oliticians with presidential ambitions often kick off their campaign by publishing a book telling their life story and laying out why they deserve to be the leader of the free world. Mike Pompeo’s 400-plus page contribution to the genre is a little different, which may explain why he announced that he would not run for president three months after it was published.
Pompeo chronicles his four years working with President Donald Trump, defending Trump’s foreign policy record and touting his own contributions to it. Pompeo has almost nothing critical to say about his former boss. Never Give an Inch feels less like a presidential campaign book than a vice presidential job application.
Vice presidents are often attack dogs, and Pompeo appears to be auditioning for that role. His memoir is a furious, judgmental screed, perfectly calibrated to please the conservative Christians who dominate Trump’s political base. He attacks those whom he sees as foreign and domestic enemies of America. He directs a fire hose of vitriol at former President Barack Obama, a slew of former Obama administration officials, the U.S. Foreign Service, and even some former Trump aides, including John Bolton, a vocal Trump critic who might also run for president, and Steve Bannon, whom Trump fired early on in his presidency but who remains in the Trump orbit.
Pompeo views the world in Hobbesian terms that Trump would probably appreciate, repeatedly describing the world as a “mean, nasty place.” He argues that the Trump administration inherited a disastrous international situation concocted by fools and knaves, requiring a divinely inspired “America First” foreign policy that combines a hard calculation of American interests with a Scripture-infused framework.
Pompeo’s analysis of global events is not always wrong; he is justified, for example, in touting his own role in rebuilding U.S. relations with Greece and in criticizing Obama’s hesitancy in enforcing his ill-conceived “red line” in Syria. Yet the book is far from a fair-minded assessment of America’s foreign policy history.
Pompeo devotes the first dozen or so chapters to listing those whom he regards as disloyal or cowardly, or even as traitors to the United States and its values, including former FBI Director James Comey and current FBI Director Christopher Wray. Trump surely won’t mind the special attention Pompeo gives to Hillary Clinton, who he accuses flimsily of being behind the “Russia hoax,” violating regulations on security, causing the debacle at Benghazi, and engaging in corruption. Shoring up his America First bona fides, Pompeo complains that Clinton “led the charge to take out Muammar Ghaddafi.”
He demonstrates a particular hatred toward his predecessor at the CIA, John Brennan. Not so coincidentally, when Trump was president he claimed to have revoked Brennan’s security clearance, on the dubious grounds that Brennan had become too partisan after joining the private sector. (Trump never followed through on the paperwork.) Without a trace of self-awareness, Pompeo deems Brennan a “total disaster” who was “wildly political” and the “de facto commissar of the progressive movement.” He even goes as far as to baselessly accuse Brennan of supporting Palestinian terrorism. He heaps scorn on Brennan’s record at the CIA of administering diversity and inclusion policies and prioritizing climate change. Betraying the thinness of his case, Pompeo dredges up Brennan’s admission that as a college student, nearly 50 years ago, he voted for the Communist Party USA presidential candidate.
Pompeo shares with Trump an active dislike for Europeans, in particular French President Emmanuel Macron and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He accuses Merkel and Macron of living in a fantasy world regarding Libya and China and criticizes their support for the Iranian nuclear deal that Trump tried to kill. He states that his counterparts at the European Union foreign ministry, Federica Mogherini (who, Pompeo notes, was once a member of the Italian Communist Youth Federation) and the “socialist” Josep Borrell, hated him and Trump because they believed them boorish and dumb.
Perhaps most controversially, Pompeo defends the Trump administration’s thaw with Saudi Arabia. Pompeo expresses outrage that Obama would endanger America’s vital reliance on Saudi Arabia over “a single unjust murder”—that of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whom Pompeo accuses of being a closet Islamist. Pompeo further states that “there is zero intelligence that directly links” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the order of the murder, even though the CIA made the opposite determination shortly after Pompeo’s tenure as director ended.
Pompeo’s account of Trump’s Afghanistan policies raises more questions than any other part of the book. Pompeo agrees with Trump—though at first grudgingly—that the U.S. needed to close the book on the Afghanistan story. He vacillates on different pages on the value of the force increases pushed by Trump’s generals but, in the end, welcomes the final drawdown to 2,500 troops.
His description of the negotiations with the Taliban at times drifts into the surreal. One comes away with the impression that Pompeo saw the Taliban as tough fighting men who were worthy of his admiration and deserved to win. He saves his wrath for the recognized Afghan government, particularly President Ashraf Ghani, whom he accuses of trying to sabotage the negotiations. He justifies threats he made to cut Afghan aid if Ghani would not cooperate.
Pompeo makes no mention of the fact that he approved of the decision to exclude the Afghan government and America’s NATO allies, who also had troops on the ground, from the negotiations to wind down U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Nor does he mention the fact that the American negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, acceded to every concrete Taliban demand, such as forcing the Afghan government to release thousands of prisoners who went straight back into the fight. Instead, he praises Khalilzad’s success in extracting future concessions, such as a promise not to take away women’s rights or allow other terrorists to operate in Afghanistan. The book was published recently, well after the Taliban violated those promises, so Pompeo must have known before he went to press that those arguments are no longer operative.
Pompeo repeats the claim that the Biden administration did not have to order a withdrawal from Afghanistan. But his insistence that the U.S. was not committed to withdrawal—despite the Doha Agreement of February 2020, which Trump signed—rings hollow. Trump was determined to get out of Afghanistan no matter what, and signed away all leverage over the Taliban.
To be fair, Pompeo takes a few subtle swipes at Trump. He criticizes his former boss for appointing incompetent loyalists from time to time. And he voices his frustration at his own inability to wean Trump away from authoritarian leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
But when it comes to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Pompeo gives a generous account. He acknowledges that Trump’s negotiations failed to end Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, yet insists that they nevertheless brought peace in our time, and gives Trump points for trying.
Overall, Pompeo’s few criticisms of Trump are exceedingly gentle, in a tone of sorrow rather than anger, mixed with many more professions of admiration and loyalty. Trump has forgiven far worse slights from those he deems sufficiently loyal to him now. This book won’t get Pompeo taken off the vice presidential short list. If that’s all Pompeo was trying to achieve, then in all likelihood, mission accomplished.