Here is a modest proposal for future presidents of the United States: Secretaries of state — who act as the nation's chief diplomat — should actually be diplomats.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has neither the education nor the instincts of a diplomat, a flaw that becomes apparent nearly every time he encounters a female journalist. So it was last week when he was interviewed by NPR's Mary Louise Kelly and she asked him questions about President Trump's Ukraine scandal. Pompeo cut the interview short, and then — according to Kelly — privately and profanely chewed her out. He even challenged her to find Ukraine on a map
And then, when the incident was publicized, he attacked her integrity and smarts.
"It is no wonder that the American people distrust many in the media when they so consistently demonstrate their agenda and their absence of integrity," Pompeo said in a statement released by the State Department.
This kind of behavior is boorish, bullying, misogynistic, and needlessly offensive. It is anything but diplomatic.
That is no surprise. Pompeo serves a president for whom bullying is more than a tool for getting things done — it appears to be his raison d'etre. Over the weekend, Trump tweeted an apparent threat against Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who has served as one of the leaders among the House impeachment managers. At the same time, a recording emerged of a 2018 dinner in which Trump ordered the end of Marie Yovanovitch's term as ambassador to Ukraine with the words, "Take her out." Trump can't fire somebody without sounding like a cheap movie mobster ordering a hit.
But the truth is that Pompeo doesn't need Trump's influence to be a jerk; his own ability to negotiate situations sensibly and peacefully is questionable. Resolving disputes without playing tough guy isn't really his thing. Pompeo went to West Point — as we've been told repeatedly, he graduated first in his class. He earned a reputation as a hawk during his time in Congress, particularly where Iraq was concerned. And when Trump came to office, Pompeo went to work running the CIA, a job that includes overseeing drone attacks and other covert operations against America's enemies. As secretary of state, he urged the assassination of Iran's General Qassem Soleimani. The entirety of his public service has been spent in arenas where disputes are often settled with violence, or threats of violence.
The secretary of state is one of the most important positions in the United States government — its influence in foreign affairs aside, the office is fourth in the presidential line of succession. When President Nixon resigned from office in 1974, he didn't write the letter to Vice President Gerald Ford, but to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Given the office's importance, it is odd that so few of its modern practitioners bring diplomatic experience to the job. Rex Tillerson, Pompeo's successor, was previously an oil executive, which was nearly relevant — the job involved hammering out oil contracts with Russia. But trying to make a profit in the energy industry isn't the same thing as trying to keep peace in the world.
Some of America's most notable secretaries of state since World War II — George C. Marshall, Alexander Haig, and Colin Powell — served as high-ranking military officers before heading up the Department of State. Many of the rest — Dean Rusk, William P. Rogers, Cyrus Vance, George Schultz, Warren Christopher, and John Kerry — had either served in the military or the Department of Defense during their adult lives. Pompeo is part of the latter group.
That might not immediately seem odd, but ask yourself a question: How many secretaries of defense during the same time period spent any part of their previous career in America's diplomatic corps?
As far as I can tell, just one: Donald Rumsfeld, who served as defense secretary under Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, was also briefly the U.S. ambassador to NATO in the early 1970s. NATO, of course, is famously a military alliance.
Mike Pompeo's ugly treatment of a reporter is problematic — and undemocratic — on its own terms. It also hints at why he isn't qualified to hold the job he has, and exposes broader problems with America's approach to the world. He isn't the exception to the rule. All too often, our top diplomats are better prepared — by training and temperament — to fight. Is it any surprise that America's foreign policy often seems over-militarized?
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