In Depth

What kind of secretary of state will Mike Pompeo be?

Donald Trump’s pick to be America’s top diplomat is a man made in his own image

Mike Pompeo is all but guaranteed to be confirmed as the new US secretary of state this week, replacing the outgoing Rex Tillerson in Donald Trump’s administration.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the confirmation of the former CIA director yesterday, after Republican Senator Rand Paul “bowed to pressure from President Trump and dropped his opposition”, says Politico’s Jake Sherman. Pompeo is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate later this week.

“After calling continuously for weeks for Director Pompeo to support President Trump’s belief that the Iraq War was a mistake, and that it is time to leave Afghanistan, today I received confirmation that Director Pompeo agrees with President Trump,” said Paul.

The senator’s last-minute reversal tilted the balance in Pompeo’s favour. Although “nine Democrats opposed Pompeo’s nomination, eleven Republicans voted in favour, paving the way for his speedy confirmation”, says the Financial Times.

But what kind of secretary of state will he be?

Pompeo the counterpuncher

The US president has repeatedly described himself as a “counterpuncher”, and “the same could be said for Pompeo in his approach to international affairs”, says The Atlantic.

“When someone punches you in the nose you can’t walk away. They may punch you in the nose again,” the then-congressman Pompeo said in 2013, while explaining why he wanted to maintain a modest US military presence in the Middle East.

“If they bring the fight to you, you have to continue to do battle with them. And we still have radical Islamic terrorists who want to kill us here in America,” he said.

He has also echoed Trump’s “America first” foreign policy agenda.

Arguing in favour of American intervention in Syria back in 2016, Pompeo told his constituents in Wichita: “What starts in Damascus doesn’t stay in Damascus, as much as I might wish that it were so.”

He added: “The idea somehow that America can just withdraw - the line says, ‘We’ll just let them all kill each other’ - simply won’t protect us here in Kansas.”

Pompeo the anti-Tillerson

It is widely believed that Tillerson was fired by Trump after one too many disagreements. Late last summer, The Washington Post reported that the president had “come to see his top diplomat’s approach to world affairs as ‘totally establishment’”.

Pompeo, on the other hand, is the antithesis to Tillerson. As Bloomberg’s Nafeesa Syeed says: “The former CIA chief and Tea Party Republican from Kansas is everything Trump likes in an appointee - decisive, combative, and loyal.”

While Tillerson “gained a reputation for being isolated and aloof at the State Department”, says Syeed, Pompeo held monthly “Meet With Mike” sessions where CIA officers “shot him questions in an open setting”.

And “while Tillerson has in many ways rolled back the State Department’s global presence and centralised its decision-making, Pompeo empowered CIA staffers”, she says.

Pompeo the diplomat

Pompeo is reported to have secretly met with Kim Jong Un recently, the most high-level meeting between the US and North Korea since then-secretary of state Madeleine Albright visited the North towards the end of the Clinton administration.

The former CIA chief is expected to play a key role in laying the groundwork ahead of the landmark summit between Trump and the North Korean leader. According to The Daily Telegraph, Japanese media has reported that following their secret meeting earlier this month, Kim told Pompeo: “This is the first time that I have met someone with the same kind of guts.”

Harry J. Kazianis, the director of defence studies at US think tank the Center for the National Interest, is certainly convinced. In an article for Fox News, Kazianis says: “Knowing that Pompeo has seen the intelligence, has met with Kim Jong Un and has a better understanding than most likely anyone else of the stakes involved, there is no one better to have as our secretary of state at this dangerous time.”

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