In the Hawks' Den, McMaster and Pompeo given a Hero's Welcome

CIA Director Mike Pompeo arrives at the FDD National Security Summit in Washington

The hosting of the national security advisor and the CIA director at the FDD Security Summit felt part symposium, part victory party.

Pompeo knocked the “modernization effort” undertaken by his predecessor John Brennan, downplaying the focus on internal reform. “I think less about org charts than I do about mission, and I’ve told our team this. I’ve asked everyone to say, ‘Do not print the org chart out!’ I mean look, the finest companies in the world are restructuring their team every day. ...Start with mission, not with org chart. The organization and the team will fill itself out if everyone’s focused on the mission.” Tillerson, who ran Exxon, has spent much of his first months in office conducting an extensive internal review and reorganization of State, and has indicated efficiency is more important to him than diplomacy, his department’s raison d'etre. In contrast, apparently, to Pompeo, Tillerson deeply values process—“lives and dies” by it, a former Exxon executive told me last month. And unlike Pompeo, one gets the sense Tillerson is up into to the wee hours designing and redesigning his own org charts.

But the CIA director did backup the secretary on one issue: North Korea, offering perhaps the most open-to-diplomacy statement from a senior administration in weeks. “No", the diplomatic channel with North Korea is not closed, Pompeo told reporters, despite the president calling it a waste of time. "Secretary Tillerson and his team are hard at work." On another issue, Pakistan, he was less sparring, consistent with Trump’s harsh message to Islamabad earlier this year in his address to Congress. Pompeo said that American expectations of Pakistani help in combating radical Islamic extremism—a phrase he used—“should be set at a very low level.”

While FDD’s portfolio runs the gambit of global issues, it’s clear its heart is focused on countering the government in Tehran. While declining to certify the deal and attempting to fix it is the current focus vis-a-vis Iran, the U.S. must come to grips with Iran’s broader rise, argued FDD’s John Hannah, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Hannah toasted the administration for likely being the first since the Islamic Republic came into being in 1979 to invest “the time, energy and attention to developing a comprehensive, holistic strategy toward Iran that attempts to address the full multiplicity of the threats it poses to the interests of the United States.”

But, “now the real challenge comes—executing,” said Hannah. What does that include? “Unfortunately, while we can ask local partners to do a lot for us—and an awful lot more for us—it will almost certainly require a healthy dose of American military,” Hannah said, pausing before adding, “Perhaps additional doses of American power, including, in certain circumstances, troops on the ground.” So, while the atmosphere in the St. Regis was marked by revelry, for others, like Larison, who think the current drive against Iran resembles the run-up to the war in Iraq, Thursday’s event was a grim affair.

Curt Mills is a foreign-affairs reporter at the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter: @CurtMills.

Image: Reuters

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