Thursday, Sep 20, 2018
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Pompeo’s promise


Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo smiles after his introduction before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a recent confirmation hearing.


Given the importance in the conduct of foreign relations of presenting a consistent position to countries around the world, America will be better off if Mike Pompeo is confirmed as secretary of state.

Mr. Pompeo’s hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last Thursday went relatively smoothly, although he was questioned somewhat vigorously by some senators on some points and the committee’s recommendation on his confirmation is far from certain.

WILL TOMER: Pompeo faces contentious confirmation hearing

Most important was the fact that Mr. Pompeo pledged to oil the machinery and replace missing parts of the Department of State. He seems dedicated to putting it once again in the business of formulating America’s foreign policy at home and conducting it with America’s friends and enemies overseas.

The recently departed Rex Tillerson, President Donald Trump’s fired secretary of state, was a product of the corporate world. He had taken a closed-box approach to managing the institution. Further, he permitted intolerable vacancies in leadership positions and had agreed to crippling cuts in its budget.

There are three good reasons to believe that Mr. Pompeo will keep his word when he says he will put the Department of State back on the rails.

The first is what he did as CIA director: By most reports, he honored the professionals, showing respect and trying to get their best work from them.

The second reason is that even prior to his confirmation hearing last Thursday, Mr. Pompeo had begun consultations with previous secretaries of state, including Hillary Clinton, and other senior former diplomats, on policy and how to run the place to best effect. These are management principles that reflect Mr. Pompeo’s life experience as the owner of a business and a Kansas congressman — getting out and pressing the flesh is the starting point. Mr. Pompeo also brings some smarts to the job: He graduated first in his class from West Point and picked up a Harvard law degree after serving in the Army.

The third reason to expect better performance from Mr. Pompeo than from Mr. Tillerson is that he has developed, through his CIA briefing sessions with Mr. Trump, the trust of the president. Americans can hope that this relationship will preclude the president from undercutting the foreign policy positions that Mr. Pompeo will be presenting through formal and informal White House communications. Nothing is more destructive to a secretary of state’s credibility than to have the White House contradict a position he is advocating, particularly when the secretary is overseas.

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Renewed strength and capacity at the Department of State and improved understanding with the president will not, of course, diminish the magnitude of the issues that Mr. Pompeo will face, should he be confirmed by the Senate. These include the upcoming Trump-Kim Jong Un meeting, what if anything to do about Syria, the future of the Iran agreement, Israel-Palestine, and even a possible meeting between Mr. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The immediacy of these issues underlines the importance of who presides at the Department of State.

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