Mike Pompeo is a politician, diplomat, businessman, and attorney who served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (2017-18) and secretary of state (2018-21). A graduate of West Point and Harvard Law School, he represented Kansas in the U.S. House of Representatives (2011-17), where he served on the Intelligence, Energy and Commerce Committees, and on the Select Benghazi Committee. As secretary of state, he was an architect of the Abraham Accords and the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, as well as a hard line on Iranian cheating on the terms of the JCPOA. JPC Senior Director Shoshana Bryen was pleased to have an opportunity to speak with him in September.
inFOCUS: What is your proudest accomplishment as Secretary of State, and do you think it will survive the Biden administration?
Secretary Mike Pompeo: The expansion of peace in the Middle East has to be on top. The Abraham Accords and other agreements will have a major impact the people of the region and beyond. I think these agreements will not only survive, but those relationships will flourish and grow and the peoples of those countries, and indeed more broadly in the region, will be better off as a result of those peace accords.
iF: There are those who believe the Abraham Accords will get stronger now because of the threat from Iran and the threat of increased Sunni jihadism. There are other people who think the Arab countries of the Abraham Accords are going to pull back from Israel and try to make peace with Iran – and even the Taliban. What’s your view?
Pompeo: Both are possible. In the end, what matters are two things. First, the work that we collectively do together on counter-terrorism. We now have 20 really good years where we all figured out the methodologies, the systems, the communications technologies, the intelligence operations to deliver good security, increased security, both from Shia terror and from Sunni terror. If those continue to build, then relationships between the Abraham Accords countries will continue to grow. If they don’t, I think there’s risk. Second, American leadership matters. Countries in the region, Arab countries in the region, our Israeli friends, partners, they need to see America lead. They need to understand that America will be with its friends. It will support its allies. It will do the right thing by these countries. It will honor its most basic commitments.
The saddest thing about the debacle in Afghanistan, other than the loss of 13 Americans these past weeks, the saddest component of this is that the world no longer has the same confidence that America will continue to be their partner, and our adversaries saw American weakness. If the weakness continues, these countries will want to make sure that they are protected in ways that they would not be if they only rely on us. So, they will go reach out to places which will cause them to separate from us. There are competing tensions there.
I believe in the end America will get it right. I think America will continue to support our Israeli friends, support our allies in the region, and that not only will the Abraham Accords survive, but I think they will prosper. And I am confident that if American leadership does the right things, the right leaders in the region continue to push forward, that the Abraham Accords will expand. I think this is a tremendously positive development, not only for peace, but for wealth creation and prosperity and stability in the region.
A Door for Palestinian Leadership
iF: The Palestinians chose not to come in. the door was open to them. How do you account for that?
Pompeo: Corrupt leadership. You see this in countries all across the world. The reason they can’t come in is that you have a set of leaders for whom the status quo is the best solution. They have two separate sets of issues that have certainly connected the issue. You have the challenge in the Gaza Strip with the terrorists underwritten by the Iranians. It didn’t take but a handful of weeks from the time the Trump administration departed before the Iranians were flying rockets into Israel. Hamas is not in any way inclined to join a peace accord. West Bank and the Palestinian leadership, are corrupt leaders. They like their lifestyle. They like taking money from the Americans. We’re going to start giving them money again. Their incentive system is a mess.
I hope that the next generation of Palestinian leaders will come to see that there is a solution that works for all the people in the region, including the Palestinians. We offered a pretty darn good one, to make life better for the Palestinian people. They rejected it out of hand. They rejected it so out of hand, that they refused even to sit down and talk with the Americans or the Israelis about it. I think that’s pretty telling about those who want peace and those who prefer continuing to throw Molotov cocktails across the wall.
iF: Does anti-Semitism play in here?
Pompeo: Always. Always. It’s alive in the world. It is one of the great tragedies of history and one we have to continue to be mindful of. It certainly has an impact with respect to the Palestinians. It has an impact with the American relationship with Israel too. You can see some in the American left who have a deep and embedded misunderstanding of Israel. They talk about Israel as an occupier. Nothing could be further from the truth. They talk about it as an “apartheid nation.” Those are ridiculous claims. Yet buried in that is a connection to anti-Semitism that we’ve seen for an awfully long time, plus an anti-Zionist view. This is dangerous. It’s dangerous for America, it’s dangerous for Israel, and it is absolutely toxic for the relationship in our two countries.
iF: Would you suggest then as a strategy, continuing to leave the Palestinians aside and working on the other countries? The administration currently seems to want to bring the Palestinians in.
Pompeo: I would love to bring them in; that would be wonderful. We wanted to do it too. Time and history matter and people matter. There are great leaders in the United Arab Emirates. MBZ [Ed: Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi] is a great noble person. And great leaders in Bahrain, all of the team. These were people who decided this was the right thing to do. The leadership in the West Bank is nowhere near making that kind of decision. I would encourage this administration to do what we did. We should continue to try to bring the Palestinians along. I’d hope the Iranians one day join the Abraham Accords too. Good leadership would recognize that being a partner with Israel is the right course of action. It’s the moral course of action. It’s the best course of action for the people in Isfahan and in Tehran. These would be really good things.
