I love this guy — Pompeo on Jaishankar

My second Indian counterpart was Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. In May 2019, we welcomed “J” as India’s new foreign minister. I could not have asked for a better counterpart. I love this guy. English is one of the seven languages he speaks, and his is somewhat better than mine.

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Then the US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar [File Photo: WhiteHouse]

Following excerpts adapted from the author’s book, Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love, published by HarperCollins Publishers

On the Indian side, my original counterpart was not an important player on the Indian foreign policy team. Instead, I worked much more closely with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, a close and trusted confidant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. My second Indian counterpart was Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. In May 2019, we welcomed “J” as India’s new foreign minister. I could not have asked for a better counterpart. I love this guy. English is one of the seven languages he speaks, and his is somewhat better than mine. Professional, rational, and a fierce defender of his boss and his country, he had spent almost four decades in his country’s foreign service, including a stint as India’s ambassador to the United States.

We hit it off immediately. In our first meeting, I was bemoaning, in very diplomatic speak, that his predecessor had not been particularly helpful. He said that he could see why I had trouble with his predecessor, a goofball and a heartland political hack.

“Careful, I’m a heartland political hack!” I replied in jest.

He laughed, noting that if that were true, it would make me the first heartland political hack who had ever been an editor on the Harvard Law Review. Well played, J.

American diplomacy usually has put Tokyo at the center of its Asia policy and viewed Seoul as its primary location for geostrategic reach. American neglect of India was a decades-long bipartisan failure. Its population rivals that of China. We are natural allies, as we share a history of democracy, a common language, and ties of people and technology. India is also a market with enormous demand for American intellectual property and products. These factors, plus its strategic location in South Asia, made India the fulcrum of my diplomacy to counteract Chinese aggression. In my mind, a counter-China bloc made up of the United States, India, Japan, Australia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the European Union would have an economic weight at least three times that of China. I chose to devote serious quantities of time and effort to help make India the next great American ally.

But deepening US-India ties was no simple matter. Besides avoiding alliances, India also has a deeply protectionist and state-directed economy. India’s weaponry has been mostly Russian—cheap and good enough—and its trading relationship and long international border with China limits India’s appetite for risk. Indian leaders are also intently focused every minute on their bête noire of Pakistan. As a nuclear power controlled by its military and Islamist-sympathizing intelligence services—not its elected government—Pakistan presents a significant strategic and a terroristic threat to India. Every action I took with respect to Pakistan—a trip or a phone call or a comment—was sure to result in a message saying that Prime Minister Modi or Foreign Minister Jaishankar wanted to speak. They were relentless and appropriately so.

I do not think the world properly knows just how close the India-Pakistan rivalry came to spilling over into a nuclear conflagration in February 2019. The truth is, I don’t know precisely the answer either; I just know it was too close. I’ll never forget the night I was in Hanoi, Vietnam when—as if negotiating with the North Koreans on nuclear weapons wasn’t enough—India and Pakistan started threatening each other in connection with a decades-long dispute over the northern border region of Kashmir. After an Islamist terrorist attack in Kashmir—probably enabled in part by Pakistan’s lax counterterror policies—killed forty Indians, India responded with an air strike against terrorists inside Pakistan. The Pakistanis shot down a plane in a subsequent dogfight and kept the Indian pilot prisoner.

In Hanoi, I was awakened to speak with my Indian counterpart. He believed the Pakistanis had begun to prepare their nuclear weapons for a strike. India, he informed me, was contemplating its own escalation. I asked him to do nothing and give us a minute to sort things out. I began to work with Ambassador Bolton, who was with me in the tiny secure communications facility in our hotel. I reached the actual leader of Pakistan, General Bajwa, with whom I had engaged many times. I told him what the Indians had told me. He said it wasn’t true. As one might expect, he believed the Indians were preparing their nuclear weapons for deployment. It took us a few hours—and remarkably good work by our teams on the ground in New Delhi and Islamabad—to convince each side that the other was not preparing for nuclear war. No other nation could have done what we did that night to avoid a horrible outcome.

As with all diplomacy, the people working the problem set matter a great deal, at least in the short run. I was fortunate to have great team members in place on India, none more so than Ken Juster, an incredibly capable ambassador. Ken loves India and its people. And, most of all, he loves the American people and worked his tail off for us every day. My most senior diplomat, David Hale, had also been the US ambassador to Pakistan and knew that our relationship with India was a priority. General McMaster and Admiral Philip Davidson, the head of what came to be renamed the US Indo-Pacific Command, understood India’s importance, too. Although often frustrated by the Indians, US trade representative Robert Lighthizer—a brilliant trade negotiator and a Bob Dole staff alumnus, making him a near-Kansan—was a great partner working to deepen economic ties. We all shared the view that America had to make a bold strategic effort to tighten our ties with India and break the mold with new ideas.

