April 30, 2018

IntelBrief: New Secretary, Same Issues

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) .
  • On April 26, Mike Pompeo was confirmed by the U.S Senate and sworn in as the country’s 70th Secretary of State.
  • Secretary Pompeo, who left his post as director of the CIA, faces numerous and pressing global challenges.
  • Pompeo inherits a State Department in disarray and demoralized by an administration that does not value diplomacy.
  • From North Korea to Syria, the U.S. needs to engage in coherent and effective diplomatic efforts.


On April 26, CIA Director Mike Pompeo was confirmed by a 57-42 vote in the U.S. Senate and sworn in later the same day. He assumes the responsibilities as the country’s 70th Secretary of State at a time when U.S. global leadership is in decline. Further, the Trump administration has been open about its disdain for traditional diplomacy, especially concerning complex global issues requiring deft negotiations. It is reported that Secretary Pompeo is much more aligned with the worldview of President Trump. This might result in a less ‘diplomatic’ style of diplomacy: more confrontational and with a preference for bilateral relationships. President Trump has been very clear in his transactional approach to diplomacy, viewing agreements and treaties as ‘deals.’

By all reports, the U.S. State Department is in dire straits, understaffed, underfunded, and publicly sidelined by President Trump. Former Secretary Tillerson was fired via Tweet when the differences between his statements and policies and those of the President became too apparent. There are still many unfilled senior positions in the department’s leadership ranks and in the career senior foreign service. There are also far too many unfilled ambassadorships, without the White House having even nominated a person for the position. For example, the historic meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in took place while the U.S. is without a permanent ambassador to South Korea. Last week, the Trump administration announced that it was nominating Admiral Harry Harris, the outgoing commander of U.S. Pacific Command and the expected ambassador to Australia, as the next ambassador to South Korea.

Immediately upon taking office, Secretary Pompeo departed on a quick four-nation trip, traveling to Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Jordan. Speaking in Brussels where he attended a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, Secretary Pompeo said it was very likely that the U.S. would pull out of the multilateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—better known as the Iran nuclear deal—in May. Pompeo stated that ‘the President has been clear -- absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the shortcomings, the flaws of the deal -- he is unlikely to stay in that deal past this May.’ The other signatories of the JCPOA—the E.U., France, Germany, the U.K., Russia, China, and Iran—strongly object to such a unilateral move by the U.S. Secretary Pompeo supports pulling out of the JCPOA. Former Secretary Tillerson, along with Secretary of Defense Mattis, have been proponents of maintaining the JCPOA.

The coming months will be filled with more challenges than normal for the new secretary. Syria continues to worsen internally and create tensions externally. Russia continues to openly use active measures against Western societies and their elections, as well as continues to occupy Crimea and engage in active fighting in eastern Ukraine. China is engaging in more aggressive moves in its sphere of influence, to include building islands to bolster its maritime claims. Closer to home, the U.S. is still intent on renegotiating NAFTA with Canada and Mexico. Tensions still exist in the Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and the Saudi-led war in Yemen rages on. Finally, much attention must be paid to what is happening in the Korean peninsula.


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