Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speaking role in the Republican National Convention was contrary to the practice of other secretaries of state, in both Republican and Democratic administrations, as well as violating his own department’s code of conduct. Even prior secretaries such as Hillary Clinton who, like Pompeo, had aspirations for higher office stayed far away from any involvement in their parties’ conventions.
Pompeo’s appearance in the Republican show was consistent with his conduct throughout Donald Trump’s presidency. Pompeo, when he was a congressman, initially got Trump’s attention by exploiting a tragic turn of events in Benghazi, Libya to aggressively attack Clinton. That performance won him the job of CIA director, a position that ought to be kept even farther away from partisanship than the secretary of state’s job.
Pompeo’s subsequent promotion to the foremost cabinet position — unlike the many other senior officials in this administration whom Trump has discarded once they became the least bit inconvenient or annoying to him — testifies to the extent to which he has shaped his conduct to appeal to Trump and to Trump’s political base, which he hopes to inherit. The blurring of partisan politics and official duties that Pompeo’s convention speech entailed meshes with the similar recurrent blurring by Trump himself, which the president continued on the same night that Pompeo spoke.
Such conflation impairs good government across a wide range of issues. The costs are especially severe with a secretary of state, because foreign governments get involved in the resulting messiness and amplify it in ways that hurt the U.S. national interest.
Pompeo’s role in wrecking good governance starts with the damage done to the State Department itself, as reflected in disrespect for the Foreign Service and everything that implies regarding morale and recruitment. The damage will take many years to repair. Probably the low point of this sad process was Pompeo’s abandonment of Ambassador Marie Yovanovich, a respected diplomat whose only offense was to do her job properly, including opposing corruption, and in so doing got in the way of Trump and Rudolph Giuliani’s dirt-digging caper in Ukraine. The damage has been compounded by Trump administration ambassadorial appointments, which have featured an unusually large number of unqualified political supporters of the president.
Having an unrelenting partisan warrior such as Pompeo as secretary of state corrupts U.S. foreign policy with narrow political motives more than it otherwise would be. In any senior policy discussions there is no one to argue, as a secretary of state should, for the best ways to advance the interests of the nation as a whole.
That Pompeo spoke to the Republican convention while on a foreign trip supposedly devoted to diplomatic business compounds this and the other problems that his appearance involved. Based on his itinerary, he evidently is trying to milk as much as he can from the recently announced establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE. This arrangement between two states that were not warring against each other brings peace to no one and instead sharpens lines of conflict between the Gulf Arabs and not just Iran but also Turkey, in disputes mired in different views about political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood. Pompeo’s use of Jerusalem as a prop leaves unstated how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very much unresolved and how the development with the UAE makes resolution less likely because it reduces further any Israeli government incentive to resolve it.
The Trump administration’s enticement of the Emiratis to upgrade their relationship with Israel is another in a series of gifts that the administration has given the Netanyahu government. Other gifts have included recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and of Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights. The United States has gotten absolutely nothing in return for the gifts. It is only the political fortunes of Trump and the Republican Party that — or so Trump hopes — get any return payment.
In one of Trump’s occasional candid blurts about his political motives, he said that the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was “for the evangelicals” — while expressing disappointment that American Jews did not seem as excited about the move as the evangelicals were. This is not the sort of consideration that ought to motivate important U.S. foreign policy decisions. Such decisions ought to serve the interests of the entire nation and not to cater to one subset of it, including subsets defined by the eschatological beliefs of a particular revealed religion.
Pompeo, an evangelical Christian himself, must have felt in his element standing on a Jerusalem rooftop while preaching to the political faithful back home. But a secretary of state who takes seriously the responsibilities and constraints of his office would not have done anything of the sort.
When foreign policy is blatantly conducted to appeal to a subset of voters at home, foreign governments get a vote too. Those governments are apt to react in any of several ways detrimental to U.S. interests.
When the foreign policy coming out of Washington is the narrowly based policy of only one faction, foreign governments are conditioned to expect much inconsistency from one U.S. administration to another. The foreigners might be reluctant to make commitments or reach agreements with the United States if the drivers of current U.S. policy are parochial and ephemeral. They may decide their best approach is to wait for the next U.S. election. This is basically Iran’s current approach.
Alternatively, a foreign government may try to appeal to the fancies of whoever is in power in Washington at the moment while shoving aside more fundamental and long-term U.S. objectives. Such reaction may be largely harmless ego-polishing, such as talk about Trump Heights in the Golan or Fort Trump in Poland. But it is a diversion from diplomacy that would advance real U.S. interests.
