Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, said during the Kansas Chamber’s annual meeting Wednesday night that President Donald Trump was right to affirm America’s greatness and concentrate on making the United States an international economic powerhouse. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said much had changed since his previous appearance at a Kansas Chamber annual dinner.
“I’ve lost a lot of weight since you saw me last. I have a much bigger security detail, since the Iranians are trying to kill me. They have a million dollar bounty on my head,” Pompeo told more than 600 people Wednesday night.
Pompeo, who served the 4th District of Kansas in the U.S. House before joining the administration of President Donald Trump, said he had to be the first and last operator of a Wichita aviation machine shop to become the nation’s top diplomat. Before serving in the U.S. State Department, he was director of the CIA.
While working for Trump, a prolific fan of social media, Pompeo would get up in the morning and search his phone to confirm he hadn’t been dismissed via Twitter.
“I had four crazy years in an administration that was radically different from any that had come before it,” he said. “Now, some of you are laughing. I can see. I get it. We were different. I made it four years. You Kansans should be very proud of that. You taught me to be tough and resilient.”
Pompeo’s former boss is a candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination for president and stands as GOP frontrunner in a campaign featuring Democrat Joe Biden, who defeated Trump in 2020. Less than two weeks ago, Pompeo made the “deeply personal decision” not to run for president in 2024, declaring “this isn’t our moment.”
During his dinner speech, Pompeo briefly touted his memoir, “Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love.” It was a platform for testing his presidential appeal and concentrated on his work implementing Trump foreign policy. He suggested the book was “pretty good.”
“It was an even better book before the CIA cleared it. It’s a little shorter and a little less interesting, but still good,” he said.
‘It was wild’
He said Trump allowed him to do wonderful things throughout the world, and never asked him to apologize on behalf of the United States of America. The model was, of course, to put America first, he said.
“We absolutely knew that America may get it wrong, but mostly we were a force for good,” he said. “I will never forget the first trip I took almost exactly five years ago now to North Korea. It was wild.”
He was CIA director and Trump asked if it was possible to communicate with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un.
“Yes, sir, I think we can,” Pompeo recalled. “He said, ‘Well good. You should tell them that you’re going to come see them. Tell them that I’m going to come see them, but you’re going to go first.’ ”
“All right, I get the joke,” Pompeo said. “CIA directors are expendable. Presidents are not.”
Pompeo, who graduated from West Point and earned a law degree at Harvard University, recalled climbing off a helicopter in a Middle East country at about 3 a.m. to thank some people stationed in a difficult place.
“I could see the shadows of five men and the very first person to reach out and shake my hand said, ‘Rock chalk, sir.’ ” Pompeo knew the unnamed person was referring to the University of Kansas chant familiar to all Jayhawks. He joked he responded as someone who lived and worked near Wichita State University: “I was a Shocker fan, so I didn’t appreciate it.”
He said the exchange reminded him of the greatness of Kansas and the nation, which “raises young men and women to do hard things to allow us to come to places like this to build our businesses and to take care of our families and do all the things we are so blessed to be able to do here in America.”
Pure evil out there
He also said the Trump administration “got much right, but not everything.”
“We understood that the greatness of America didn’t come from Washington, D.C. We understood deeply the greatest of America sits in places like here,” Pompeo said. “You should know as I traveled the world as America’s secretary of state, it mattered that we had a capable military. It was important that our diplomatic team was good. But what really mattered was American economic power.”
Leaders in countries large and small wisely concluded being close to the United States mattered, Pompeo said. The Trump administration appreciated the “bad guys of the world” in Russia, China and elsewhere would exploit signs of American weakness, he said.
“I met them all,” Pompeo said. “I spent hours with Vladimir Putin. I spent too many hours with Xi Jinping of China. I knew that when I was with these people, who are in fact pure evil, that I represented a nation that was fundamentally different from that.”
Pompeo said he aggressively sought to undermine the Chinese Communist Party, especially in terms of China’s campaign to steal U.S. intellectual property and diminish U.S. economic advantages. He said it led to a telephone conversation between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping that culminated with a demand the president fire Pompeo.
“Xi Jinping railed on me in this phone call,” Pompeo recalled. “He said, ‘Your secretary of state is saying the Communist Party is evil. He’s saying that we don’t care about our own people. He’s saying we’re holding a million people in internment camps in the western part of our country.’ All, of course, true.
“I remember listening to that thinking, ‘I wonder how this will end?’ Thirty seconds later the phone rings. It is the White House. President Trump comes on the line and in that famous voice, without saying hello, says, ‘Man, that f****** guy hates you.’ ”
Stop the gaslighting
Pompeo said Americans should honor the nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage and understand deviating from that tradition placed the country in jeopardy.
“When we forget those things that make this country unique and special, then we’re truly at risk,” Pompeo said. “When in our schools, we fail to teach our children, the next generation of American greatness, then Xi Jinping may well get what it is he wants. He is desperate to find an America in decline. I’ll be damned if any of us should let that happen.”
At the same time, Pompeo urged the Kansas Chamber dinner audience — dozens of members of the Kansas Legislature were in attendance — not to tolerate politicians who manipulated the public by undermining the power of reasoning possessed by individuals. He pointed to issues of immigration, energy policy and the fentanyl crisis as examples of how politicians engaged in gaslighting.
“Believe what you see with your own two eyes. Don’t let them gaslight you,” Pompeo said. “We know that fossil fuels will be a central part of the American economy for 30, 40 years yet. And while we all ought to do the things we can to make sure we have safe drinking water and clean air, we can’t pretend that the world will be run on sunshine and windmills.”
He said rampant human trafficking and a flood of cheap fentanyl at the U.S. border demonstrated lack of security despite political claims to the contrary.
“Don’t let your leaders, whether they be city council members or school board members, whether they be state elected officials or members of the Board of Regents, don’t let them gaslight you,” he said. “Don’t let them tell you things you know to be true, aren’t true.”
He said he was confident the nation would prevail despite daily reminders the country appeared to be stumbling to a crossroad.
“No adversary from abroad can take down the United States of America in the same we that we risk being undermined by decadence and decline, and moving away from our heritage, our faith and our founding ideas here at home. This is, in fact, the real risk,” Pompeo said.
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