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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 18 August 2018

Mike Pompeo: From soldier and spy chief to diplomat

The 54-year-old has enjoyed a fast rise since landing at Capitol Hill

Pictured in this file photo, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on February 13, 2018. Aaron P. Bernstein /Reuters
Pictured in this file photo, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on February 13, 2018. Aaron P. Bernstein /Reuters

Mike Pompeo has everything that Donald Trump wants in a senior appointment: A hawkish demeanour, a history of doggedly pursuing Hillary Clinton, and above all a military uniform.

That makes him a "winner" in Trump world and a more natural fit in his administration than Rex Tillerson, a Texas oilman many considered an odd choice as America's top diplomat. Mr Tillerson's steady and independent approach had put him at odds with the president on crucial issues from Qatar to Russia, and he had long seemed to be on borrowed time.

Mr Pompeo has quietly got on with the job in his role as director of the CIA, never notably clashing with Mr Trump. When he has spoken out he has denounced efforts to rein in some of the most controversial counterterrorism programmes introduced after 9/11 and has criticised Iran's sprawling role in the Middle East. Like Mr Tillerson, however, Mr Pompeo has said America should stand with allies such as Britain and France, who want to keep the nuclear deal reached with Tehran in 2015.

In his new secretary of state, however, the president also now has an ally playing down the impact of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

"It is true" that Russia interfered in the vote that took Mr Trump to the White House, he said at the Aspen security conference last year, "and the one before that, and the one before that." The remarks chimed with the president's view that there was nothing untoward last time around.

Mr Pompeo's career bears all the firsts and bests that Mr Trump appreciates.

He graduated top of his class from the US military academy at West Point in 1986, before taking a degree from Harvard. A stint in private industry - setting up an aerospace and security company – was followed by election to Congress in 2010 as part of the Tea Party surge and he served on the House intelligence committee.

He was accused of Islamaphobia in the aftermath of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing, when he took to the House floor to suggest that Muslim leaders were failing in their duty to discourage terrorism.

"Instead of responding, silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts and, more importantly still, in those that may well follow," he said.

Mr Pompeo, who is 54, became an ardent critic of Mrs Clinton, the former secretary of state, when he joined the committee investigating the 2012 attack on US diplomats and personnel in Benghazi, in Libya.

When asked why the inquiry had taken longer than the Watergate investigation – which prompted the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974 – he had a simple response.

"This is worse, in some ways," he said, during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press.

It was a line later echoed Mr Trump, who announced him as his pick to head the CIA soon after winning the election in November 2016. His appointment worried many career officers dismayed that such a partisan figure would lead an organisation that was supposed to rise above politics.

He has shown a particularly hawkish line on Iran – describing it recently as a "thuggish police state" - and expressed frequent disdain for the deal that limited Tehran's nuclear programme, without joining Mr Trump in saying the agreement should be completely abandoned.

In the Middle East, Mr Pompeo is known to have close relationships with Israeli intelligence agencies and after a 2015 visit said: "Prime Minister Netanyahu is a true partner of the American people.”

But he also played a role in developing links with the Palestinian Authority and was the first senior official from Mr Trump's team to meet Mahmoud Abbas in February last year.

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