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book review

Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love, a memoir by former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, centres around his time in former U.S. president Donald Trump's administration.Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

  • Title: Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love
  • Author: Mike Pompeo
  • Genre: Autobiography
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Canada
  • Pages: 464

Mike Pompeo calls himself a grinder, a risk-taker, a pipehitter, which can be defined as someone who will go to any length to win. Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, famously said that “extremism in defence of liberty is no vice.” Goldwater was a pipehitter.

Pompeo is a rare example of a senior official who served the full four years of Donald Trump’s presidency without quitting or being fired, and the only person to serve both as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and as secretary of state. This makes his new memoir. Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love, uniquely valuable, but also deeply troubling.

Most books about the Trump administration have been written by outsiders who chronicled its chaos or by insiders who chronicled its chaos.

Pompeo’s book, in contrast, offers a cogent, well-argued defence of those four tumultuous years from one of its most able officials. Yet the depth of anger within it undermines that argument. You had to be a very hard person to serve Donald Trump: a pipehitter.

In gentler times, Mike Pompeo might have been a typical Reader’s Digest Republican: Someone who was devoted to his family; his community; “to American exceptionalism and our Judeo-Christian heritage;” a former army officer who was first in his class at West Point and an editor of the Harvard Law Review at law school; a God-fearing Kansas business leader who taught Sunday school, enjoyed an occasional glass of bourbon and a cigar.

And someone who might have passed through life unknown to anyone beyond his business associates, family and friends until, as his son Nick put it, “my father lost his mind and decided to run for Congress in 2010.”

He served three terms in the House, sitting on the intelligence and Benghazi committees, and campaigned enthusiastically after Trump secured the presidential nomination in 2016. The victorious president-elect offered him the post of CIA director. “My Mike,” as Trump called him, performed so well that, after only 14 months at the CIA, the president chose him to become the 70th secretary of state, after turfing the 69th, Rex Tillerson, who called Trump a “moron.” (It came with an expletive.)

Pompeo remained in Trump’s good books – an exceedingly rare feat – by embracing the president’s America First approach to foreign affairs and by displaying unswerving loyalty.

“I wasn’t fighting against him, as so many others who purported to be on our team did,” he wrote. Pompeo respected the office of the president and refrained from commenting on the – let us call them eccentricities – of the man.

Pompeo believes he gave new direction and purpose to the CIA by recruiting and promoting risk-takers and pipehitters – it really is his favourite word. But he says he made little progress at the State Department, which he describes as “a union-led, passive-aggressive, establishment leak-machine that had resolved from day one of our administration to obstruct the goals of our America First agenda.” By his own admission, “at the end of my tenure, I didn’t leave much change behind.”

Still, things got done. Whether they were good things or bad things depends on your perspective. The administration cancelled the agreement in which Iran paused its nuclear research in exchange for sanctions relief. He led a campaign within the administration and around the world to ostracize the “evil” Chinese Communist Party.

He strengthened ties with some unsavoury figures, including Viktor Orban in Hungary and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and waved away the involvement of Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, arguing that these leaders were useful as allies.

He helped negotiate the Abraham Accords involving Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. He tried but failed to persuade North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to abandon his nuclear weapons program. And he obeyed his president’s directive to seek improved relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Like Trump, Pompeo sees the world in black and white, with black being anyone inside or outside the administration who did not show complete fealty to the 45th president and America First.

So the Obama administration “was distinguished for espousing moral equivalence among nations of deeply unequal decency and apologizing for our country.” The “leftist media” – also “media hounds,” “media elite,” “media-industrial complex” and “hyenas” – are incompetent, lazy and dishonest. Black Lives Matter “is a Marxist organization credibly accused of corruption,” the Paris climate accord was “a bad deal for America.”

He withdrew the United States from that agreement and a missile treaty with Russia, and announced the withdrawal from the World Health Organization. He was proud that “the United Nations came to despise me because I had little time for the organization’s uselessness and deep-seated anti-Semitism.”

He maintains that Trump had every right to ask Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter during the phone call that led to the president’s first impeachment. Ukraine is riddled with corruption, Pompeo wrote, and “we knew that the Bidens – both President Biden and Hunter – were knee deep in the mess.”

He is equally unsparing on those within Trump World who he believed let their president down, including former UN ambassador Nikki Haley and former national-security adviser John Bolton, who Pompeo thinks “should be in jail for spilling classified information,” in the tell-all book he wrote after leaving the White House.

Most egregiously, the former secretary of state glosses over Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election – ”the president had every right to ensure that the elections had been conducted in a fair and lawful manner” – and the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

And he concludes: “I’d do it all again with no second thoughts. And I may.” He is contemplating a run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Mike Pompeo believes that Donald Trump “was willing to make bold moves to reverse bad foreign policy trends,” and that his presidency “put America in a radically better place.”

Such devotion made it possible for him to serve the president faithfully for four long years – he would say for better; others would say for worse.