Friday, April 26 marked a year since Mike Pompeo promised to restore the State Department’s “swagger.”
It was an odd word then and it remains an odd word now. The US State Department may be many things but swaggering is not the term that comes to mind. Despite the Trump administration, America’s diplomats carry weight wherever they go. They don’t swagger. They are solid. Substantial.
Anyway, may be Mr Pompeo doesn’t have a dictionary. Or perhaps he just likes the sound of the word.
He recently expanded on his view of the “swaggering” State Department: “We’ll roll out on Friday the very beginnings of this understanding that matches swagger, what we’ll call the ethos of the 21st century diplomat. And it walks through the work that we do and why we do it and why it’s important for each individual here to be part of that. I think we’ve made a lot of progress on that.”
It’s not clear how.
Many senior positions remain vacant, Mr Trump and his family serve as America’s chief diplomats and the US is using big sticks and sanctions rather than diplomacy on almost every issue from Iran to Venezuela.
Though Mr Pompeo classes negotiations with North Korea as “more progress diplomatically than at any time”, the desired outcome – denuclearisation – is neither close nor likely. It never was, of course, but the Trump-Pompeo spin tells a different story.
Mr Pompeo also offers a different account of the situation with Iran. He says: “We inherited an Iran that was launching missiles at a rate that was unheard of. “We inherited an Iran that was on a permanent pathway to a nuclear weapons system and we inherited an Iran that had an economy that was growing — the growing economy that is deeply tied to its capacity to spread terror around the world. We reversed every one of those. That’s an enormous accomplishment.”
That is debatable. In actual fact, the Gulf Arab states are more emboldened. Iran, it’s true, is economically weakened but it is more hostile and still wields huge influence in the region.
None of this is Mr Pompeo’s fault. It would be the case whoever would be President Trump’s Secretary of State.
As Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, recently said, if Mr Pompeo deserves credit it’s for “trying” despite the reality that this administration “shows essentially a lot of contempt for professional federal workers.”