Mike Pompeo: A Soldier, Spy Chief And Tea Party Republican To Become A Diplomat | WGLT

Mike Pompeo: A Soldier, Spy Chief And Tea Party Republican To Become A Diplomat

Mar 13, 2018
Originally published on March 14, 2018 1:20 am

Mike Pompeo, whom President Trump tapped Tuesday to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, has an extraordinary résumé. He graduated at the top of his class at West Point. He served as a tank officer in Europe. He went to Harvard Law School.

He was a corporate lawyer who launched a successful aerospace business. He got elected to Congress as a Tea Party Republican from Kansas in 2010. For more than a year, he has run the CIA.

However, he has never been a diplomat, either by profession or temperament.

"Pompeo is very much a hard-liner on issues of national security, broadly," said Ian Bremmer, head of the Eurasia Group, which analyzes global politics. "He's smart, but he's also quite bombastic, and that plays well with Trump. But that doesn't necessarily support a balanced national security policy."

Pompeo recently declared that the U.S. would not soften its stance on North Korea ahead of planned talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump.

"Make no mistake about it," Pompeo said on Fox News Sunday. "While these negotiations are going on, there will be no concessions made."

Pompeo has previously suggested he favors regime change in North Korea, though, he said in December, "I've learned the art of nuance in my 10 months" at the CIA. "So suffice it to say, I hope that diplomatic and economic pressure will help resolve this in a way that doesn't require a military outcome that I know nobody is excited about."

Pompeo has also been a leading critic of the nuclear deal with Iran. He took the unusual step of sending a warning letter to Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Al-Quds force, which operates in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

"I sent a note to Qasem Soleimani because he indicated that forces under his control might threaten the U.S.," Pompeo said during a conference last year at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library outside Los Angeles. "He refused to open the letter. It didn't break my heart."

'Very good chemistry'

"With Mike, we've had a very good chemistry from the beginning," Trump told reporters Tuesday, before leaving for California. Trump said Gina Haspel, the deputy director at the CIA, would be replacing Pompeo.

One of Pompeo's strengths is his strong personal bond with the president.

Pompeo has described the intelligence briefing he provides most mornings at the White House in positive terms.

"We have a half-hour, 40 minutes every day. He asks lots of hard questions as any good intelligence consumer would. He's very engaged."

Leon Panetta, who served as a CIA director under President Barack Obama, says he and Pompeo speak regularly about the job they've shared.

"God bless Mike Pompeo for having the ability to sit down with the president and have the president listen. I was a little worried about that," said Panetta, who appeared alongside Pompeo at the event held at the Reagan library. "But if Mike is doing that, and the president is engaged, that is extremely important to the president being able to do the job."

However, The Washington Post recently challenged this scenario, reporting that the face-to-face presidential briefings tended to play down or avoid matters relating to Russia, which might upset Trump.

"Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump's ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter," the newspaper reported.

Pompeo's supporters say he'll be a much better fit as secretary of state than was Rex Tillerson, who often seemed out of sync with the president.

Pompeo is likely to have far more credibility as the president's surrogate when he speaks to foreign leaders.

Job Upgrade

"To my mind, this absolutely represents a job upgrade for Mike Pompeo," said Danielle Pletka of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

"Dealing with the North Korea nuclear challenge, dealing with the Iranian regional challenge, dealing with the China challenge, the Russia challenge, all of those things are an opportunity for Mike Pompeo."

After winning election to Congress in 2010, Pompeo has risen rapidly as an aggressive partisan.

Before he joined the Trump administration, he was perhaps best known as an outspoken critic of Hillary Clinton and the way she handled the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, when she was secretary of state. The U.S. ambassador and three security personnel were killed in the attack.

"Why don't you fire someone?" Pompeo said at the 2015 congressional hearing. "How come no one has been held accountable to date?"

"In the absence of finding dereliction or breach of duty, there could not be immediate action taken," Clinton said.

"The folks in Kansas don't think that was accountability," Pompeo said.

On most issues, it's hard to find any daylight between Trump and Pompeo.

Pompeo even says the president's less-than-diplomatic tweets — directed at rivals — have worked to the CIA's benefit.

"Our adversaries respond to the tweets in ways that were helpful to us — to understand command and control issues, who's listening to what messages, how those messages are resonating around the world," Pompeo said.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent. Follow him @gregmyre1.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Rex Tillerson is out as secretary of state. CIA Director Mike Pompeo is the likely nominee to succeed him. And Pompeo's deputy, Gina Haspel, is the choice to lead the CIA. NPR's Greg Myre covers national security, and he has this profile of Pompeo as he makes the transition from spy chief to the top diplomat.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Mike Pompeo has a remarkable resume - top of his class at West Point, tank officer in Europe, Harvard Law School, corporate lawyer, successful businessman, Republican congressman from Kansas. And for the past year, he's run the CIA for President Trump. However, he's never been a diplomat, either by profession or temperament.

IAN BREMMER: He's quite bombastic. That plays well with Trump, but that doesn't necessarily support a balanced American national security policy.

MYRE: Ian Bremmer runs the Eurasia Group, which analyzes global politics.

BREMMER: Pompeo is very much a hard-liner on issues of national security broadly, and he wants to be seen as making a mark for himself.

MYRE: Pompeo has called for ripping up the nuclear deal with Iran. He also took the unusual step of sending a letter of warning to the head of an Iranian military force, a group the U.S. normally doesn't contact. Pompeo seems to enjoy bucking convention. Here he is telling the story at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE POMPEO: What we were communicating to him in that letter was that we will hold he and Iran accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control. He refused to open the letter - didn't break my heart to be honest with you.

MYRE: Pompeo also talks tough on North Korea. Last weekend, he told "Fox News Sunday" that the U.S. would not ease up despite the prospect of talks between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

POMPEO: Make no mistake about it. While these negotiations are going on, there will be no concessions made.

MYRE: As CIA director, Pompeo has delivered the intelligence briefing to the president most mornings at the White House, and they have developed a strong bond.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POMPEO: We have half hour, 40 minutes every day. He asks lots of hard questions, as any good intelligence consumer would.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He's engaged.

POMPEO: He's very engaged and very appreciative of the information that we deliver to him.

MYRE: Leon Panetta, a CIA director under President Barack Obama, says he speaks with Pompeo about the job they've shared and the need to have the president's attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEON PANETTA: God bless Mike Pompeo for the ability to sit down and brief the president and have the president listen to the intelligence reports.

MYRE: Pompeo's supporters say this relationship, along with his background as a military officer and CIA chief, will give him credibility when speaking on Trump's behalf to foreign leaders.

DANIELLE PLETKA: To my mind, this represents absolutely a job upgrade for Mike Pompeo.

MYRE: That's Danielle Pletka of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

PLETKA: Dealing with the North Korea nuclear challenge, dealing with the Iranian regional challenge and then with all of those kinds of things, dealing with the China challenge, the Russia challenge - all of those things are an opportunity for Mike Pompeo.

MYRE: On most issues, it's hard to find any daylight between Trump and Pompeo. He even says the president's less-than-diplomatic tweets directed at overseas rivals have worked to the CIA's benefit behind the scenes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POMPEO: Our adversaries responded to those tweets in ways that were helpful to us to understand command and control issues, who's listening to what messages, how those messages are resonating around the world.

MYRE: The world, as Pompeo likes to say, was full of problems before Trump ever sent a tweet from the White House. But as the spymaster becomes a diplomat, he'll now be responsible for translating the president's message to a global audience. Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MARTINIS' "HUNG OVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.