- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2019

LONDON — President Trump is not trying to tear apart the European Union. He is also not bent on abandoning any of the big multinational institutions — NATO, the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and others — that the U.S. built up after World War II.

He is, however, committed to putting American interests first in foreign policy, and that means big institutions found to be no longer effective in promoting Western values of freedom and human rights must reform or face abandonment from Washington.

That was the central message of Mike Pompeo, at first Mr. Trump’s chief spy and now his chief diplomat, charged with explaining the shift in Washington to a wary world. The secretary of state and former CIA chief has served as the tip of the spear in translating Mr. Trump’s “America First” vision to nervous European leaders, and he spoke expansively of the president’s mission in a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Times this week as he rounded out his second tour through the capitals of the continent in less than a month.

“I hear this public narrative of the dissension,” said Mr. Pompeo, whose trip aligned with Mr. Trump’s participation in D-Day 75th anniversary celebrations in France. He was referring to trans-Atlantic hand-wringing over the Trump administration’s policy on Iran, its skepticism over climate change and its outspoken support for nationalist sovereignty movements on a continent long dominated by multilateralism.

At the end of the day, Mr. Pompeo said, Mr. Trump’s goal is basic: “Make sure we take care of Americans, right?”

That doesn’t mean, he said, that Washington wants to go it alone.

SEE ALSO: Mike Pompeo: U.S. not pushing for regime change in Iran

“We need allies and partners to achieve that,” he said. “And so, once you begin to develop that posture, you have to now figure out how to go deliver that, how to rally those forces to achieve those ends. If it’s a multilateral institution that is of long standing, great. If it’s alliance that forms for a singular purpose and disbands when that purpose is achieved, so be it.”

The secretary’s message is much subtler than is often portrayed by media outlets critical of Mr. Trump’s pugnacious, disruptive style. Mr. Pompeo, the one heavyweight other than Vice President Mike Pence who has held top-level status for Mr. Trump’s entire presidency, has spent the past several months refining and promoting that message in closed-door talks with his foreign counterparts.

Mr. Pompeo has pushed it the past four weeks in meetings with top German, Swiss, Dutch, British, Finnish and Danish officials close on the heels of a major December speech in Brussels where he called Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union “a political wake-up call” and questioned outright whether “the EU [is] ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats here.”

Mr. Pompeo lamented in his address that previous U.S. administrations didn’t act sooner to pressure Western multilateral institutions to reform in ways that would lead to free market growth.

“Bad actors have exploited our lack of leadership for their own gain,” he said. “This is the poisoned fruit of American retreat. President Trump is determined to reverse that.”

Promoters of the multilateral liberal order slammed the speech. Patrick M. Stewart, author of The Internationalist blog at the Council on Foreign Relations, called it “ridiculous” — at best, a “disjointed rejoinder to straw-man internationalism.”

Robert Kagan went further, arguing in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs that the administration is devising a dangerous formula to drive Europe, and particularly Germany, back to a version of their horrific past. “Overtly hostile to the EU, the Trump administration is encouraging the renationalization of Europe as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did in Brussels at the end of 2018, when he gave a speech touting the virtues of the nation-state.”


Mr. Pompeo, 55, a graduate of West Point and Harvard Business School who served six years in the House before he was tapped to be Mr. Trump’s first CIA director, claimed to be unfazed by the criticism from the foreign policy establishment.

“It’s interesting, you know? I think we captured in Brussels the central effort that President Trump has undertaken to make these institutions effective,” he told The Times. “If it’s not possible to get back to the original intention, or if the goals [of the institutions] have been achieved or … no longer make sense, we should revise their charters, we should revise their mission sets and update them.”

He pointed to NATO and defended Mr. Trump’s demand that alliance members spend more on security, but he stressed that the alliance has successfully evolved to address emerging 21st-century threats such as cyberwarfare.

“That’s a reform inside of a structure that made sense,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We just want to make sure that these institutions are fit for form and delivery. It could be that some of these institutions will go away. Right? It could be that they don’t work, their missions have been accomplished, and we should have a ribbon-cutting, have a big party and announce that we’re all going to go spend these resources someplace else to achieve joint security and prosperity for all the countries involved.”

He acknowledged that the “way American leadership is moving now is different than the previous administration, significantly.” But he rejected the notion that Mr. Trump’s blunt approach has managed only to sow division and acrimony with some of America’s strongest allies.

“We’ll have differences,” he said. “I view them as important, but not to the core of the strategic alignment between Europe and the United States. When I’m with the leaders — I was with the prime minister yesterday of the Netherlands — I watch, we’ll go tick through the three or four things that we’re trying to find our way through, and we always end with it’s the same objective: Let’s figure out the best way to deliver the outcome.”

“We learn from them,” he said. “They learn from us.”

But European frustration has a way of becoming public. Before the Netherlands, Mr. Pompeo was in Berlin, where German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stood beside him and publicly chastised the administration’s withdrawal from the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran. “It’s no secret that we have differences with regard to the right approach,” Mr. Maas said.

As for the “America First” approach toward the multilateral order? Mr. Maas told Der Spiegel after Mr. Pompeo’s speech in Brussels that “the U.S. is no longer the leading power among liberal democracies” and that Germany’s “purpose is to stand in opposition to those who have declared war on the multilateral world.”

A three-day stop Mr. Pompeo made this week in Switzerland was less confrontational. Maybe it was because the Swiss are not in the EU, but Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said he and the secretary of state “agreed that the world needs multilateralism, and this has to be as effective as possible, and that’s why Switzerland, like U.S., are in favor of the ongoing reforms, with different approaches.”

When asked by a reporter whether the “America First” approach is enhancing or harming the U.S. image in Switzerland, Mr. Cassis glanced at Mr. Pompeo before saying: “Despite what seems to go against multilateralism, today we have discussed this. … Our aim is to go back to the initial mission and, of course, the multilateral organizations need to do this.

“[But] we believe it’s got to be done from the inside, not from the outside, like they believe it should be done,” the Swiss foreign minister said.

Again, Mr. Pompeo was unfazed. When pressed later by The Times, he reflected for a moment before recounting a conversation he once had with Henry Kissinger in which the legendary former secretary of state reminded him of the long postwar history of disagreements between Washington and Europe that never broke up “the alliance that was always there.”

In the long view, it’s just not uncommon that the U.S. and European nations “trade barbs and say things publicly and … fight like the dickens,” Mr. Pompeo said. “But we always knew these were our central partners in the security relationship.”

“I think [Mr. Kissinger] was reminding me,” he said, “that the history can be rambunctious, but always aimed at the same thing.”

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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