We should certainly want people of Ramallah and Jericho to have those same opportunities. Hope that this administration will do it, but we should also be mindful that those are difficult, complex problems, and we should not for a moment allow those two problems to get in the way of peace and stability in the broader Middle East. We should continue to reach out to countries in the Asia and the Arab world and make clear to them that the expansion of our relationship with Israel will be a good thing for their peace and for their prosperity.
Afghanistan & Pakistan
iF: Moving to Afghanistan. You’re a military guy. What would you say to our military, to the young men and women who serve our country now after this debacle? And how do we encourage young Americans to come in, stay in, and fight those battles that are coming?
Pompeo: It is important service. I’m going to begin by saying thank you to all the young men and women who served in Afghanistan these past two decades. I saw it firsthand as a CIA Director. I saw up close and personal the work that they did, those intelligence operators, those military people, and all of our diplomats who kept America safe. We kept the world safe from terrorism. From that place, they should be proud of the service they engaged in.
Now though, there is a challenge today, there’ll be a challenge six months and six years from now. That service in uniform is noble. It is empowering. It is great training for life. And I would encourage them to hang in there, stay the course. America often has moments where it gets it wrong. I am hopeful that this leadership and this administration will see in the failures of what happened in Afghanistan and the failure to execute the withdrawal in an appropriate way that protected America and Americans. That they’ll be better when they’re next called upon to confront political challenges. I’m sorry that that’s the case.
iF: Side question. Can you talk about Pakistan? Why do we continue to support Pakistan? They don’t seem to be friends of ours.
Pompeo: Fantastic question. You’ll note that right toward the beginning of the Trump administration we reduced support for Pakistan significantly. It’s a challenging place. They have nuclear capabilities. We wanted to make sure that those nuclear weapons are controlled. I think the programs make sense where we assist the Pakistanis with nuclear assurance efforts. It’s also the case that they were from time to time helpful in counter-terrorism, although more on balance, they were harmful to our counter-terrorism efforts. We should never forget: Pakistan has provided safe harbor for al-Qaeda for an awfully long time. Today they continue to engage in that kind of activity. They play footsie with the bad guys all the time, and we should not provide material support to the Pakistanis until such time they demonstrate real resolve to become part of the community of nations, and not offer safe haven to terrorists.
iF: You were always a big JCPOA skeptic, an Iran skeptic. How close do you think they are to nuclear weapons? They’ve been cheating. Now what?
Pompeo: Today, the Iranians have the best of all possible worlds. We have a sanctions regime we put on the regime that is still largely fully in place, but it’s not being enforced. This administration gave $7 billion in currency availability to the Iranian regime. I promise you that money will be used for nefarious activity all across the world. They’ve given a green light to Iranian terrorism. I talked about the missiles that flew from Gaza that were Iranian. You should know, they fly out of Yemen and into Saudi Arabia nearly every day. These are Iranian terror activities. So, they’ve got relief from the sanctions through non-enforcement and they’re not having to come up with a single thing. They’re able to continue to break their commitments under the JCPOA and continue to develop their nuclear capabilities.
We had this right.
We had taken the Iranian regime down to its root, from $123 billion worth of foreign exchange reserves to less than $4 billion. They were on the cusp of having to make some really difficult decisions. They had already had to reduce the amount of money they were providing in Yemen and to Hezbollah in Lebanon. We had the Iranian regime in a very difficult place, and this administration simply let them off the hook.
The right course of action would be to go back to where we were, which is to demand that they cease enrichment in Iran, and in exchange for that, we’re happy to make sure that they have all the nuclear capability they need to provide energy – if that’s their real goal. No enrichment, no missile system development. No capacity to bring terror to the world. Those are the objectives. When they meet those, we’re happy to welcome Iran back into the international world.
iF: The story in September is that Israel is withholding intelligence information from the United States on Iran, for fear that it will be used in a way that doesn’t help Israel. Does that seem reasonable to you?
Pompeo: I haven’t seen that reporting. I hope it’s not true. I hope it’s not true, but here’s what I will say for sure. There is no intelligence organization that I ever encountered who would provide their best collection to anyone they thought might damage either the utility of that information or the risk that they’ll have a source blown up – that is, they’ll lose the capacity to continue to develop that intelligence. I never saw it happen.
If America can’t be trusted, if our relationship with Israel is insufficient for them to have confidence that we will protect the information they share with us and vice versa, that they will protect the information that we provide to them, that’s dangerous for Israel. It’s dangerous for the United States. It’s dangerous for the entire region.