Worst of all is when a highly partisan approach to foreign relations in Washington encourages foreign governments to indulge in the same partisanship. Thus Russian President Vladimir Putin has even more of an incentive to interfere in this year’s U.S. election than he did, as confirmed by the Senate intelligence committee’s report on the subject, in 2016. That makes Putin all the more of a problem for the United States.
Pompeo’s Jerusalem performance encourages additional interference by Israel, the foreign state that has interfered in U.S. politics more than any other. The Trump/Pompeo handling of Israel-related issues has moved matters even farther from what would be a healthy U.S.-Israeli relationship to what instead is a Likud-Republican partisan alliance, with each side using the other’s cities as props in election campaigns.
The Founding Fathers were very concerned about the deleterious effects of partisanship on the new republic’s foreign relations. James Madison wrote in The Federalist Number 42, “If we are to be one nation in any respect, it clearly ought to be in respect to other nations.” The United States may be as far away from that ideal as it has ever been.
Paul R. Pillar is Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies of Georgetown University and a non-resident fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He is also an Associate Fellow of the Geneva Center for Security Policy.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo delivers remarks at the AIPAC Policy Conference, in Washington, D.C. on March 25, 2019. (State Department Photo by Michael Gross)
Left-to-right: Senator-elect Ted Budd (R-N.C.); Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Minority Leader; Senator-elect Katie Britt (R-AL); and Senator-elect J.D. Vance (R-OH) pose for a photo before meeting in Leader McConnell’s office, at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)
The so-called GOP “civil war” over the role the United States should play in the world made headlines earlier this week when the Senate finally passed a national security supplemental that provides $60 billion in aid for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel.
The legislation, which was supported by President Joe Biden and the overwhelming majority of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, proved more controversial among Republicans. Twenty-two GOP Senators voted in favor of the legislation, while 27 opposed it.
An analysis of the votes shows an interesting generational divide within the Republican caucus.
Each of the five oldest Republicans in the Senate — and nine of the ten oldest — voted in favor of the supplemental spending package. Conversely, the six youngest senators, and 12 of the 14 youngest, opposed it.
Equally striking was the breakdown of votes among Republicans based on when they assumed their current office. Of the 49 sitting GOP Senators, 30 were elected before Donald Trump first became the party’s presidential candidate in 2016. Eighteen of those 30 supported the aid legislation. Of the members who came to office in 2017 or later, only four voted to advance the bill, while 15 voted against.
The difference in votes among those elected since 2016 is likely partly attributable to Trump’s unconventional approach to foreign policy. The Republican party establishment during the Cold War and Global War on Terror is often associated with hawkishness, including towards Russia. While the party has always carried some skepticism toward foreign aid, some of the most significant spending increases have taken place during the presidencies of Republicans Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Trump, however, won in 2016 in part for his open disdain for mission creep after the GWOT, what he called the failed war in Iraq, and foreign aid he believed made countries dependents rather than reciprocal partners and allies.
“[Trump] certainly created the cognitive space,” Brandan Buck, a U.S. Army veteran and historian of GOP foreign policy, tells RS. “He's more of an intuitive thinker than a person of principle, but I think him being on the scene, prying open the Overton window has allowed for a greater array of dissenting voices.”
Others have argued that the trends are perhaps also indicative of the loyalty that Republicans who assumed their offices during the Trump presidency feel toward him. Trump spoke out forcefully against the legislation in advance of the vote.
“WE SHOULD NEVER GIVE MONEY ANYMORE WITHOUT THE HOPE OF A PAYBACK, OR WITHOUT “STRINGS” ATTACHED. THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA SHOULD BE “STUPID” NO LONGER!,” the former president wrote on the social media platform Truth Social the weekend before the vote.
The vote cannot only be explained by ideology, as some typically hawkish allies of Trump, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) ultimately voted against the package. Graham is a staunch supporter of Israel, has voted for previous Ukraine aid packages, and in the past called aid for Ukraine “a good investment” and “the best money we’ve ever spent.” By the time the vote on the most recent spending package came around, Graham was lamenting the lack of border security provisions and echoing Trump’s argument that aid to Ukraine should be a “loan.”
Meanwhile, Senators took note of the generational gap, and the debate spilled over into the public. .
“Nearly every Republican Senator under the age of 55 voted NO on this America Last bill,” wrote Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), 48, on the social media platform X. “Things are changing just not fast enough.” Schmitt was elected in 2022.
