How Pompeo’s role as secretary of state could further his domestic political ambitions

Pompeo’s trips, speeches and policies appeal to conservative American voters

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 25, 2020 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the State Department in Washington, DC. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said January 11, 2021 he was placing Cuba back on a blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism, a last-minute roadblock to efforts by President-elect Joe Biden's to ease tensions.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used an address at the Voice of America this week to echo many familiar refrains popular among the Republican base.

Throughout the brief speech, he accused social-media companies and universities of censorship and accused the federally funded news agency of losing “its commitment to its founding mission".

“Its broadcasts had become less about telling the truth about America and too often about demeaning America,” Mr Pompeo said.

He took no questions, but Voice of America’s management – appointed by a staunch ally of President Donald Trump – reassigned their White House correspondent after she tried to ask Mr Pompeo about the mob that stormed the Capitol last week.

Mr Pompeo went on to assail The New York Times the next day during a speech in which he likened Iran to "a new Afghanistan" for its links to Al Qaeda, without offering much corroborating evidence.

His final week in office encapsulated much of how the former CIA director and Kansas congressman approached his job as America’s secretary of state.

During that time, he has worked tirelessly to ensure there is little daylight between himself and Mr Trump.

"It's just the extent to which he has spent time in political hot spots, either in purple states that were hotly contested in last year's presidential election or attending events that are clearly aimed at appeasing and sort of engaging in the care and feeding of Trump's base," Nick Schwellenbach, a senior investigator at the Project on Government Oversight in Washington, told The National.

“It’s just been very unusual for a secretary of state to spend so much time on those kinds of things.”

Many of Mr Pompeo's speeches and trips, foreign and domestic, largely catered to conservative evangelical Christians in the US, an important Republican constituency that has largely lined up behind Mr Trump's "America First" rhetoric.

Religious freedom has been a bipartisan staple of US human rights advocacy across several administrations.

But Mr Pompeo established a State Department commission that sought to elevate religion and private property rights, each a cause celebre for American conservatives, as top priorities when formulating public policies.

When unveiling a draft report released by his Commission on Unalienable Rights in July, Mr Pompeo said: “Many are worth defending in light of our founding; others aren’t.”

The draft report lists Protestant Christianity, the civic republican ideal and classical liberalism as the three factors forming “the distinctive American rights tradition".

Accordingly, Mr Pompeo eagerly highlighted religious freedom in the Middle East and advocated for Christian minorities throughout the region.

While on a regional trip in November, Mr Pompeo snubbed government officials while passing through Turkey and instead met leaders from the country's Christian minority.

The visit came as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was making increasing overtures to his conservative Islamist base.

Mr Erdogan had ordered the conversion of the Hagia Sophia museum, a former Byzantine church, back into a mosque in July, drawing condemnation from Mr Pompeo.

At home, Mr Pompeo spent a large portion of his time as secretary speaking at conservative Christian forums, such as the Conservative Action Political Conference and the Values Voter Summit.

“Pompeo has participated in a bizarrely large number of events stateside for a secretary of state and has seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time appealing to the base of the Republican party inside the United States when he’s been America’s top diplomat,” Mr Schwellenbach said.

Mr Pompeo also addressed the Christians United for Israel conference in 2019, saying: “Christians in America are among Israel’s greatest friends.”

As Mr Trump’s secretary of state, he frequently touted the administration’s extensive list of pro-Israel policies favoured by the Republican evangelical base and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Under Mr Pompeo’s watch, the Trump administration also recognised Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights and the State Department reversed a decades-old legal opinion that found Israeli settlements in the West Bank in breach of international law.

He also lent a hand in negotiating the Abraham Accord, which normalised relations between Israel and several Arab states, including the UAE.

Shortly after Mr Pompeo became the first secretary of state to visit a West Bank settlement in November, Mr Netanyahu said: “The people of Israel have not had a better friend.”

He also became the first secretary of state to address a partisan political convention by recording a speech to the 2020 Republican National Convention from Jerusalem during a taxpayer-funded trip to the region.

Mr Schwellenbach said the address “may have run afoul of a State Department-specific rule that specifically prohibits a Senate-confirmed political appointee from attending a political convention".

The speech prompted the US Office of Special Counsel to investigate whether Mr Pompeo had breached the Hatch Act, a law barring government officials from taking part in political campaigns.

The office also launched an investigation into his four taxpayer-funded trips to Kansas in 2019 amid reports that he was considering a 2020 run for Senate in the state.

Investigators ultimately cleared Mr Pompeo of wrongdoing because he had not formally launched a Senate campaign.

With the looming prospect of Senate impeachment casting an uncertain cloud over Mr Trump's 2024 presidential campaign ambitions, Mr Pompeo has set himself up to win over much of the president's base should he opt to run for the position himself.

But his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, could serve as a cautionary tale.

Ms Clinton relied heavily on her time as secretary of state to tout her foreign policy credentials during her 2016 presidential run, only to have it become a political liability when Mr Trump turned her private email server into a major campaign issue that helped to propel him to the White House.

Less than a month before the end of the 2020 election, Mr Trump publicly said he was “not happy” with Mr Pompeo because he had failed to release additional emails from Ms Clinton.

It is unclear whether additional, unreleased emails even exist, but Mr Pompeo vowed: “We’re getting them out.”

He never followed up on that but his future political rivals may find themselves closely examining his record as secretary of state.