Shadow Government

Here’s What the Senate Should Ask Mike Pompeo

Democratic foreign-policy veterans want answers from Trump’s pick for secretary of state.

Mike Pompeo during his confirmation hearing to be CIA director in Washington on Jan. 12, 2017. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Mike Pompeo during his confirmation hearing to be CIA director in Washington on Jan. 12, 2017. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The U.S. Senate’s consideration of CIA Director Mike Pompeo for confirmation as secretary of state is a critical inflection point for U.S. foreign policy. Some consider Pompeo one of the few remaining “adults” in President Donald Trump’s inner circle, but his appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday will be the first real airing of his views on most foreign policy. Here are some questions Shadow Government contributors hope he will answer.

Daniel B. Baer

Your past statements could be seen as indicating that you don’t believe in diplomacy. Do you?

What do you think the goals of U.S. diplomacy should be in the next five years?

Do you agree with Trump’s assertion that he is “the only one that matters”? If you do agree, why do you want to be secretary of state?

Former President Ronald Reagan, in his farewell address, spoke of the United States’ moral leadership and role in the world. He said the country was “still a beacon … for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.” What would you do or advocate as secretary of state to undo the damage that the Trump administration’s travel ban and slashing of refugee admissions have done to Reagan’s vision of the United States as a home for pilgrims from lost places?

What role should the promotion of human rights, support for civil society, and public advocacy for democratic principles play in U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy?

What do you think is the greatest lesson from the history of the run-up to World War I?

Daniel Baer is diplomat in residence at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. He was U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from 2013 to 2017. He previously served as a deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor from 2009 to 2013.

Daniel Benjamin

Several dozen of the nation’s leading figures in the fight against terrorism — from both parties and from top ranks of the career civil service — came out to oppose Trump’s original travel ban and each subsequent revision. They argued that the bans targeted countries the citizens of which had never been involved in an attack against the United States on home soil and that it would alienate key partners in the Muslim world, as well as American Muslims. In short, they claimed convincingly that the ban would undermine key partnerships in the fight against terrorism and discourage those American Muslims who have provided many of the most important tips on individuals who are radicalizing. Do you support the president’s travel bans, and, if so, why?

You have been a frequent guest on the radio show of Frank Gaffney — a man who claims that some 80 percent of American mosques are incubators of Islamist extremism. Do you share that view? You’ve said on the show that the United States is honeycombed with organizations tied to radical Islam — do you believe that? Do you believe the Muslim Brotherhood should be designated as a terrorist organization and, if so, why?

The Gulf Cooperation Council has been riven by a conflict between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on one hand and Qatar on the other. Do you share the view of those countries that Qatar is a sponsor of terrorism and too close to Iran? The United States’ largest air base in the region is in Qatar. Do you think the government should move it? Would fixing this rift be a priority of yours, and how do you plan to achieve that goal?

Daniel Benjamin is director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He served from 2009 to 2012 as ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department. 

Reuben Brigety

Given Trump’s unfortunate characterization of Africa as a “shithole” — and the fact that he fired former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson while he was on a goodwill tour of Africa — how do you plan to rebuild relationships on the African continent in the wake of the president’s insult?

How would you engage with Africa early in your tenure? Since Africa contains seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world and given that, according to many observers, the United States is rapidly losing influence in Africa to the Chinese, what initiatives do you plan to pursue to advance U.S. interests there?

Reuben Brigety is dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University and is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. From 2013 to 2015, he served as the U.S. ambassador to the African Union and U.S. permanent representative to the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa. Previously he served as the deputy assistant secretary of state for African Affairs and also for population, refugees, and migration. 

Derek Chollet

In your October 2015 questioning of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her 11-hour testimony on Benghazi, you criticized her for not personally reviewing the security needs of all U.S. diplomatic facilities. If you become secretary, how do you plan to handle this differently?

You also argued that the U.S. military should have been called in to help thwart the Benghazi attack, even though appropriate forces were not nearby. Given that, do you believe the U.S. military should be postured and on alert to address threats to diplomatic facilities? And more broadly, to do their jobs (especially in difficult assignments), diplomats have to assume some degree of risk.

How do you weigh the balance between security and engagement in diplomacy?

Derek Chollet served in the Obama administration for six years in senior positions at the White House, State Department, and Pentagon, most recently as the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. He is currently the executive vice president at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Chollet is a co-editor of Shadow Government.

Dan Feldman

What is the U.S. national security interest in Afghanistan, and what is the U.S. goal there after more than 16 years of engagement and the blood spent?

Is the United States destined to a permanent military stalemate in Afghanistan, and if not, what would change that dynamic?

