The U.S. Senate voted this afternoon to confirm former CIA Director Mike Pompeo as the Trump administration's secretary of state. The final vote was 57 to 42.
Pompeo, who served in the military before being elected to Congress in 2011, made a name for himself in the House as an outspoken Iran hawk and a supporter of pre-emptive war against the nuclearizing Persian regime. In a 2016 column for Fox News marking the one-year anniversary of the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran, Pompeo called the agreement "problematic" and "devastating" to American influence in the Middle East. Rather than renegotiating the deal, Pompeo said, "Congress must act to change Iranian behavior, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime."
While it's no secret that the United States has pursued regime change in the past, often with disastrous results, it seems odd to pick someone who has openly called for toppling foreign governments as America's top diplomat. In the lead-up to his confirmation, Pompeo repeatedly said he will seek to "fix" the Iran deal, but he has always left the door open to military action.
Pompeo gave assurances to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who had threatened to torpedo his confirmation, that he has learned important lessons from America's foreign policy blunders during the last two decades. "President Trump believes that Iraq was a mistake, that regime change has destabilized the region, and that we must end our involvement with Afghanistan," Paul said. "I received confirmation that Director Pompeo agrees with President Trump."
Whether Pompeo has actually learned from those mistakes remains to be seen, but critics of America's often confusing and counterproductive policy in the Middle East have good reason to be skeptical, given his history. During his time leading the CIA, Pompeo compared Iran to the Islamic State and reportedly tried to link the Iranian regime with Al Qaeda. Where have you heard that argument before?
With Pompeo running the show at Foggy Bottom, it seems less likely that the State Department will be an effective check on Trump's urge to withdraw America from the Iran deal. Adding John Bolton, Trump's pro-war national security adviser, to the mix suggests that the hawks are indeed asendant.
If you need one more reason to worry, all you have to do is look back at the circular logic employed by Pompeo in that August 2016 Fox News column. America needed to be more aggressive toward Iran, Pompeo argued, because "the region is far less stable."
"Iran increasingly controls Baghdad, Damascus, Sanaa, and Beirut," he explained. "Terror attacks have increased. While the deal itself is problematic, also devastating is the fact that America is no longer viewed as a reliable partner to our traditional regional allies."
That instability—and Iran's maneuvering to fill a power vacuum in the heart of the Middle East—falls squarely on the shoulders of the United States. Diplomacy failed in 2003, and we have been paying the price for 15 years. Unless Pompeo recognizes America's role in creating that mess, America's top diplomat can't be trusted to avoid a repeat of it.