“Youthful naivety is bliss, the wisdom of age may save the west,” retorted Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) “Reagan may be dead, but his doctrine saved the world during less dangerous times than these. If the modern Marx (Putin for the youngsters) restores the USSR while we pretend it’s not our problem, God help us.” Cramer, 63, was sworn in in 2019, making him one of the handful of recently elected senators to support the aid legislation.
“I like Kevin, but come on, man, have some self-awareness,” Sen. J.D. Vance fired back. “This moment calls out for many things, but boomer neoconservatism is not among them.”
Vance, who at 39 is the youngest Republican member of the Senate, noted in his post that “the fruits of this generation in American leadership is: quagmire in Afghanistan, war in Iraq under false pretenses.” He said younger Americans were disillusioned with that track record.
Buck, who served several tours in the Afghanistan war, and whose research includes generational trends in U.S. foreign policy thinking, pointed out that there is strong historical precedent for believing that age and generation affect how members of Congress view America’s role in the world.
“It's certainly not unusual for there to be generational trends in foreign policy thinking, especially within the Republican Party,” Buck told RS. Following the end of World War II, he said, it took “a full churning” of the conservative movement to replace old-school non-interventionist Republicans and to get the party in line with the Cold War consensus. “I think what we're seeing now is something similar but in reverse with a generation of conservatives.”
He added that the failures of the War on Terror resulted in a deep skepticism of the national security state and the Republican party establishment. Opinion polling and trends show that the American public that grew up either during or in the shadow of the disastrous military campaigns in the Greater Middle East is generally opposed to military intervention and more questioning of American institutions.
“All the energy on FP [foreign policy] in the GOP right now is with the younger generation that wants fundamental transformation of USFP [U.S. foreign policy],” noted Justin Logan, director of defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, on X. “The self-satisfied, insular neocons who loathe their voters’ FP views are a dying breed.”
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Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at the Munich Security Conference, Feb. 17, 2024. (David Hecker/MSC)
MUNICH, GERMANY — If U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris dominated the first day of the Munich Security Conference with her remarks, today it was German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s turn.
It was not only Zelensky who understandably devoted his whole speech to the Ukraine War but also Scholz, too. The German Chancellor, while boasting that his country will devote 2% of its GDP to defense expenditures this year, remarked that “we Europeans need to do much more for our security now and in the future.”
In a brief but clear reference to Trump’s recent statements on NATO, Scholz said, "any relativization of NATO’s mutual defense guarantee will only benefit those who, just like Putin, want to weaken us.” On the guns and butter debate, which is particularly relevant in Germany due to negligible economic growth, Scholz acknowledged that critical voices are saying, “should not we be using the money for other things?” But he chose not to engage in this debate, noting instead that “Moscow is fanning the flames of such doubts with targeted disinformation campaigns and with propaganda on social media.”
The Russian capture of the city represents the most significant defeat for Ukraine since the failure of its counter-offensive last year. On the loss of Avdiivka, Zelensky said that Ukraine had lost one soldier for every seven soldiers who have died on the Russian side. This, however, is difficult to reconcile with the reports about the rushed Ukrainian retreat, with a Ukrainian soldier explaining that “the road to Avdiivka is littered with our corpses.”
Throughout his speech, Zelensky repeatedly referred to the importance of defending what he called the “rules-based world order” by defeating Russia. If there was one take-away that Zelensky wanted impressed on this audience: “Please do not ask Ukraine when the war will end. Ask yourself why is Putin still able to continue it.”
He also seemed to suggest that it was not a lack of available weapons and artillery but a willingness to give them over to Ukraine. “Dear friends, unfortunately keeping Ukraine in the artificial deficit of weapons, particularly in deficit of artillery and long-range capabilities, allows Putin to adapt to the current intensity of the war,” Zelenskyy said. “The self-weakening of democracy over time undermines our joint results.”
The future of NATO was one of the main topics of the day. European leaders were in agreement that Europe needs to spend more on defense, and occasionally appeared to compete with each other on who has spent the most on weapons delivered to Ukraine or in their national defense budgets.
With NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in attendance, one of the panels featured two of the most talked-about names to replace the Norwegian politician in the 75th-anniversary summit in Washington in July: EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. According to a report by the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, President Joseph Biden and his Secretary of State Anthony Blinken favor the German leader, but in Paris, London, and Berlin, the Dutch politician is preferred.
The participation of the Netherlands in the initial U.S.-UK joint strikes against Houthi positions in Yemen on Jan. 11 was read in some quarters as a sign of Rutte’s ambitions. The Netherlands was the only EU country to join these initial attacks.
