Why Secretary Pompeo should be the next Kissinger
Soon after President Trump said he’d announce his pick to replace John Bolton as national security advisor this week, Washington was abuzz: How about Mike Pompeo?
It may be a good idea.
Between 1973 and 1975, Henry Kissinger served as both secretary of state and national security advisor, becoming Richard Nixon’s foreign-policy Svengali. This “Kissinger model” may better suit Trump’s management style than the formula known as a “team of rivals.”
Friends and acquaintances of the president’s often tell me he’s a good listener who likes to hear many points of view before making important decisions. But public comments after Bolton’s ouster show otherwise: While Trump appreciates some expert advice, he’s quite impatient with too many bickering adults in one room.
Which brings us to Bolton and Pompeo, who, before serving Trump, took very similar foreign-policy positions. Both were averse to rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea. Both advocated principled, muscular American foreign policy while recognizing global realities and their limitations. And, yes, both advocated replacing tyrannies that threaten America and our allies with more benign regimes.
Then, as Pompeo emerged from the CIA shadows to become secretary of state, he quickly grasped Trump’s aversion to the words “regime change.” As top diplomat he adopted, instead, the president’s favorite model — economic “maximum pressure” to force regimes to change behavior.
In internal Cabinet consultations, Bolton — a nuclear-disarmament official in the George W. Bush era — apparently wasn’t as pliant.
Publicly trashing his ousted advisor Wednesday, the president zeroed in on Bolton’s “Libya model” — words that raised Pyongyang’s ire in 2018. “I don’t blame Kim Jong-un,” Trump said. “He wanted nothing to do with John Bolton.”
Bolton’s offending words had nothing to do with the Obama-era ouster killing of Moammar Khadafy in 2011 — a nightmarish example of regime change-gone-awry. In fact, they concerned Libya’s 2003 decision to decommission its nascent nuclear program and let international and American inspectors oversee and inspect it.
But when Bolton made this “model” clear in television interviews on the eve of the Trump-Kim Singapore summit, all Kim heard was regime change — a concept Bolton never disavowed.
Pompeo, by contrast, pointedly said he’s “not for regime change” during his April 2018 Senate confirmation as secretary of state. It may have sharply deviated from his past as one of the most foreign-policy hawkish members of Congress, but it was enough for senators — and apparently for Trump, too.
And on Tuesday, Pompeo confirmed that a no-preconditions meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations later this month is in the offing.
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Bolton reportedly fiercely pushed against such a powwow. Old Pompeo would have agreed with him, but now he recognizes Trump’s eagerness to put his deal-making prowess on display, so why not meet an odious adversary.
But wait, no preconditions?
While Trump limits his demands of Iran to no nukes, Pompeo is yet to rescind his often-bandied list of 12-point demands. Those include an end to Iran’s presence in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, its support for terrorists and hostility toward Israel — and, gasp, dismantling the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards’ ideology and terror-exporting arm.
Such demands amount to, well, if not regime change, at least a call on the Khomeinist regime to shed core ideology and its reason for being.
Without a voice advocating toughness, Trump may give away too much as he makes deals with tyrants. But he may have trouble handling a cacophony of too many voices, so he can do worse than concentrating all advice in the hands of one foreign-policy hawk. For now, and until his signature “You’re fired,” Trump seems to like and get along well with Pompeo.
The Kissinger model could work.
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