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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Pompeo, Mike

  • Secretar of State, Nominee
  • CIA Director, 2016-2017
  • Member, House of Republicans (R-KS), 2011-2016

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Mike Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas who was voted into Congress as part of the “tea party” surge in 2011, is President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. Prior to that, he served as Trump’s CIA director. He is known for his vocal criticism of the Iran nuclear deal, anti-Islam rhetoric, promotion of broad government surveillance powers, politicization of the Benghazi tragedy, and extremist social views, including opposing abortion in cases of rape and incest.[1] Commentators have noted[2] how Pompeo’s Religious Right outlook has led him to develop close associations with anti-Islam zealots like the Center for Security Policy‘s Frank Gaffney, who once called Pompeo “one of the most intelligent men I know in public life.”[3]

Pompeo’s nomination as secretary of state had been rumored for months, as Trump had repeated friction with Tillerson.[4] Speaking to reporters the day he nominated Pompeo, Trump said of Pompeo, “We are always on the same wavelength. The relationship has always been good and that is what I need as secretary of state.”[5] Trump specifically cited disagreements with Tillerson on the Iran nuclear deal as a point on which he and Pompeo would be of closer minds. “If you look at the Iran deal I think it’s terrible and I guess he thought it was OK. … We weren’t really thinking the same,” Trump said. “I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently. So we were not really thinking the same.”[6]

After becoming CIA chief, Pompeo stepped up pressure on Iran. Notably, after the surprise Trump administration missile strike on Syria in April 2017, Pompeo warned that the strike was also a signal to Iran concerning its adherence to the nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). He said, “We should all be mindful, given what took place in Syria, and go back and read that JCPOA when it talks about declared facilities and undeclared facilities and how much access [inspectors] will have to each of those two very distinct groups.”[7] Several months later, neoconservative pundits like Mark Dubowitz of the of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies gushed that “Pompeo is putting the agency on an aggressive footing against [the Iranian regime’s terrorist] global networks with the development of a more muscular covert action program.”[8]

An August 2017 New York Times feature about Pompeo painted him as one of President Trump’s “favorite cabinet members.” On the other hand, according to the Times, the very things “that have endeared Mr. Pompeo to the president—his hawkish politics and eagerness to speak his mind—have been met with a more mixed reception at the C.I.A. The agency sees its role as delivering hard truths that are unvarnished by political preferences, and there are concerns in the intelligence community that Mr. Pompeo’s partisan instincts color his views of contentious issues, such as Russia’s interference in the election or Iran’s nuclear program.”[9] Commented Paul Pillar, “When analysts are preparing their assessments, they can’t blot out of their mind their awareness of what will be welcome and what will be not welcome. There is the hazard of a bias creeping in, even subconsciously.”[10]

Iran Hawk

Like other Trump appointees, Pompeo has been a vocal critic of the historic 2015 Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), which limits Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons in return for some sanctions relief. He argues that the deal empowers “an Iranian regime that is intent on destroying America.” The day before his CIA nomination he tweeted, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”[11]

Wrote Pillar, “It is hard to picture how someone so committed to such a partisan goal could be counted on to present objectively, as an intelligence chief, all the pertinent information and analysis about what is happening under the nuclear agreement and what the consequences would be if the United States withdrew from it.”[12] This view contrasts sharply with that of Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s pick to run the Pentagon, who although critical of the Iran agreement argues that the United Stets cannot unilaterally walk away from it.

Pillar’s concerns seemed validated by a speech Pompeo gave in October 2017, just before Trump decided not to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, despite the absence of any violations of letter or spirit. Comparing Iran to its deadly and hated enemy, ISIS, Pompeo said, “For unlike ISIS and its mirage of a caliphate, Iran is a powerful nation-state that remains the world’s largest state-sponsor of terrorism. The Islamic Republic is Iran’s version of what the caliphate ought to look like under the control of an Ayatollah and his praetorian guard, the IRGC.”

