Mike Pompeo's disastrous legacy

Mike Pompeo's disastrous legacy
© Greg Nash

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoDeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Pompeo not ruling out 2024 White House bid Houthis: US sanctions prolonging war in Yemen MORE’s decision last week to end five cultural exchange programs with China is another demonstration of why America needs a new global diplomat. 

U.S. cultural exchange and educational programs with other nations are not just morally right — they bring lots of money into our country. International students contributed $44 billion to the U.S. economy in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Soft power is a critical tool in the national security toolbox. 

Most outgoing administration secretaries consider their legacies. What will be the legacy of Sec. Pompeo?


In my view, Pompeo will be viewed as a survivor of political and cultural wars who presided over the full hollowing out of the U.S. State Department while advocating wildly failed policies. 

Historians will write that Sec. Pompeo defended the Ukraine operation that led to impeachment hearings over whether or not an American president deprived an ally of much needed foreign and military assistance for the sake of digging up dirt about a political rival who then was elected president. He left American diplomats without a cheerleader as their boss. He also left U.S. allies confused and disappointed. 

On both domestic and international fronts, Pompeo will be remembered as a lightening rod. He was always willing to mix church and state by giving speeches to religious groups or appearing at the Republican National Convention from Israel as if foreign policy is a prop for politicians, not a tool for national security. He seemed to forget that American national security is not the same as domestic partisan politics. 

At home, Pompeo will be seen as having artfully dodged inspectors general and members of Congress looking to probe his activities based on a whistle-blower complaint and a report by the internal State Department watchdog agency looking into how the Pompeos had allegedly misused a political appointee who is a full-time State Department employee for personal errands. One aide said the employee regularly picked up dry cleaning, made restaurant reservations and walked the family dog, Sherman. The aide said multiple State Department employees had witnessed the transgressions by the Pompeos. But the issue never gained real traction.

On foreign policy, Pompeo could win an award as a hawk among hawks. His signature issue was Iran and the failed notion of having the United States withdraw from the multilateral accord on containing Iranian nuclear ambitions. He backed mounting sanctions and a drone strike that killed an important Iranian general, and an unsuccessful attempt to extend a U.S. arms embargo against Iran leading to a humiliating vote against the U.S. resolution. 


But his greatest legacy remains the hollowing out of the U.S. State Department and the low morale affecting many of the 70,000 plus public servants who work for the Department here and around the world to keep this country safe and secure. Many diplomats contend that Pompeo has done long-term damage in failing to fill senior positions and ensuring that talented career diplomats either resigned or were forced out.

Great secretaries of state leave a mark. One can think of Dean Acheson and the Cold War, Henry Kissinger and China; Madeleine Albright and the Balkans, and other secretaries of state who did bold and memorable things. President-election Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenState sanctions Ukrainian billionaire over alleged corruption Australian PM Morrison says Biden will join first-ever 'Quad' meeting Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China MORE, is up to the job. But it won’t be easy. Pompeo has left a big mess.

Tara D. Sonenshine is former U.S. under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.