Mike Pompeo is the embodiment of a fine U.S. diplomat. Eloquent speaker and West Point graduate. Army veteran and former top intelligence officer. Family man and devout church-goer.
The way he skillfully and cheerfully engages his audiences at press briefings and during speeches offers a case study for stern-faced politicians with their austere public personas. In a speech in April 2019, Mr. Pompeo jokingly lauded the American intelligence practices of lying, cheating and stealing, knowing that it would meet with resounding approval from the audience.
Politics aside, it takes a person of strong resolve to resist his charm.
Yet the Western media has been overtly unfair to Mr. Pompeo of late. The New York Times claimed him to be "the worst secretary of state in American history, without a single diplomatic achievement," while CNN commented that "Mike Pompeo is botching his job." Across the Atlantic, The Guardian implored its readers to "Forget Putin, it's meddling by America's evangelical enforcer that should scare us."
But whether or not Mr. Pompeo can be seen as having any achievements to his name depends entirely on the angle of view, and how we judge the actual effects of his actions.
Mr. Pompeo's staunch defense of Donald Trump has earned him the dubious accolade of being among this administration’s longest-serving officials. And yet despite his unwavering loyalty to the president, the way he manages the Trump administration's foreign affairs tells an altogether different story of who benefits from this political zeal.
Part of the mission of any U.S. secretary of state is ensuring American leadership around the world. The concept of American leadership is infallible to some, taken for granted and unchallenged by U.S. politicians and American allies since World War II, with tacit consent from China.
But to this end, Mr. Pompeo's actions are counterproductive: coercing allies to side with the U.S. against China on Huawei’s 5G technology, fabricating coronavirus conspiracy theories (which have since been denounced by the U.S.-led Five Eyes intelligence alliance) and quitting major UN institutions like the World Health Organization.
These moves have left many Washington observers confused. How can the U.S. be a world leader while simultaneously bullying its allies, trashing multilateral institutions and pushing for an economic decoupling from China that no one else supports?
Richard Hass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in The Washington Post, "Pompeo [has] sought to commit the United States to a path that is bound to fail."
This assertion was substantiated by the latest Gallup Rating World Leaders report published on July 27. It shows that assessments of U.S. leadership around the world are historically low for the third year in a row. Perhaps even more troubling for Washington is that the report was compiled before the travails of the coronavirus pandemic further exposed this government's flaws.
Many of the people who grew up in a world governed by rules and institutions created in America's image lament the fading of U.S. leadership. So why is Mr. Pompeo doing everything he can to estrange American allies and damage his country's reputation worldwide? Is he on a secret mission to undermine Trump's reelection campaign? Because the more loyalty he demonstrates to President Trump, the less popular his president becomes.
Instead of making America great again, Mr. Pompeo is making the United States unpopular again.
Withering U.S. leadership on the international stage is not in the interests of the United States of course, but for countries that have suffered at the hands of American military intervention and bombing campaigns, it might not be seen as an entirely negative outcome.
Mr. Pompeo is not so much a missionary as a mercenary. He loves to quote from the Bible, positing himself as a devout follower of God. But it is never God’s intent for his followers to lie. His claims about seeing evidence that the coronavirus came from a lab, or that China is hiding virus samples, or that China is stealing U.S. vaccines, are just that—untruths fabricated and disseminated by the U.S. State Department.
Of course, attacking China is convenient. It is a tactic employed by many U.S. politicians looking to score political points. But when the Chinese people, especially those long-time admirers of the American way of doing things, read of his attacks on China—the groundless accusations and outright lies—they begin to question the integrity and ethics of U.S. politicians and the American system as a whole. As Ezra F. Vogel, the Henry Ford II professor of the Social Sciences emeritus at Harvard University, pointed out in a recent article for The Washington Post, "This strengthens their patriotism and willingness to support the Chinese Government against Washington."