He also hurled harsh words at Iran’s domestic policies. “Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are the cudgels of a despotic theocracy, with the IRGC accountable only to a Supreme Leader. They’re the vanguard of a pernicious empire that is expanding its power and influence across the Middle East.”[13]

Pompeo’s confrontational approach to Iran has included calling for preemptive bombing of Iranian nuclear sites,[14] introducing legislation that would block the U.S. purchase of heavy water from Tehran,[15] requesting a visa from Iran to “monitor” its elections,[16] and joining neoconservative Sen. Tom Cotton in the misleading claim that there were “secret side deals” between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency that the Obama administration kept from the public to get the Iran deal through.[17]

CIA Nomination

Trump nominated Pompeo as director of the CIA shortly after his victory in the November 2016 presidential election. Reports indicated that one of the reasons he was chosen over other candidates was because of his fierce condemnation of Hillary Clinton, which as one observer wrote “is hardly the sort of criterion that makes for good intelligence.”[18] Former CIA director Michael Hayden, a Middle East hawk and one-time Trump critic, has called Pompeo a “serious man.”[19] However, many foreign policy experts are alarmed by Pompeo’s lack of experience and antagonistic views on Iran.[20]

During his initial Senate confirmation hearings in early January 2017, Pompeo reaffirmed his hawkish views on Iran, and also staked out a hardline on Russia, appearing to differ from Trump. He argued that Russia was threatening Europe and the Ukraine and “doing nothing to aid in the destruction and defeat” of the Islamic State.

One noted foreign policy writer compared Pompeo’s nomination to that of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s controversial pick as National Security Adviser. Paul Pillar wrote in the National Interest, “Although perhaps not as awful an appointment as Flynn, the choice of Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency raises some of the same issues of an ideological echo chamber and whether an ill-informed president with meager knowledge of foreign relations will get the information and analysis he so badly needs. Pompeo is an ideologue in the partisan sense. His main claim to fame is as one of the lead attack dogs politicizing the tragedy at the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya in 2012, for the purpose of cutting down Hillary Clinton.”[21]

Track Record

Pompeo has defended broad government surveillance and voted to oppose congressional controls on NSA and CIA data collection of U.S. citizens. He wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database. Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed.”[22]

Pompeo has served on major congressional committees, including the House Intelligence Committee, which oversees intelligence-gathering efforts. In 2014, Pompeo was also appointed to the House Select Benghazi Committee.

A military veteran who graduated from West Point, Pompeo “served as a cavalry officer patrolling the Iron Curtain before the fall of the Berlin Wall. He also served with the 2nd Squadron, 7th Cavalry in the Fourth Infantry Division. After leaving active duty, [he] graduated from Harvard Law School having been an editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Prior to his service in Congress, Mr. Pompeo founded Thayer Aerospace, where he served as CEO for more than a decade. He later became President of Sentry International, an oilfield equipment manufacturing, distribution, and service company.”[23]



[1] On The Issues, Mike Pompeo, http://www.ontheissues.org/House/Mike_Pompeo.htm#Foreign_Policy

[2] Michelle Goldberg, “This Evil Is All Around Us,” Slate, January 12, 2017, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2017/01/mike_pompeo_trump_s_pick_for_the_cia_wants_a_holy_war.html

[3] Center for Security Policy, “Congressman Mike Pompeo Joins Secure Freedom Radio,” Secure Freedom Radio, August 5, 2015, https://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/2015/08/05/congressman-mike-pompeo-joins-secure-freedom-radio/

[4] Zack Beauchamp, “Rex Tillerson has been fired. Experts say he did damage that could last ‘a generation’” Vox, March 13, 2018, https://www.vox.com/world/2018/3/13/16029526/rex-tillerson-fired-state-department

[5] Zachary Cohen and Dan Merica, Unlike Tillerson, Trump says Pompeo ‘always on same wavelength’” CNN, March 13, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/13/politics/mike-pompeo-secretary-of-state-trump/index.html

[6] Holly Ellyat, “Why Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo is probably bad news for Iran,” CNBC, March 13, 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/13/why-new-secretary-of-state-mike-pompeo-is-probably-bad-news-for-iran.html; Times of Israel Staff and Agencies, “ Trump fires Tillerson as secretary of state, points to Iran deal disagreement,” Times of Israel, March 13, 2018, https://www.timesofisrael.com/trump-fires-tillerson-nominates-pompeo-as-new-secretary-of-state/

