Trump pick for top diplomat: No more ‘soft policy’ on Russia

Published April 12, 2018, 11:03 AM

by AJ Siytangco


By Agence France-Presse

President Donald Trump’s pick for top US diplomat will tell senators Thursday that if confirmed he will get tough on Russia, address flagging morale and fill vacancies at the State Department — in addition to helping the agency revive its “swagger.”

Mike Pompeo, currently the CIA director, faces a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that could not come sooner, as tensions soar with Russia and Syria and a trade spat with China threatens to snowball.

US President Donald Trump

“Russia continues to act aggressively, enabled by years of soft policy toward that aggression,” Pompeo says in his prepared remarks. “That’s now over.”

He has been tapped to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, in what could be one of the more consequential of many personnel shakeups since Trump took office 14 months ago.

Pompeo is a known entity for Trump, someone who briefed the president almost daily and shares a gung-ho attitude towards Iran.

But in excerpts released Wednesday by the White House, Pompeo says that while Tehran has paid “too low a price” for its behavior, Pompeo and Trump are prepared to revise the nuclear deal “to fix its most egregious flaws.”

Mindful of Tillerson’s reputation as a disengaged leader whose failure to fill critical positions at State alarmed lawmakers, Pompeo acknowledges he has heard firsthand from US diplomats about “how demoralizing it is to have so many vacancies and, frankly, not to feel relevant.”

“I’ll do my part to end the vacancies,” he says in the remarks.

The renewed sense of teamwork “will become the fabric of a State Department culture that finds its swagger once again.”

‘High bar’

As head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Pompeo has already been vetted by the US Senate, where 14 Democrats joined Republicans in confirming him to that post.

It appears at least one Democrat will be needed to get Pompeo successfully through the foreign relations committee with a positive recommendation.

The panel has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, and Republican Rand Paul has already expressed his opposition to Pompeo, for the latter’s support of the Iraq war and his aggressive posture against Iran.

But Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican hawk on foreign policy, said Pompeo is “the right guy at the right time” to lead State through a “dangerous” global period.

Trump has gone without a top US diplomat for nearly a month.

In that time he has threatened a trade war with China, blamed Russia and Syria for a suspected chemical attack that killed more than 40 people, and ratcheted up anti-Russia rhetoric on Twitter, including Wednesday’s warning that “missiles will be coming” in response to the chemical atrocity in Syria.

And on May 12, exactly one month from the hearing, Trump is to pronounce on the fate of the Iran nuclear deal, a pact Pompeo strenuously opposed in 2015 when he was a member of Congress.

Democrats have said they want to see a new secretary of state considerably more engaged with the agency he oversees.

“He’s got a high bar for a lot of us. He’s got to commit to ending this assault on the State Department personnel that Tillerson began,” Senator Chris Murphy, who is the foreign relations committee, said before Pompeo’s excerpts were released.

And with Trump recently appointing hawkish conservative John Bolton as his national security advisor, Murphy said he wanted to scrutinize Pompeo over potential flashpoints like North Korea and Syria.

“A lot of us are worried about the combination of Pompeo and Bolton putting a set of military options on the table for the president that could do real damage to our national security,” Murphy said.