Pompeo confirmation makes Mideast war more likely

The United States Senate has confirmed CIA director Mike Pompeo, the hawkish former Kansas congressman, as secretary of state. He replaces Rex Tillerson, who was fired via Twitter on March 13.

As a former Middle East analyst at the State Department, I believe that having Pompeo as America’s top diplomat will endanger the Iran nuclear deal.

In 2015, when he was in Congress, Pompeo voted against a multilateral agreement that the Obama administration negotiated to remove some international economic sanctions on Iran. In exchange, Iran would significantly scale back its nuclear program and submit to intrusive international inspections.

Backing out of that agreement could have dramatic foreign policy implications for the entire Mideast region.

Iran deal in danger

Donald Trump tapped Pompeo to replace Tillerson as secretary of state for reasons both personal and political.

The president reportedly found Tillerson arrogant and disrespectful. With Pompeo, on the other hand, Trump reports having very good “chemistry.”

Tillerson earned Trump’s ire by disagreeing with him on many substantive policy matters, perhaps chief among them Iran. Trump has been highly critical of the international nuclear agreement since his 2016 presidential campaign, calling it “the worst deal ever negotiated.”

He wanted to scuttle it when it came up for recertification in July 2017, but Tillerson advised against it on both diplomatic and security grounds.

The former secretary of state was highly critical of Iran, condemning its regional aggression and meddling in the Syrian civil war.

But I believe he understood, as many other policy analysts do, that backing out of the nuclear deal would destabilize the Middle East – and potentially put the world at risk – because Iran would likely react by restarting its nuclear program.

Despite Tillerson’s efforts, in October 2017 Trump finally decertified the Iran deal, which effectively opened the door for the U.S. Congress to reimpose sanctions.

In his January 2018 State of the Union address, he was more direct, calling on lawmakers to “address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal.”

Pompeo’s dangerous instincts

Pompeo shares his boss’s dim view.

As a congressman, Pompeo called the Iran nuclear deal – which the Obama administration negotiated alongside the U.K., France, Germany and other key partners – “unconscionable.” After Trump’s 2016 election, he stated that he was looking forward to “rolling it back.”

The U.N. Security Council voted to approve the international Iran agreement in July 2015. Mike Segar/Reuters
But during a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump recently signaled he might consider salvaging the deal – though he also called it “insane.”