Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo remains a controversial figure in the United States. A highly conservative politician, he was a close aide of President Donald Trump and stood for the ‘America First’ ideology. Some saw him as a super patriot determined to go all the way to protect their country’s interests while others dismissed him as a crafty politician bent on self-aggrandisement and furthering a hard-line right-wing agenda.
No matter which way one looks at Pompeo, however, there can be no doubt that as Trump’s CIA director and later secretary of state he was a man who effected profound changes in his country’s policies. This book is his personal record of 1,000 days as US secretary of state.
The book is a somewhat-rambling account of all his achievements and some failures as a loyal general in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet. It also often descends into a tiresome tirade against his enemies and critics but ultimately it is about geopolitics that offers a rare insight into the workings of the American security and foreign policy establishment.
The book also offers a glimpse into the mind of a person who was once one of the most powerful men on earth, and who could well once again attain that status. What comes through is fascinating in part, intriguing and also a little scary.
Writing about his stint as CIA director before taking over as secretary of state, Pompeo writes: “I enjoyed coming to work to kill terrorists and generally make life miserable for America’s enemies. I’m a simple man.”
One of the books that most inspired Mr Pompeo was Nice Guys Finish Last, the autobiography of Leo Ernest Durocher, an American professional baseball player, manager and coach. Pompeo writes that Durocher’s famous lines: “I come to play! I come to beat you! I come to kill you! — captures the competitive fire with which I have approached many parts of life.” This part of his character would become familiar to the Iranians and other actors in the Middle East.
At the same time, Pompeo comes across as a realist who seems to have genuinely wanted to make US foreign policy less ideology driven and more result oriented. He is particularly harsh on the US state department which he writes needs to be torn down and rebuilt if it is to function effectively.
One area where Pompeo’s and President Trump’s mission stands out is the change in America’s China policy. Despite all the criticism hurled at Mike Pompeo and his boss, the two did pull off a major policy transformation that continues to rattle the world and shape contemporary geopolitics.
For far too long the United States had pampered China’s communist party (CCP), allowing it to become one of the most powerful and rich organisations in the globe. Massive American investments and technology flows to China for nearly half a century helped it to transform into a modern, super-rich economy. At the same time, military technology transfers, both legitimate and clandestine, propelled China’s military into modern times, surpassing most militaries in the region. This was a dangerous process that needed to be stopped as China soon started to bare its fangs, threatening most countries in its periphery and beyond.
“By the time I had become secretary of state, President Trump had already begun to see that an economic confrontation with the CCP was essential. I knew that fixing the massively unfair trade relationship had to be done, probably with the blunt weapon of tariffs. I also knew restoring reciprocity on trade — the president’s narrow focus — would have to be the beginning of America’s effort to address China’s dangerous ambitions, not the end… Nor did the trade war address the core driver of CCP behaviour: its intent to dominate the world. The scale of the party’s ambition, capacity, and intent is breath-taking. For decades, neither Republican nor Democratic leaders told this hard truth to the American people. Either they didn’t know or they were afraid to say it. Finally, the time had come for Americans and everybody else in the world to hear it. So, I got to work.”
Pompeo’s take on Chinese President Xi Jinping is both entertaining and insightful: “Personally, I thought Xi was dour. While Putin can be funny and mirthful, even while being evil, Xi was not so much serious as ‘dead-eyed’. I never once saw an unforced smile. The stories he told — and boy, did he tell stories — were about Chinese victimhood and his demands to avenge grievances from long before any of us were born… Xi talked in hollow tones, always in search of words, phrases, and archaic Chinese proverbs of questionable clarity… Of the dozens of world leaders I met, he was among the most unpleasant. How’s that for telling the hard truth.”
Pompeo did lead the charge against the Chinese communist party and often it did not make him popular with the American business community, which Pompeo writes, “often kisses up to Beijing. It advocates against the kind of necessary confrontation with China that will protect American national security and the human rights of the Chinese people.”
In conclusion, Pompeo admits that his China policy was not as successful as he might have hoped and maintains the efforts to contain China must be continued. He believes “all other foreign policy challenges must be subordinated to the goal of stopping the CCP. It presents the single greatest threat to our republic.”
In retrospect, he adds: “I’m proud that we led a dramatic shift in American (and global) opinion, because the CCP is far more dangerous than any venereal disease. We’re going to see the Party’s evil on display for many years to come.”
Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love
By Mike Pompeo
pp. 464, Rs.1,199