On the eve of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to the United Kingdom on 8 May, The Guardian ran a piece describing the characteristics of previous American secretaries of state: John Kerry could be “earnestly dull”, George Marshall “plain brilliant”, Kissinger “Machiavellian”, and Hillary Clinton “intensely political”, while when it comes to the incumbent Mike Pompeo, he is “simply a problem”.
“Simply a problem” is a fitting phrase to describe Pompeo, as what he has said and done since taking office is nothing short of problematic.
The root cause of the problem is that he sees his job through the lens of the CIA directorship, and acts accordingly—brutal, domineering and ready to resort to the threat of force.
According to the New York Times, within one year, Pompeo lambasted a long list of regional and international organizations, such as the United Nations, the Organization of American States, African Union, and the International Monetary Fund.
How he treats and interacts with China, the United States’ self-defined “rival,” and with America’s EU allies, speaks volumes about his diplomatic approach.
Under normal circumstances, the US Secretary of State should treat the world’s No. 2 biggest economy with caution and respect. But Pompeo, on the contrary, has practically jumped at every opportunity to bash China, even going as far as scaremongering. In April, during his four-nation visit to Latin America, he warned the Peruvian paper El Comercio about “state-owned enterprises deeply connected to the Chinese government that want to put infrastructure, telecommunications infrastructure inside of your country,” cautioning that “we want to make sure everyone has their eyes wide open. ” While visiting Chile, he said, “China’s trade activities often are deeply connected to their national security mission, their technological goals, their desire to steal intellectual property, to have forced technology transfer, to engage in activity that is not economic.” On 2 May, he said in a Fox News interview that “the Chinese are working to put their systems in networks all across the world so they can steal your information and my information and American universities’, to feed this information back into their system.” During his visit to the UK on 8 May, he derided the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and pressured the British government to ban Huawei technology, claiming that "the Chinese government can rightfully demand access to data flowing through Huawei and ZTE systems. Why would anyone grant such power to a regime that has already grossly violated cyberspace?"
Some commentators have argued that Pompeo comports himself like a gossip-monger, far from what the chief diplomat of the US should be.
Pompeo has also been patronizing and bossy towards EU allies, much to the chagrin of the latter. He repeatedly asked Germany to abandon Nord Stream 2 with Russia, and threatened with sanctions against participating companies, in total disregard of the fact that Germany, France, Austria, and the Netherlands have invested billions of dollars into the project. He warned that the US would restrict intelligence sharing with NATO allies if they continued to use Chinese technology, and threatened EU countries with sanctions if they continued trade ties with Iran. He singled out Huawei in his public speeches in the EU on 9 May: “ask yourself: would the Iron Lady be silent when China violates the sovereignty of nations through corruption or coercion? Would she allow China to control the internet of the future?” He is alienating EU allies like never before.
Pompeo regards himself as an accomplished Secretary of State, and claims he has revived America’s “reputation”. The truth is that his actions are counterproductive, alienating US allies and isolating the country further, thus costing US popularity in the world.
Nord Stream 2 continues, and the Belt and Road thrives, with nearly half of EU countries signing up for BRI cooperation agreements, including G7 member Italy, and Switzerland which is home to the premier global financial centre of Zurich. Pompeo’s arrogance was certainly not well received in Europe, prompting The Guardian to run the headline, “Mike Pompeo, the bully boy calls at the No.10”, claims that Pompeo wants to discuss global problems with Theresa May, when he himself is the problem.
It is fair to say that Pompeo’s China policy has resulted in Sino-US ties plunging to a new low. He restricts visa applications by Chinese students and scholars, has talked up a “clash of civilizations” between China and the US, and smears the Chinese as people who steal US technology. All these actions are poised to imperil bilateral ties immediately and in the long run. As China and the US are inextricably linked across every conceivable aspect of society, these aggressive moves will cut both ways, for better or worse. The policy pursued by Pompeo has caused pushback from people from both countries.
What is ironic is that the US-North Korea summit could have been a feather under his hat, but Pompeo pushed it too far and derailed the meeting, hence the current impasse.
In his speech at Texas A&M University on 15 April, in discussing his past service in the US government, he admitted: “we lied, we cheated, we stole… we had entire training courses. It reminds me of the glory of the American experiment.” This is a telling statement, especially coming from a former CIA director.
American diplomacy now has a Secretary of State at the helm who refuses to step out of his CIA director mindset—we all should worry about where the world is heading, as though what we have in front of us is not chaos enough.