Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has managed to stand out among President Trump’s national-security advisers for his overt sycophancy. (“He’s like a heat-seeking missile for Trump’s ass,” a former ambassador told journalist Susan Glasser.) Without psychologically diagnosing Pompeo, one might note that a certain kind of personality tends to fawn excessively over those who outrank them, while abusing those they consider beneath them.
Which brings us to Pompeo’s interview with NPR. It got off on the wrong foot when Pompeo complained about being asked a question on Ukraine — a country that is, you know, in the news — only to be told that the topic had indeed been cleared beforehand with his staff. While Pompeo insists he only agreed to discuss Iran, NPR says it put its intention to raise other topics in writing beforehand. Reporter Mary Louise Kelly asked Pompeo about complaints that he had failed to defend his staff. Pompeo dismissed those complainants as “unnamed sources,” to which Kelly replied that at least one was Senior Adviser Michael McKinley.
Pompeo refused to answer Kelly’s questions and ended the interview abruptly. Then he brought her into his office living room, where he shouted at her and asked, “Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?” (Remember, the Trump party line is that the administration cares deeply about Ukraine and it was peacenik Barack Obama who failed to supply Ukrainians with the military aid that was delivered under this administration.)
Then, in what was apparently intended to be a decisive blow for Pompeo, he “asked if I could find Ukraine on a map,” Kelly reports. She said yes. Before we continue the narrative, here’s a thing to understand about the “Can you find Ukraine on a map?” challenge: It’s not a difficult challenge! Ukraine is a reasonably sizable country, and in recent months its map has been used heavily in the news because of a massive presidential scandal in which it features. Even if it were hard to find Ukraine on a map, Kelly has two decades of foreign-affairs reporting experience and a master’s degree in European Studies from Cambridge. This is a bit like daring a professional mathematician to multiply 4 times 12.
So obviously, Kelly replied yes. But then, instead of taking her word for it, Pompeo told his staff to “bring us a map of the world with no writing.” One unanswered question is, Why does Pompeo’s staff have unlabeled maps lying around? Just so he can trap reporters who question him with his geographical pop quizzes? Regardless, at this point, Kelly successfully identified Ukraine on Pompeo’s unlabeled map.
Unbelievably, Pompeo responded Saturday by implying Kelly actually failed to locate Ukraine on a map, and instead pointed to Bangladesh, a country thousands of miles away:
The notion that an experienced foreign affairs reporter would be unable to locate a country that has been at the center of domestic and world news – and would think it’s next to India, not Russia! – is implausible, and indicates not only Pompeo’s dishonesty but the sheer level of absurdity he believes he can pass off. We’re supposed to believe Kelly could not even identify the correct continent on which Ukraine is located?
It would be tempting to say the pressure of the Ukraine scandal is getting to Pompeo, but it’s probably more likely that this is just the kind of person Pompeo is — and the sort of behavior that has drawn him to Trump, and Trump to him.
This post has been updated.