A G7 meeting of foreign ministers also took place Saturday on the sidelines of the conference. In a press briefing that followed, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani — who currently presides the G7 — reiterated the group’s support for Ukraine. The current situation in the Red Sea, as is often the case in the West, was presented by Tajani as a topic divorced from the Gaza Strip. The Houthis started their campaign against ships in the Red Sea after the beginning of the war in Gaza, claiming they want to force an end to the conflict.
There is no certainty that the end of the war in Gaza would put an end to Houthi attacks, but presenting the situation in the Red Sea as being nothing but a threat to freedom of trade is considered by experts to be a a myopic approach.
Nevertheless, Italy will be in command of the new EU naval mission ASPIDES, to be deployed soon in the Red Sea. The mission is expected to be approved by the next meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers on Monday. When asked whether he could ensure that ASPIDES would remain a defensive mission, the Italian Foreign Minister said ASPIDES aims at defending merchant ships and that if drones or missiles are launched, they will be shot down, but no attacks will be conducted.
Marc Martorell Junyent is in Munich, covering the conference for Responsible Statecraft this weekend. This story is developing and is being updated.
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Vice President Kamala Harris at the Munich Security Conference, Feb. 16, 2024. (Lukas Barth-Tuttas/MSC)
MUNICH, GERMANY – The 60th year of the Munich Security Conference opened today with much of the early energy surrounding remarks by Vice President Kamala Harris.
The vice president noted that it was nearly two years since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. She said that when Putin unleashed his troops along different fronts in February 2022, “many thought Kyiv would fall within a day.” It is also true, as she pointed out, that “Ukraine has regained more than half the territory Russia occupied at the start of the conflict.” (Russia held about 7% before the invasion, 27% right after, and about 18% today.)
However, by choosing the first months of the war as the starting point of her speech, Harris sought to avoid the obvious. Namely, that in the year that has gone by since her last visit to Munich, the Ukrainian army has been losing ground. Yet, her remarks regarding Ukraine today did not differ much from her speech in 2023.
Harris seemed dedicated to keeping to the administration’s recent script, which is warning against heralding in a new era of “isolationism,” referring to President Biden's likely presidential election opponent, Donald Trump.
As president Biden and I have made clear over the past three years, we are committed to pursue global engagement, to uphold international rules and norms, to defend democratic values at home and abroad, and to work with our allies and partners in pursuit of shared goals.
As I travel throughout my country and the world, it is clear to me: this approach makes America strong. And it keeps Americans safe.
Interestingly, the U.S. has been accused of thwarting "international rules and norms" in its unconditional support of Israel’s war on Gaza, which has killed upwards of 29,000 Palestinians, mostly of them civilians, since Hamas’s Oct. 7 invasion of Israel and hostage-taking. Christoph Heusgen, the chairman of the Munich Security Conference, asked Harris whether a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine was achievable. Harris answered that “the short answer is yes… but we must then put the discussion in context, starting with October 7.” Not 1948, not 1967, but October 7, 2023.
Her prepared remarks on the situation were very brief, overall, saying:
In the Middle East, we are working to end the conflict that Hamas triggered on October 7th as soon as possible and ensure it ends in a way where Israel is secure, hostages are released, the humanitarian crisis is resolved, Hamas does not control Gaza, and Palestinians can enjoy their right to security, dignity, freedom, and self-determination.
This work — while we also work to counter aggression from Iran and its proxies, prevent regional escalation, and promote regional integration.
October 7 was the topic of a conference side event hosted by Brigadier-General Gal Hirsch, Israel’s Coordinator for Hostages and Missing. In his opening speech, he called for a Global War on Kidnapping inspired by George Bush’s War on Terror. Hirsch was short on the specifics, and Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz did not develop the concept further when he followed Hirsch at the podium. During the event, several hostages released during the short ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in November 2023 described their harrowing experiences in captivity. Relatives of the remaining hostages accompanied them.
Meanwhile, in a morning event, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis discussed how to increase defense spending in a time of economic stagnation. Mitsotakis, whose country has always spent significantly more than the expected 2% of the GDP required by NATO, stated that defense policy cannot be done on a budget. Lindner, meanwhile, remarked that Germany is on the way to spending 2% of its GDP on defense. Economic prosperity, the German Liberal minister noted, should avoid tradeoffs between social and defense policies. This is certainly a difficult equation to square since the German government just announced it was reviewing its forecast for GDP growth in 2024 from 1.3% down to 0.2%.
Marc Martorell Junyent is in Munich, covering the conference for Responsible Statecraft this weekend. This story is developing.