Has the administration’s South Asia policy had results to date, and what is it designed to achieve?

U.S. military and political leaders have long acknowledged that a negotiated political settlement is the only sustainable resolution in Afghanistan. Should the United States enter into direct reconciliation discussions with the Taliban and, if so, under what conditions?

Is the United States at war with the Taliban? Who is tasked with formulating and leading a viable diplomatic strategy to bring this long-running conflict to a peaceful resolution?

What is the role of Afghanistan’s neighbors in resolving the conflict there, and should the United States help lead engagement with these key partners to seek to bring peace to the region? How can the United States do that effectively, given the deteriorating bilateral relations with key regional partners such as Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and China?

Dan Feldman spent more than six years at the State Department in the Barack Obama administration helping to lead civilian efforts on Afghanistan and Pakistan, including serving as special representative for those two countries, with the rank of ambassador, from 2014 to 2015.  He is currently a partner at the law firm Akin Gump, a senior advisor at the Albright Stonebridge Group, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Ilan Goldenberg

Under your predecessor, morale at the State Department reached historic lows. Tillerson enforced hiring freezes that made it very difficult for the department to bring in new talent or even rotate and promote employees on a regular schedule. He failed to fill many critical positions that make the department tick, especially at the assistant secretary, undersecretary, and ambassador levels. In some instances, there have been reports of career nonpolitical civil servants facing retribution for doing their jobs during President Barack Obama’s administration. In other cases, Tillerson and his team chose not to spend funds that Congress had appropriated, starving the department of necessary resources. Do you commit to fully staffing and funding the State Department so that it can put diplomacy back in the U.S. toolkit? Would you end the hiring freezes? Can you promise that the practice of targeting civil servants for political retaliation would end? And how else do you plan to improve morale at the State Department?

Ilan Goldenberg is a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security program at the Center for a New American Security. Previously, he served as chief of staff to the special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, supporting Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative to conduct peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Juan S. Gonzalez

Relations with Mexico have seen better days — from Trump’s campaign rhetoric against Mexicans to his focus on building a wall with Mexico to the potential end of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Some suggest that U.S.-Mexico tensions have helped the candidacy of populist Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador. How would you navigate the increasingly adversarial nature of the bilateral relationship to keep cooperation going on matters such as migration, security, and energy?

What is the administration’s policy toward Venezuela? There is bipartisan consensus in the United States that something must be done to restore regular democratic order in the country and address the growing humanitarian situation. To date, the administration has focused on individual and possible sectoral sanctions, and the president has said publicly that he was at one point considering military intervention. What the administration has not done is articulate a clear vision for how it would manage day-after scenarios, including managing the humanitarian crisis, grave security challenges, and the massive debt overhang that would prevent a future democratic government from doing what’s necessary to bring the country back from the brink.

Both Trump and Tillerson have been critical of the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. As secretary of state, what would be your position on Colombia’s negotiations with guerrilla groups?

Tillerson also significantly slashed U.S. support to Colombia until Congress — in a bipartisan way — restored funding levels. The next Colombian president will be influenced by the U.S. position. What should that position be?

Juan S. Gonzalez is an associate vice president with the Cohen Group, where he leads the firm’s practice in Latin America and the Caribbean. He was previously the deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. 

Nina Hachigian

What is your economic strategy for an Asia-Pacific in which members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, and others can agree on a vision for an integrated trade block?

What is the U.S. diplomatic strategy for the South China Sea to complement the military’s role?

Nina Hachigian served as the U.S. ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations from 2014 to 2017. 

Colin Kahl

Given that the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Trump administration have both repeatedly found that Iran remains in technical compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal (more formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), the United States will be in material breach of the agreement if Trump refuses to reissue waivers on nuclear-related sanctions on May 12. The majority of the international community, including the other parties to the agreement (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom), would strongly oppose this move. Having jettisoned the JCPOA and signaled to Iran and the international community that the United States can’t be trusted to live up to its international obligations, what options would remain to address the prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons?

Would you support the United States initiating military action against Iran?

Colin H. Kahl is the inaugural Steven C. Hazy senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies’ Center for International Security and Cooperation and a strategic consultant at the Penn-Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. From 2014 to 2017, he was deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden. Kahl is a co-editor of Shadow Government.

Jeffrey Prescott

The day before you were nominated to be director of the CIA, regarding the Iran nuclear deal, you tweeted that you looked forward to “rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” As a member of Congress, you publicly supported a U.S. policy of regime change in Iran. Your colleagues, your own analysts at the CIA, and international inspectors disagree and in recent months have affirmed that the nuclear deal continues to verifiably roll back and constrain Iran’s nuclear program and is subjecting Iran to unprecedented international monitoring and inspections. In short, the deal is working, and sticking with it remains in the U.S. national interest.

