Popular Memoirs Of A Secretary Of State

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Michael Richard Pompeo has recently published an autobiography with a catchy and self-explaining title, Never Give an Inch: Fighting for America I Love, that has become the New York Times bestseller, eloquently testifying to the huge popularity the autobiography of the seventieth top diplomat of the United States has successfully commanded among readers.

Pompeo served as Secretary of State for almost three years, looking after the foreign affairs of a country that has so far 71 secretaries presiding over one of the most powerful offices in the world, with a wide-ranging gap of tenures ranging from 11 days for 25th Secretary Elihu Benjamin Washburne to more than 11 years in respect of one of the Nobel Peace Prize-winner secretaries of state and 47th in a row, Cordell Hull.

The fantastic book, with a portrait of the writer on the front cover, has probably earned the widespread approval of voracious readers interested in knowing the inside story of Donald Trump, one of the most controversial presidents in the history of the United States, from the man who could highlight his interpretation of the diplomacy of the 45th President from what can be called ringside. Pompeo also has the distinction of becoming the first Secretary of State to combine his experience as the former head of the country's top espionage outfit, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

For the local readers of ours, Mike Pompeo is possibly the most familiar US Secretary of State in recent years, as he hosted a meeting with Nepal's Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali on December 18, 2018 that carried widespread publicity in Nepal. The meeting took place at Foggy Bottom, the virtual nickname of the foreign office of the country, the Department of State.

The State Department is the seniormost American establishment in terms of the executive branch and thus assumes premier status in any US administration. Possibly as a matter of policy priority, Nepal counts little in Washington, DC's global scheme of things, as our foreign minister's supposedly important meeting hardly figures anywhere in Pompeo's memoirs.

While most of the foreign offices in the world have the customary name of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is interesting to note that the initially established Department of Foreign Affairs in 1781 was instead asked by the founding fathers to have a new nomenclature, the Department of State, in 1789. While Nepal has a rather ignoble record of reshuffling foreign ministers more than a hundred times in a short span of 73 years, the United States has found it prudent to have only 71 people on the roll in a history of almost 235 years.

Divided into 17 chapters apart from a short introduction and a pregnant synthesis (Conclusion, Today, and Tomorrow), the book is a little bit unconventional in the sense that the foreword is contributed by Nick Pompeo (full name Nicholas William Pompeo), son of the writer in his early thirties, who chose a profession of investment and sales. The foreword is the eulogy of Pompeo the senior and author.

Secretary Pompeo realises that the foursome responsibility he was asked to handle—advising the President, leading the CIA for 15 months, presiding over the foreign policy apparatus, and negotiating with what he prefers to call the world's toughest leaders for almost 33 months with a total of exactly one thousand days—was a difficult exercise under any circumstance.

Naturally, as a corollary to the above stipulation, the book starts with a self-proclaimed risk-taker's secret mission to Pyongyang to meet Kim Jong-Un and his figurative number two, Kim Yong-Chul, whom he dubs as one of the nastiest men ever encountered, and Kim Yo-Jong, Chairman Kim's sister and potent figure.

The book contains three points of advice that the author received from 61st Secretary of State James Baker for better functioning as the first diplomat of the country. These include a seamless relationship with the President, understanding the limitations of the position of Secretary of State as simply an implementer and deliverer of the President's advice rather than a creator or maker of foreign policy, and making the best use of the brain for the country, the President, and the team.

Pompeo makes an interestingly readable diplomatic and logistical odyssey of continuing and emerging hotspots in American foreign policy: Iran, NATO, the Middle East, etc. He seems to be constantly reminded of the advice of his Canadian friend and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney that he should concentrate on big-ticket items that history remembers and not waste time on everything else that it forgets.

While the work is an excellent narrative of the jobs of CIA Director and Secretary of State, it has some important takeaways from the annals of diplomacy. The first thing is that the world is a nasty place beset with so many problems that may or may not immediately be resolved but demand sustained, gradualist, and patient negotiations.

The second lesson that Pompeo intends to draw from his experience is that defending 

national interests is the paramount goal of every foreign policy, and, in addition, telling hard truths is fundamental to acts of statesmanship.

Two other points that the Secretary of State stresses include strength as a pillar of diplomacy and "personnel is policy" as the norm in terms of the administration of foreign policy, despite the usual and almost routine complaints on the part of the President or Secretary of State against the career bureaucracy. In his definition of strength, the top diplomat broadly encompasses superiority in military strength, economic dominance, and even willpower.

The other fundamental pre-requisite of any diplomacy is perceived accomplishment in terms of successful dealmaking or negotiation. Pompeo generalises all dealmaking, be it business, law, or politics, with the emphasis that negotiations involve a cycle consisting of different phenomena like mapping strategy, defending interest, and correctly identifying position, irrespective of their popularity, in the advancement of a larger and broader national interest.

To conclude, Mike Pompeo's effort is one of the best presentations by Secretaries of State, as many of his predecessors have so eloquently contributed wonderful books to highlight the roles and constraints they played and confronted to project US interests abroad, as well as their readings of the prevailing world situation. The author deserves congratulations for his laudably free and frank endeavours.


(Dr. Bhattarai is a former foreign secretary.)

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