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Vinit Sheth
27/7/2023

Mike Pompeo on Leadership, Geopolitics, and the Future of America: Insights from a Former US Secretary of State

In this episode, host Jen Prosek sits down for a candid conversation with Mike Pompeo, former US Secretary of State & Director of the CIA. Pompeo shares his unique journey, from his business career to assuming the role of Secretary of State during the eventful Trump administration. He shares his views on the role that the US should play in the context of today’s rapidly evolving political and economic climate.
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Pompeo's path to becoming Secretary of State was unconventional. He acknowledges that his various roles built up to the moment he received the opportunity to be the CIA Director and later the Secretary of State. He emphasizes the importance of building a capable team and understanding his new boss' expectations, which set the stage for his tenure.

When reflecting on his time as Secretary of State, Pompeo highlights his two major achievements, explaining his belief that ‘the signature thing we achieved was a set of understandings in the Middle East’, which has reduced the likelihood of armed conflicts and enhanced regional security. He suggested that the Trump administration’s Abraham Accords, which normalised the ties between Israel, UAE and Bahrain, has played a key role in unlocking peace in the Middle East.

"I think the signature thing we achieved was a set of understandings in the Middle East that mean it's less likely that your kids or my kids will ever have to go fight and die there. Israel will be safer, Middle Eastern countries [will be], and most importantly, America will be. And then there'll be a huge commercial component to this as well, which in the end really does drive international relations."

Second, he underscores the importance of economic diplomacy, recognising the power of the American economy in driving international relations. He explains that when it came to foreign policy, they 'put economics at the front and centre of it.’ The Trump administration extensively used economic sanctions, most notably against Iran, Venezuela, and China, to advance US foreign policy.

Pompeo also discusses the complex geopolitical challenges posed by Russia and China. Russia's actions in Ukraine have been a focal point of international concern, with the war not only a tragedy in itself, but also resulting in a humanitarian crisis and disruption in supply chains. He remarks that, despite the US media framing the administration as ‘Russian assets’, Putin ‘didn’t take any of Ukraine on our watch’.

"The model for China has to be the Reagan model of deterrence. And frankly, the Trump model, which we were pretty successful at, is a model that doesn't permit the perception of weakness to creep into the bad guys minds. And if you can do that, if you can keep that perception at bay, you should. And continuing to help the Ukrainians is a fundamental piece of that."

Pompeo emphasises the importance of standing by America's commitments and supporting Ukraine's defence against Russian aggression, in part thanks to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, a ‘seldom seen or talked about treaty’ which gave Ukraine security assurances from the West in exchange for the country giving up its nuclear weapons. While acknowledging that Putin made a strategic blunder, he urged vigilance, as Russia remains a formidable adversary with significant military capabilities. He added that in the aftermath of the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, US commitment to the country is especially important in terms of setting a precedent to both allies & adversaries.

“I think the Russians knew that we were either crazy, or really good, or serious, about enforcing the things we said we'd do. I'm agnostic as to which it is. I think I know, but others would deny it. Here's what I can prove. He [Putin] didn't take any of Ukraine on our watch.”

He also discusses US-China relations, explaining that its economic ascent and growing military capabilities will be significant factors that will shape the future for generations to come (more so than Russia). The former CIA director stressed the need to find a balance between competing economically with China while maintaining critical diplomatic relationships. He emphasizes the importance of adopting a policy of reciprocity in trade and economic relations, ensuring that China's access to American markets is contingent on fair treatment for American companies. He expresses wanting ‘good things for the Chinese people’ acknowledging however, that they can’t ‘do that on the backs of Americans’ (a comment which somewhat also reflects China’s mutual benefit principle in their foreign affairs).

Moreover, Mike advocates for building strong relationships with key allies, such as India, Japan, and South Korea, to present a united front against China's assertiveness. Given these ‘powerful allies and friends in the region’, this presents an ‘enormous challenge’ for the CCP. By demonstrating strength through unity, he believes that China will be incentivized to adopt more responsible behaviour in the global arena. The Trump administration’s efforts revived the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), an informal strategic forum between Australia, Japan, India, and the US to counter China’s aggressive posture in the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific region.

“India, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia. These are big economies. And when we get those economies all working together, I think the leadership in China will have to confront an enormous challenge and I hope that will cause them to conform and behave.”

Pompeo explains the title of his book, ‘Never Give An Inch,’ that it is not about being uncompromising, but about setting clear boundaries in key areas like sovereignty, but still being willing to compromise with others to achieve key objectives. Looking ahead to the upcoming 2024 US Presidential Election, he hopes that politicians will focus on policy, not personalities (although he’s not optimistic on this, ‘given the current media environment’!). He stresses that maintaining authenticity and making a positive impact, even in small ways, is essential for leaders.

In the interview, he encourages business leaders to drive innovation and compete in global markets, given that ‘American security depends on a powerful, creative, innovative and some days crushing American economy’. Pompeo highlights the importance of focusing on substantive issues, such as education, law and order, and property rights, encouraging leaders to prioritise discussions on policies that contribute to the social mobility and economic success of future generations. He comments that US economic success and risk taking entrepreneurs directly contributes to supporting the incomes of those in less developed markets, and that ‘solutions to America’s problems aren’t likely to come from Washington DC’, but are ‘infinitely more likely to come from the hundreds and thousands of people out there every day driving to take care of their families’.

"The solutions to America's problems aren't likely to come from Washington, DC. They are infinitely more likely to come from hundreds of thousands of people out there every day driving to take care of their families, their businesses, their communities, in ways that only Americans have really figured out."

Pompeo's emphasis on authenticity, clear boundaries, and substantive discussions serves as a guide for leaders seeking to make a positive impact in their respective fields. As we navigate the future, it is clear that the former US Secretary of State believes that America's strength lies in the hands of its entrepreneurs and risk-takers, who will play a critical role in both the US and global economy.

By Vinit Sheth, who has completed work experience at the Money Maze Podcast. Vinit is a second year Master’s in Management student at ESCP Business School. He is enthusiastic about sustainability and global geopolitics. He has worked as an intern with the investment team for a sustainable infrastructure fund. With further contributions from Oliver Bodmer and Celine Basma of the Money Maze Podcast Team.

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In the third and final episode of our 'July With Jen Series', guest hosted by Jen Prosek, we welcome Mike Pompeo onto the show. Mike is the only man to ever have served as both the US Secretary of State (2018-21) and CIA Director (2017-18).

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July 27, 2023
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