But Pompeo’s counterpunching instincts have also placed him at odds with Trump on certain issues—most significantly U.S. relations with Russia. Trump has, against his nature, pulled punch after punch after punch when it comes to Vladimir Putin’s provocations against the United States and aggression in places like Ukraine and Syria. Not Pompeo, who patrolled along the Iron Curtain as an Army cavalry officer at the tail end of the Cold War. “We need to continue to push back against the Russians everywhere we find them,” he said earlier this year.
“What was the penalty to Vladimir Putin for taking one-fifth of a European nation?” Pompeo asked during a speech in Wichita just days before the 2016 election, in reference to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. The Obama administration “passed some sanctions. Anybody think that that’s sufficient? … There will be those who say ‘It’s not our problem: Ukraine shmukraine. My children can’t find it on a map.’ Let me assure you that the reordering of Europe is first among the agendas for Vladimir Putin. And that, I have to tell you, is not good for the people of Kansas.”
“I know what our presidential candidate has said. Let me assure you: The attacks on our political system are in fact coming from Vladimir Putin. I have seen the intelligence,” Pompeo continued, in reference to Trump’s denials on the campaign trail of Russian interference in the U.S. election. “This is Vladimir Putin trying to make America look like a third-world country.” (Since he started working for Trump, Pompeo has downplayed these attacks as routine Russian misbehavior; last fall he claimed the U.S. intelligence community had concluded that Russian meddling hadn’t affected the outcome of the presidential race, when it in fact had made no such assessment.)
Pompeo tends to calibrate his punches based on the nature of the adversary; at times he comes across as something of a low-budget hawk. In discussing how to counter Russia in his Wichita speech, for example, he proposed non-military retaliation such as denying Russians tourist and student visas, providing Ukraine with lethal and non-lethal assistance, and selling Ukraine U.S. natural gas and crude oil so it would be less dependent on Russian energy sources.
In other cases, however, he’s advocated more forceful responses. He once floated the idea of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, and his primary argument against the nuclear agreement that the United States brokered in 2015 with Iran and other world powers was that it left the Iranians staggering but still swinging rather than down for the count. The expiration dates for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities only temporarily bar Iran from producing nuclear weapons, he asserted, and the economic relief offered in exchange for those restrictions is helping Iran finance terrorism and extend its influence across Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon. The Obama administration failed to take “advantage of crushing economic sanctions to end Iran’s nuclear program,” he declared when the deal was struck. “That’s not foreign policy; it’s surrender.”