Rand Paul is wrong to oppose Mike Pompeo's nomination

Sen. Rand Paul has announced that he will oppose the nomination of CIA director Mike Pompeo, condemning him as a "failed neocon."  However, a thorough review of Pompeo's record as CIA director demonstrates that far from an unrepentant neoconservative, he is a pragmatic realist with the necessary skills and experience to lead the State Department effectively.

As Paul himself often pointed out, the CIA has armed dozens of Syrian rebel groups over the last few years, including radical Islamists linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.  These groups often collaborated with al-Qaeda affiliates and undermined anti-ISIS efforts by attacking U.S. coalition forces as well as Syrian government forces.  According to a report by the New York Times, as CIA director, Pompeo recommended ending this program.  Trump agreed, and the aid was ended, much to the chagrin of Paul's nemesis, Sen. John McCain, a prominent neoconservative.

Far from his media portrayal as a reckless warmonger, Pompeo became instrumental in the Trump administration's covert diplomatic efforts with rogue states, successfully establishing back channels with the spy agencies of both Syria and North Korea.  The Syrian back channel, which was aimed at securing the release of American journalist Austin Tice, was described as the "highest-level contact between the governments in years."  Coupled with the cessation of aid to the rebels, this constituted a clear shift away from the Obama-era policy of regime change in Syria.

Working with South Korean intelligence, Pompeo also helped engineer the administration's ground-breaking diplomatic opening with North Korea, which will culminate in the first meeting between the sitting leaders of the United States and North Korea since the beginning of the conflict on the Korea peninsula.  Though Pompeo has at times publicly hinted at a more aggressive approach toward North Korea, there is a strong suggestion that this is merely part of the administration's negotiating strategy: to utilize unpredictability as a tool to extract concessions from Pyongyang on denuclearization.  To put it in Paul's own words, the United States must engage in a "robust diplomacy with those we disagree with," but "diplomacy requires implied force."

Paul will also find plenty of common ground with Pompeo on Russia.  Although Pompeo remains a staunch critic of Russian foreign policy maneuvers over the last few years, he takes a fairly reasoned approach to relations with Moscow.  During an ongoing rift within the White House, outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster has pushed for a more belligerent stance, while Pompeo eschews confrontation in favor of a balanced outlook that emphasizes greater coordination, noting the dependence of many of our European allies on Russian oil and gas.  Given that Paul himself repeatedly emphasized a similar position on the 2016 campaign trail, he ought to celebrate the Pompeo nomination as evidence of the administration embracing a position closer to his own.

Furthermore, Pompeo has often been described as exceptionally loyal to the president.  Unlike past foreign policy officials such as Rex Tillerson and McMaster, Pompeo is seen as someone who will follow orders from the president and implement them, rather than using his position to pursue his own ideological agenda.  Given Trump's diplomatic, "deal-making" instincts and frequent criticism of the neoconservative worldview, this characteristic is a strong asset for the secretary of state-designate.

In addition, Pompeo is from the conservative wing of the party and is willing to engage with the Republican grassroots, which is far more war-weary than the more globalist party establishment.  Just ask Paul's close ally, Freedom Caucus rep. Justin Amash, who served alongside Pompeo in the House.  When Pompeo was nominated as CIA director, Amash proclaimed on Twitter that he was a "great pick" who "will listen to our concerns and serve with integrity."  As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Paul will also have the opportunity to work closely with Pompeo, a open-minded secretary of state who is prepared to take into account more than just the conventional views espoused by Republican congressional leadership.

Finally, it has been widely reported that the only real alternative that the administration considered was United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley.  Although Paul supported Haley in her confirmation vote, she later emerged as the administration's most vocal and fervent foreign policy hawk, particularly on Syria and Russia.  If she were elevated to secretary of state, she would burnish her credentials as a prospective 2024 presidential contender – a less than ideal outcome for Paul, who has dedicated his career to moving the Republican Party away from the foreign policy excesses of the Bush years.

Rand Paul has said "the job of the State Department is diplomacy, not war."  Mike Pompeo understands this.  If Paul seeks a shrewd diplomat who will advance President Trump's "America First" agenda on the world stage, he should vote to confirm Mike Pompeo as U.S. secretary of state.