[7] Jeffrey Rodack, “Pompeo: US Missile Strike in Syria a Message for Iran,” April 14, 2017, https://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/mike-pompeo/2017/04/14/id/784372/

[8] Jim Lobe, “New Neocon Mantra: Iran, Like Soviet Union, On Verge Of Collapse,” LobeLog, July 6, 2017, https://lobelog.com/new-neocon-mantra-iran-on-verge-of-collapse/

[9] Mathew Rosenberg, “Trump Likes When C.I.A. Chief Gets Political, but Officers Are Wary,” New York Times, August 7, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/07/us/politics/mike-pompeo-cia.html

[10] Mathew Rosenberg, “Trump Likes When C.I.A. Chief Gets Political, but Officers Are Wary,” New York Times, August 7, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/07/us/politics/mike-pompeo-cia.html

[11] Geoff Dyer, “Trump’s CIA nominee Mike Pompeo promises to roll back Iran deal,” Financial Times, November 18, 2016, https://www.ft.com/content/e2849b56-ada7-11e6-ba7d-76378e4fef24

[12] Paul Pillar, “Ideology is Supplanting Intelligence,” The National Interest, November 22, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/paul-pillar/ideology-supplanting-intelligence-18479?page=2

[13] Robert Windrem, “CIA Director Pompeo Lashes Out at Iran, Compares It to ISIS,” NBC News, October 12, 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/mideast/cia-director-pompeo-lashes-out-iran-compares-it-isis-n810311

[14] Eli Clifton, “Congressional Hawks Gear Up to Kill Talks, Bomb Iran,” The Nation, December 4, 2014, https://www.thenation.com/article/congressional-hawks-gear-kill-talks-bomb-iran/

[15] Mike Pompeo, “Rep. Mike Pompeo: One year later, Obama’s Iran nuclear deal puts us at increased risk,” Fox News, July 14, 2016, http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2016/07/14/rep-mike-pompeo-one-year-later-obama-s-iran-nuclear-deal-puts-us-at-increased-risk.html

[16] Curtis Tate, “Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo requests visa to observe Iran elections,” McClatchy, February 4, 2016, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article58514243.html

[17] Ryan Costello, “Trump CIA Pick Hyped Facts On Iran, Downplayed Costs Of War,” Huffington Post, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/ryan-costello/trump-cia-pick-hyped-fact_b_13181260.html

[18] “Ideology is Supplanting Intelligence,” Lobelog, November 22, 2016, https://lobelog.com/ideology-is-supplanting-intelligence/

[19] Bloomberg, “Trump Taps Ardent Benghazi Critic Pompeo as Director of CIA,” 18 November 2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-11-18/trump-said-to-select-kansas-congressman-pompeo-as-cia-director

[20] Jennifer William, “Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick for CIA director, could take the agency back to its darkest days,” Vox, Novebmer 21, 2016, http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/11/18/13676756/mike-pompeo-trump-pick-cia-director; Paul Pillar, “Ideology is Supplanting Intelligence,” National Interest, November 22, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/paul-pillar/ideology-supplanting-intelligence-18479?page=2

[21] Paul Pillar, “Ideology is Supplanting Intelligence,” National Interest, November 22, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/paul-pillar/ideology-supplanting-intelligence-18479?page=2

[22] Mike Pompeo and David B. Rivkin, Jr,, “Time for a Rigorous National Debate About Surveillance,” Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2016, https://www.wsj.com/articles/time-for-a-rigorous-national-debate-about-surveillance-1451856106

[23] Central Intelligence Agency, “Mike Pompeo,” Updated June 1, 2017, https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/leadership/mike-pompeo.html


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Pompeo, Mike Résumé


CIA: Director
Member, U.S. House of Representatives (R-KS): 2011-2016


Thayer Aerospace: Founder
Sentry International: Former President


West Point
Harvard Law School


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