In the May 2017 Worldwide Threat Assessment, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats assessed that the deal had “enhanced the transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities” and “extended the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon from a few months to about a year.” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford testified in September 2017 that the briefings he had received “indicate that Iran is adhering to its JCPOA obligations.” And when asked in testimony by Sen. Angus King in October 2017 whether remaining in the Iran nuclear deal is in the U.S. national security interest, Defense Secretary James Mattis replied, “Yes, senator, I do.” Given the judgment of your colleagues — and the strong views of our closest allies — do you support a U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal?

Jeffrey Prescott served as a special assistant to the president and senior director for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Persian Gulf states on the National Security Council. He joined the Barack Obama administration in 2010 as a White House fellow and was Vice President Joe Biden’s deputy national security advisor and senior Asia advisor. 

Ely Ratner

China spends billions of dollars in propaganda around the world to promote a vision of its own ascendancy and benevolence, alongside U.S. decline and depravity. As a result, perceptions of the inevitability of China’s rise and future dependence on China have reinforced Beijing’s coercive toolkit. Meanwhile, the U.S. government currently has limited capacity to compete in the information domain. As secretary, what would you do to strengthen the ability of the United States to engage in more effective strategic messaging and information operations specifically geared toward the China challenge? Would you support rebuilding U.S. government institutions and devoting additional resources to this area?

Ely Ratner is the Maurice R. Greenberg senior fellow in China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He was deputy national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden from 2015 to 2017 and previously served in the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs at the State Department and as a professional staff member on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

Amanda Sloat

Turkey has objected to U.S. military cooperation with the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria, given the group’s links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to expand Operation Olive Branch, Turkey’s intervention in Syria, from Afrin to Manbij, which could result in combat between the Turkish military and U.S.-backed YPG forces, as well as U.S. soldiers based there. If confirmed, how would you prevent direct conflict with a NATO ally?

As a result of U.S. military support, the YPG currently controls significant territory in northeastern Syria. Does the administration support an autonomous Kurdish region?

Given broader Kurdish tensions in the region, what role can the United States play in encouraging Turkey and the PKK to resume peace negotiations?

In a May 2017 speech, Tillerson made a distinction between pursuing U.S. interests and promoting U.S. values. Do you agree with this approach? If confirmed, would you prioritize defense of democracy and human rights around the world?

There has been a worrying rise in support for far-right parties in some European countries, as well as increasingly illiberal behavior by several NATO allies, including Hungary, Poland, and Turkey. Are you concerned by these developments? How would you respond to efforts by allied governments to limit judicial independence and media freedom?

Amanda Sloat is a Robert Bosch senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. She is also a fellow in the Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School. She served in the Barack Obama administration as the deputy assistant secretary of state for southern Europe and eastern Mediterranean affairs, as well as senior advisor to the White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and Gulf region.

Julie Smith

When he served as defense secretary in the Obama administration, Robert Gates paired up with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to argue for an increase in the government’s budget for diplomacy. In an interview alongside Clinton in April 2010, he said, “For the good of America’s long-term national security, the Pentagon must be able to relinquish some of the nation-building and other international development duties it has taken on by default.” Do you agree? If so, how should the U.S. government ensure it has the funds to relieve the Pentagon of those duties?

Julianne Smith is director of the transatlantic security program at the Center for a New American Security. Prior to joining CNAS, she served as the deputy national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden from 2012 to 2013. Smith is a co-editor of Shadow Government.

Jon Wolfsthal

The Iraq War shows that regime change is not an effective nonproliferation tool. Americans will not support another war to eliminate weapons of mass destruction if it requires the U.S. military to invade and occupy a foreign country at the cost of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. Do you share this view?

Do you view regime change and invasion as an effective and efficient international tool to deal with nonproliferation? If so, how do those costs compare with verified negotiated agreements like the Iran nuclear deal?

The U.S. military, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the head of U.S. Strategic Command, supports the New START arms control agreement with Russia. Do you favor its five-year extension? If not, why? What would be lost if the treaty were allowed to prematurely expire in 2021?

Jon Wolfsthal is a nonresident fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was President Barack Obama’s special assistant and senior director at the National Security Council for arms control and nonproliferation.

Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy in the age of Trump, written by experienced policymakers, scholars, and practitioners from the loyal Democrat opposition. It is co-edited by Derek Chollet, Colin Kahl, and Julie Smith.

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