckler. No doubt he now has the résumé to start a credible campaign for the presidency, and man, does he know that?
When Pompeo spoke to the Westside Club last Friday, it was openly billed by C-SPAN as a prelude to the 2024 election. Maybe it’s the discomfort of the Biden moment. The new president was asked last week if he would run as an 81-year-old in 2024, and likely out of Machiavellian necessity, though possibly out of sheer boredom, he just said yes. Iowans enjoy their starting grid status in the American presidential circus. So maybe they’re a highly select audience.
But apparently they like Mike.
Despite Pompeo’s reputation as some sort of unnatural politician, the people of Westside seemed somehow overwhelmed. Despite the primary morning cold in Iowa, a gray-haired audience rolled like many Republicans do, as if COVID-19 was yesterday’s news. You had an eye for the future … Mike Pompeo?
At a time of New Culture War, Pompeo, now banned from visiting this country by the Chinese Communist Party, takes lessons from abroad and applies them at home to weave a great narrative. And it is a story that is gaining relevance.
“The biggest threat, of course, is that we can do something wrong here at home,” Pompeo told the club. “Too many in the Democratic Party honestly don’t understand this in some ways … A woman in the United States Senate said the other day that she wouldn’t vote for a candidate – she wouldn’t vote for a candidate if she were white. We are not. These are not the values we should be advocating. And the Chinese Communist Party is picking up on that. “Pompeo noted the madness on display in Anchorage earlier this month:” My successor’s counterpart was talking about BLM. Think about it. You had the foreign minister [Wang Yi] and Yang Jiechi on Black Lives Matter. “The duo has of course erased the regime’s monstrous reputation in Africa as well as its renewed taste for concentration camps.
Pompeo’s China falsehood, like the falsehood of many, if not most, in the GOP, is clustered in Iran with concerns about Beijing. It’s an ideological flair that ignores the pesky reality that recent US policies have only served to strengthen Iran’s partnership with the Chinese. The unshakable demands of the USA on the internal structure of the peripheral powers of the world hardly deprive Beijing of friends, on the contrary. But Iran’s falsehood seems to be a commitment not only to the Republican Party but also to President Biden. The choice then seems to be between a political party that knows how to really attack the United States’ direct rival, a rival responsible for a global pandemic that is at least shaking the world, and another party, theirs Raison d’être fights bigotry, whether it exists or not – sure enough, they say, that it does exist if Beijing is held responsible for bare minimums.
Pompeo relies on such raw stakes.
The Republican field’s hydrogen bomb of 2024 is Donald Trump. The radius of the explosion if he runs will be sizeable, possibly as successful a clearing of the field as Hillary Clinton’s 2016, who competed only with a party radical (Bernie Sanders) and a nationally anonymous egomaniac (Martin O’Malley), and yet almost lost their nomination. So Trump may have to take some comers, and one could be Pompeo, who would re-enact Mr. Kristol’s imaginary role as some sort of savior of the establishment for him, albeit long after Kristol denounced him. Significantly, Pompeo was not on a recently published list of Republicans Trump favored as his heir, but the details of a possible wider rift between the two men are not yet known.
If Trump signals he’s safe, Pompeo could consider a long whispered run for Kansas Governor in 2022 until next year, stay in the game and see his time. But Trump is unlikely to signal until the last minute, say people around the president, holding his clout over his enemies in the Republican Party until as late as possible and disrupting their plans. Add the fact that now Pompeo clearly wants to become president, he will likely have to play and pass on the reign in Topeka.
Pompeo’s path to power is of course more gilded when Trump isn’t running. Trump’s run seems like a coin toss right now. If it was Trump and everyone else, the field would be a mammoth. For example, Pompeo apparently can’t even teach a foreign affairs series at the Nixon Foundation without sharing the stage with another 2024 aspirant, former National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien.
However, Pompeo would rely on the specificity of the primary system and some important features.
First, he would sell himself as an unparalleled advocate of Israel, trying to conquer the evangelical crown in Iowa, which has a closed caucus system, not a primary one. Delusions that Pompeo is run by something other than power, let alone the Rapture, is the stuff of high-ranking foreign columnists who view America as a safari.
But Pompeo’s evangelical trust, however cultivated it may be, is the real deal.
Ted Cruz, of whom few initially thought that he would do as decently as second overall, was favored in 2016 in such formats, that is, in the assemblies of the states of the religious levels. Pompeo has been laying the foundation for this for some time. He forwarded his address to the Republican National Convention (unprecedented for a seated foreign minister) from Jerusalem (an equally unprecedented foreign city). Westside attendees said Pompeo, who was completing the U.S. Embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, was perhaps the loudest applause of the morning. Pompeo would seek to conquer South Carolina and then possibly Florida, two states where his military confidence and determined support for Israel will play a role.
And Pompeo would try to muscle those like Senator Tom Cotton of China Lane. He would probably raise money too, then gird himself up for a bloodbath, and eventually try to be the last man standing. Even in the age of social media influencers, political parties don’t always anoint celebrities and forces of charism. Just ask President Biden.
If nominated, critics would no doubt try to dredge Pompeo’s curious use of government money to fund his lavish “Madison dinners” as secretary. The American Conservative filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Pompeo’s expenses, noting only what is well known: that Pompeo’s wife, Susan, is his right-wing wife. Pompeo was married and divorced before as a young man, but that’s yesterday’s stuff as well as the fact that the former secretary grew up in Orange County, California instead of Kansas (if you listen carefully you can hear the slightest bit of surfer’s voice). Susan Pompeo is Mike Pompeo’s consigliere, wartime and peacetime; there can be little doubt about that.
That makes the rest of his political environment more naked and harder to report. A former senior adviser said they had never met before getting to the seventh floor of his State Department. In an industry where relationships are power and loyalty, this is so often the game that it is unusual.
A look at Pompeo’s top lieutenants in Foggy Bottom – neocon historian Peter Berkowitz, established Republican Mary Kissel, infamous Elliot Abrams, and even his retention of Iranian addict Brian Hook (a holdover from Tillerson) – reveals a Wall Street Journal Editorial side conservative. This is news for those who would redesign the party. But unlike other rivals on this trail, like former United States envoy Nikki Haley, Pompeo will never denounce Donald Trump. He’s smarter than her.
Pompeo’s rise would be depressing to many conservative reformers, but it would also come at a time when conservatives, and even many who are not on the right, feel that civilization is at stake. Would anyone in this camp really shrink back to vote for him, maybe for Kamala Harris? Pompeo’s “take me or leave me” style is gamble, maybe deliberately that you take it. For anyone who wants to try to prevent this binary, it seems time to take Pompeo as seriously as they take themselves.
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