'Worst' might not be an accurate description for Mike Pompeo
Andrew Korybko

Editor's Note: Andrew Korybko is a Moscow-based American political analyst. The article reflects the author's views and not necessarily those of CGTN.

The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl published an op-ed over the weekend which provocatively asserted that "Mike Pompeo is the worst secretary of state in history." He argued that this is appropriate to conclude because of what he described as Pompeo's diplomatic failures regarding the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Venezuela, Iran, and China. Diehl attempts to make some powerful points. However, it should be realized that Pompeo's lousy performance should be analyzed by incorporating the foreign policy that he was tasked with executing that fits this description.

The collapse of nuclear negotiations with the DPRK is objectively an unfortunate failure, but the other examples that Diehl lists can be seen in a different light. The Trump Administration wanted to overthrow the governments of Venezuela and Iran. But its failures in these respects aren't lamentable, since the world could be all the better because these attempts failed. The world has long passed the time for regime-changes to be the main tool of foreign policy.

Regarding China, Pompeo has overseen the U.S.'s most aggressive actions against the People's Republic of China since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1979. What Diehl describes as the top diplomat's "failure" to stop China's "genocide in its Xinjiang region and the suppression of Hong Kong's freedoms" just means that the U.S. didn't succeed in turning China's legitimate anti-terrorist policies and the attempts at maintain peace into a rallying cry for regime change against the Chinese government. Once again, U.S.'s failures in these regards are to be celebrated, not criticized.

With the DPRK as the notable exception, Diehl's argument about Pompeo being the worst Secretary of State ever because of his failure to impose U.S.' will on Venezuela, Iran, and China reminds the reader of what neoconservative "Never Trumpers" often say. They're known to claim that Trump isn't "tough enough" on what they regard as America's "enemies".

Rioters outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China, November 16, 2019. /Reuters

Rioters outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China, November 16, 2019. /Reuters

In this respect, although the intended outcome of regime-change failed, the Secretary of State was arguably "successful" if one interprets his actions in this cynical way. Not only are the U.S. relations with Venezuela, Iran, China, and Russia at an all-time low, but so too are its ties with most of its transatlantic allies in Europe. This wasn't accidental, but deliberate. Trump wanted to put "America First", as he understood it, which took the form of behaving as aggressively as possible all across the world without starting a hot war (yet).

Pompeo was the perfect man for executing this policy, as he notoriously boasted in April 2019 when reminiscing about his brief tenure as the CIA Director: "We lied, we cheated, we stole." It was therefore quite fitting that Trump chose him as his Secretary of State. The "problem," however, is that the world has tremendously changed since the end of the Cold War when such an aggressive foreign policy might had been the norm.

It's not exactly Pompeo's fault that he failed to accomplish much. The historically inevitable transition from unipolarity to multipolarity, accelerated as it was by U.S.' many foreign policy mishaps and elite policymaking divisions, greatly limited its power and capabilities. The U.S. simply cannot be what it used be, the times have changed. But nobody in the Trump Administration, including Pompeo, realized this because they deluded themselves with the idea that they can "Make America Great Again," which is a euphemism for restoring its unipolarity hegemony. 

Diehl is therefore not entirely accurate in describing Pompeo as the worst Secretary of State in history. Pompeo himself might not have been up to the level, but the policy of "America First" that he was tasked with executing is what's really hurting. Few would doubt that Pompeo is a sincere believer in "the cause" and truly tried his best, but he just couldn't "succeed" in turning his vision into reality, given the world is nowadays altogether different than it used to be.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com.)