#FSProud: How Mike Pompeo lost the trust of the Foreign Service

#FSProud: How Mike Pompeo lost the trust of the Foreign Service
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The West Point Honor Code requires that “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” Mike PompeoMike PompeoPompeo visits Hill to support GOP push for Iran sanctions Pompeo joins GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill to introduce Iran sanctions act House passes legislation to elevate cybersecurity at the State Department MORE made that solemn pledge as a plebe at the U.S. Military Academy in 1982. Four years later, he graduated first in his class, then volunteered to serve as a tank platoon leader in West Germany during the Cold War. Later, he earned a law degree from Harvard, and eventually became a successful entrepreneur in Wichita, Kan. In 2010, Pompeo won the 4th Congressional District and joined the House Intelligence Committee. Donald Trump tapped Pompeo first as the Director of the CIA, and — since April 2018 — as the 70th Secretary of State.

For decades, Mike Pompeo was a man of grit, accomplishment, and pedigree — until he made a Faustian bargain with President TrumpDonald TrumpUS gives examples of possible sanctions relief to Iran GOP lawmaker demands review over FBI saying baseball shooting was 'suicide by cop' House passes bill aimed at stopping future Trump travel ban MORE.

Pompeo traded that West Point honor code for fealty to his polar opposite: a spoiled rich kid who avoided military service. While Pompeo was an army officer, Trump was a New York playboy casino-building real estate magnate, who later became a reality TV producer, and then U.S. President. When Pompeo traded the West Point honor code to advance Donald Trump and — by extension — Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiAndrew Giuliani to meet with Trump before potential New York gubernatorial campaign MyPillow files countersuit against Dominion Voting Systems Guilfoyle named as national chair of Greitens' Senate campaign in Missouri MORE’s suspect adventures in Ukraine, he lost the respect of the Foreign Service.


American Foreign Service officers and military officers are, in a metaphorical sense, cousins. They work together regularly on the most complicated issues in American foreign policy — whether in the combat zones of Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, or Syria, at embassies in fragile states such as Bangladesh and Nigeria, or in the game of great power competition with Russia and China. Junior officers, both military or foreign service, eventually develop into senior officers after spending decades together in war zones and the interagency battlefields. Of course, the Foreign Service and military cultures have differences as well. The Foreign Services is the soft side of American power — where diplomacy, critical thinking and persuasion represent the art of power projection. Still the ethos of service, patriotism, honor, and sacrifice runs extremely deep in the Foreign Service, as it does in the military. Mike Pompeo was a perfect choice to lead State — a man of values and service, a leader who matured in an adjacent, mission-oriented institution. He could have been a Colin PowellColin Luther PowellOvernight Defense: Biden makes his Afghanistan decision Colin Powell on Afghanistan: 'We've done all we can do' Is nonpartisan effectiveness still possible? MORE or a George Schultz, lions of the Department.

Instead, Pompeo made three catastrophic leadership errors.

First, he supported an irregular channel of communication and private diplomacy in Ukraine outside of normal, regular diplomatic channels led by Ambassador Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchBlinken tells State Department staff 'I have your back' Trump has discussed possible pardons for three eldest children, Kushner: report Former Giuliani associates plead not guilty to new fraud charges MORE and later by Chargé d'Affaires, Bill Taylor. It is not unusual for a president or secretary to deploy back-channel private envoys to assist in resolving knotty diplomatic challenges. In this case, however, Rudy Giuliani was acting to advance the president’s personal interests (and potentially the former mayor’s own financial interests). When Pompeo allowed this irregular channel to go forward, he undermined Ambassadors Yovanovitch and Taylor and devalued their legitimacy in Ukraine — but more importantly, he devalued the very essence of diplomacy.

Second, Pompeo explicitly allowed a pervasive culture at State and within the administration that humiliated his most senior officers leading American efforts in Ukraine. He could have publicly supported Marie Yovanovitch, but he also could have reached out to her privately. Requiring Ambassador Yovanovitch to leave post on a few hours’ notice was intended to humiliate her, sow chaos in the embassy, and send an unmistakable message to all Foreign Service Officers, both in Kyiv and State’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs: Don’t mess with Rudy Giuliani, even when his activities conflict with American national security priorities.

Third — and well beyond the scope of the impeachment hearings — Pompeo oversees a culture of political retribution aimed squarely at State Department career staff. In an August 2019 report, the Inspector General found “evidence of leadership and management deficiencies and mistreatment of career employees including disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees, accusations against and harassment of career employees premised on claims that they were ‘disloyal’ based on their perceived political views, and retaliation associated with conflicts of interest.”


Again, just this past week, the Inspector General issued another report that reviewed allegations of politicized and other improper personnel practices involving the Office of the Secretary. The report revealed that senior political appointees ended the assignment of a career employee on perceived political view, association with the prior administration, and perceived national origin. State Department management rests with the secretary, this culture of political retribution manifested itself in the mistreatment of Ambassador Yovanovitch and the systematic lack of support to Ambassador Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent.

West Point offered Mike Pompeo core values and superior leadership training which could have been the foundation to serve as a transformative Secretary of State.

Yet, former Four Star General Barry McCaffrey and fellow West Point graduate said it best: “The Secretary of State’s reputation in history is on the line. If he does not publicly support these dedicated professional and patriotic American diplomats he will have joined a clumsy criminal enterprise by the President.” 

Simply put, Pompeo sacrificed his West Point values to political graft and corruption.

The trending hashtag #FSProud represents the pride in our career diplomats who protect and defend our country every day in some of the toughest places on earth. Pompeo has lost the trust of thousands of Foreign Service officers. He can no longer lead. 

R. David Harden is managing director of the Georgetown Strategy Group and former assistant administrator at USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance. He was a minister counselor in the Senior Foreign Service. In May of 2019, President Trump awarded Mr. Harden the Distinguished Service Award, the highest award in the Foreign Service, for “sustained extraordinary accomplishment in the conduct of the foreign policy.”