We had an incredibly close relationship. We were sharing things that hadn’t been shared in an awful long time. This was powerful data, mostly focused on activity with respect to Iran, but powerful data that allowed us to protect American lives. If this administration has destroyed that bond, destroyed that trust in a way that denies America access to information to protect Americans, this would really be tragic, and it’ll have a long-term lasting effect to each of our two countries.
iF: Do we worry about Israel’s relationship with China at a strategic level?
Pompeo: I do. I worry about every country’s relationship with China. Look, the world for 40 years said sell more trinkets, buy more stuff, life will be good. This was our model too, here in the United States. This is a failed model. It might’ve been right in 1972; Dr. Kissinger might have been right. It might have been right in 2000. It is not right today. So yes, we had conversations with every set of leaders all across the world, first of all, to educate them, to remind them that the Chinese Communist Party is a communist party. Where they have intention, they show up with money, it is not a commercial transaction. It is a government influence operation.
And I certainly had those conversations with Israeli leadership as well. We want to make sure that the Israelis understand the risk. These are smart people when it comes to evaluating risk. And they understand that there is a division that has taken place because of Xi Jinping, the division between the communist world and the West. The West needs to win this together, and it means our relationships with China have to be fundamentally altered, and that includes the Israel’s relationship with China.
Nord Stream II
iF: Can you talk about Nord Stream II pipeline because that’s about us and our allies, as much as it is about us and Russia. How big a disaster is the completion of the Nord Stream II pipeline and how big will it be in January when it’s snowing?
Pompeo: There are two important things from this policy change that the Biden administration made. First is the one you talked about. We’ve now told the Ukrainians, “Good luck.” We’ve now told the Poles, “Good luck.” We told the Germans, “Go ahead and get filthy rich buying Russian energy.” This is very damaging from a NATO security perspective. The fact that this administration allowed that pipeline to be completed will have long-term ramifications for the capacity of NATO to do the right thing when it’s pinch time.
The second thing I’d say is that Nord Stream II is precisely the kind of thing that you see happen when you have a weak administration. Not only did we allow the Russians to sell energy to the Germans, but we are also now shutting down American energy production so that Americans can’t sell energy to the Germans. This will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs in different states, but most importantly, now when Germany needs energy, their partners, their friends in the West won’t have energy to provide them. They’ll have to turn to Vladimir Putin. No strategist could think this makes any sense.
The last piece of this is it’s another iteration of American weakness. The absence of American resolve to just tell the Germans, “We love you. You’re our great friend and partner. You need to support NATO, and buying Russian energy is a bad idea, and we’re not going to let you.” We talk about Europe. Europe is deeply divided on this. Really, when the left talks about Europe and the United States, they’re just talking about Germany and France. Europe understands the strategic risk from Russia. They are prepared to confront it. The Germans and the French feel in some ways some removed. They are all about figuring out how to make money, and the release of the Nord Stream II pipeline restrictions is an exemplar of that.
iF: Do they feel removed or do they think we’ll come and rescue them again?
iF: Let me conclude with two questions. You shared your greatest success with us. What’s your greatest regret, either a policy or a relationship that you would do differently, or you didn’t do? What would you want to go back and fix?
Pompeo: I wish we had had more time and had gotten a formal foothold pushing back against the Chinese Communist Party sooner, better, faster, stronger. This is the singular threat that can destroy our Republic. Xi Jinping is determined to do this. It is an ideological threat. It is a military threat. It is a threat inside our own walls here in the United States.
It took us a little while to get to our strategy developed, so we didn’t accomplish as much as I wish we could’ve. We made real progress. I think we began to unite the world to understand this real threat, but there’s an awful long way to go and an awful lot of work to do. Another four years having the chance to build out a strategy, to make clear to the Chinese Communist Party that they weren’t going to be a global henchman, they weren’t going to dominate the United States. That in fact, we are not a nation in decline. Those are the things that I would loved to have continued to work on.
iF: Of all the things that have happened around the globe, will China be the thing that will haunt the president?
Pompeo: It will be. It will be the Chinese Communist Party. This will prove the greatest challenge. Look, I’m sure there’ll be moments. There are always things that happen that are unexpected. We have a southern border today with Mexico that is posing real risk to the United States. The world has watched a terribly flawed execution of the draw-down in Afghanistan. We have increased the likelihood that there will be an attack originating from Afghanistan somewhere in the West. That there’ll be ungoverned space from which Sunni terrorists can operate. These are risks that this administration will have to deal with. We all take on challenges when we come in from previous administrations. We certainly had our share. They’re tasked to manage; they’re tasked to lead.
I see those as the central challenges, combined with making sure that America continues to defend the central international order that led to prosperity for the United States. We can’t count out of the Chinese Communist Party when it comes to economic matters either. We can’t let them run over us. We can’t let them continue to foist viruses on the world. That risk is enormous.
Three million people have been killed by a deadly virus, a highly contagious deadly virus that came from China, and they continue to cover it up.
iF: Mike Pompeo, on behalf of inFOCUS Quarterly and the members of The Jewish Policy Center, I want to thank you for an enlightening – and frightening – consideration of American policy.