The cumulative effect of our great American team and strong Indian leaders was a much-needed new level of defense and diplomatic cooperation. The reemergence of the Quad security dialogue proved it. With his boss, Prime Minister Modi, on board, Jaishankar and I joined Toshimitsu Motegi of Japan and Marise Payne of Australia in a room together in New York in September 2019. It was the first time in history that the foreign ministers of the Quad had met. We did it again in Tokyo in October 2020—probably the only time in my life that I’ll make what was essentially a one-day trip to Japan. This sojourn occurred during the depths of the pandemic, and it was eerie to see the normally crowded streets of Tokyo deserted. Those meetings were a crucial foundation for coordinated action against China from the world’s leading democracies.


As for America’s European allies, my work to energize them to confront China—what would be a new idea for them, certainly—was a mixed bag of results. I greatly appreciated the leadership of NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, a man of true vision who supported our efforts to make China part of NATO’s focus. Other true allies in Europe were Denmark and the Czech Republic, a country with a set of die-hard anti-Communists in its parliament. The European Union eventually agreed to hold a first-ever strategic dialogue about China with the United States, and its nations did take some actions over Hong Kong and Xinjiang, but the Europeans showed little zeal to push back on Beijing. At the end of 2020, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France sealed a deal with Xi on a massive trade pact, although its passage is still stalled in the European Parliament.

Dealing with the European Union was among the most unpleasant tasks of my tenure. I worked with two counterparts at the foreign minister level. The first was Federica Mogherini, a former member of the Italian Communist Youth Federation. The other was Josep Borrell, a Spanish socialist. Both despised me. And they liked President Trump even less. They believed us to be boorish and dumb. I believed them to be naive agents of the Left. Perhaps that’s enough said. They resisted our efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program, to oppose the CCP’s rise, and to put trade between the European Union and America on an equal footing. There is much to be said about the European Union, its configuration, and the autonomy it has sucked out of nations such as Greece, Hungary, Italy, and Poland. Germany and France abuse their power over those countries, and Europe is most often the worse for it.

The sad truth is that most European leaders don’t have an instinct to see China as a threat. France and Germany depend on China for sales of Louis Vuitton bags and Volkswagens. British universities and parliamentarians are corrupted by Chinese cash. Italy has gone weak on keeping Huawei out of its networks. Small countries such as Lithuania (with a population of less than three million people), the Czech Republic (eleven million) and Slovenia (two million) are the real moral leaders in Europe on pushing back against Chinese coercion. Not coincidentally, these countries all share the memory of life under Communism, spurring them to acts of leadership that should put Old Europe to shame. A regret of mine is that I did not have enough time to visit the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—outstanding allies for freedom for whom American support against the threat of Russian aggression remains crucial. Elsewhere on the continent, I’m pleased that we could count on Poland as the strongest European supporter of our maximum-pressure campaign against Iran, even if the Poles must do more to stop the Chinese economic incursion into their country.

With Western Europe recalcitrant on China, the JCPOA, and NATO spending, I decided not to sink inordinate amounts of time into mending fences and playing nice with them. Instead, I concentrated on something new: moving the ball forward where America had new opportunities to do so in Europe. I’m particularly proud of how we strengthened ties with Greece, a country that was rabidly anti-American in the 1970s but now looks to us as a favored partner. I had an inside track for a good relationship: Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had played basketball with Brian Bulatao at Harvard Business School, and I knew he was a good leader we could trust.

Much of my focus with him was on addressing disputes over unlawful Turkish exploration for energy in the Mediterranean. For the first time ever, in 2019, a US secretary of state showed up to the Israel-Greece-Cyprus trilateral meeting to discuss energy exploration in the region. In November 2020, I also did something that hadn’t been done in ages and wrote a letter to the Greek foreign minister that commended Greece as a “pillar of stability” in the region. I urged our NATO ally Turkey to “end its calculated provocations and immediately begin exploratory talks with Greece.” The last time an American secretary of state made such a clear statement of American support for Greece was by Henry Kissinger in the 1970s—and the Greeks were thrilled by my words now. Two trips to Greece also reinforced that this relationship mattered for the United States. The second of those visits was a real honor: Susan and I stayed at the family house of Prime Minister Mitsotakis in Crete. Our ties with an ally that will only assume more importance in the vital eastern-Mediterranean region are now stronger than at any time since the Marshall Plan.

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Michael R. Pompeo

Michael R. Pompeo served as the 70th Secretary of State of the United States of America and as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency during the Trump Administration. A native of Southern California, Mike graduated first in his class from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1986. He served as a cavalry officer in the U.S. Army before graduating from Harvard Law School. From 2011-2017, he represented the Fourth District of Kansas in the U.S. House of Representatives. Mike and his wife Susan are proud parents of their son Nick and in-laws to his lovely wife Rachael, each of whom they consider to be the greatest blessings of their lives. He is currently a distinguished fellow at Hudson Institute.

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