Thomas L. Friedman: Mike Pompeo is last in his class at West Point in integrity

It seems like every story you read about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo always includes the sentence that he graduated “first in his class” from West Point. That is not a small achievement. But it is even more impressive in Pompeo’s case when you consider that he finished No. 1 even though he must have flunked all his courses on ethics and leadership. I guess he was really good in math.

I say that because Pompeo has just violated one of the cardinal rules of American military ethics and command: You look out for your soldiers, you don’t leave your wounded on the battlefield and you certainly don’t stand mute when you know a junior officer is being railroaded by a more senior commander, if not outright shot in her back.

The classes on ethics and leadership at West Point would have taught all of that. I can only assume Pompeo failed or skipped them all when you observe his cowardly, slimy behavior as the leader of the State Department. I would never, ever, ever want to be in a trench with that man. Attention all U.S. diplomats: Watch your own backs, because Pompeo won’t be.

Pompeo knows very well that his ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was an outstanding foreign service officer, whose tour of duty in Kyiv had been extended by his own State Department in March 2019 until 2020 — because of the excellence of her work. But, alas, she was suddenly told to get on the next plane out in late April, after President Donald Trump — having marinated himself in conspiracy theories about Ukraine showered on him by Rudy Giuliani and his corrupt Ukrainian allies — demanded she be yanked.

As Yovanovitch put it to the House Intelligence Committee on Friday: “Individuals, who apparently felt stymied by our efforts to promote stated U.S. policy against corruption — that is, to do the mission — were able to successfully conduct a campaign of disinformation against a sitting ambassador, using unofficial back channels. As various witnesses have recounted, they shared baseless allegations with the president and convinced him to remove his ambassador, despite the fact that the State Department fully understood that the allegations were false and the sources highly suspect.’’

Yes, Pompeo knew 100% that it was all a setup. We know that because, when Sen. Bob Menendez asked Pompeo’s deputy secretary of state, John Sullivan, about Yovanovitch — at Sullivan’s Senate confirmation hearing Oct. 30 to become the next U.S. ambassador to Moscow — he stated that she had served “admirably and capably.” When Menendez asked Sullivan whether Giuliani was behind her removal, Sullivan baldly declared that Giuliani was “seeking to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch, or have her removed. I believed he was, yes.”

Those were the words of Pompeo’s own deputy!

But they’ve never come out of Pompeo’s mouth. Though he reportedly argued privately to the president to keep Yovanovitch in place, Pompeo faithfully executed Trump’s order without uttering a word to defend his ambassador’s reputation in public.

Pompeo instead let his ambassador to Ukraine — who depended on him for protection — be stabbed in her back with a Twitter knife, wielded by the president, rather than tell Trump: “Sorry, Mr. President, if you fire her, I will resign. Because to do otherwise would be unjust and against my values and character — and because I would lose the loyalty of all my diplomats if I silently went along with such a travesty of justice against a distinguished 33-year veteran of the foreign service.”

Trump, the cowardly bully that he is, probably would have backed down had Pompeo showed some spine. But Pompeo did not attempt that, because he wants to run for president after Trump — and did not want to risk alienating Trump. It is as simple as that, folks.

Or it’s as simple as this: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” — Mark 8:36.

I have only met Pompeo once. I found him in private smart and engaging — but then we didn’t discuss ethics. So many in the State Department have now lost all respect for him — with good reason. His behavior is one of the most shameful things I have seen in 40 years of covering U.S. diplomacy.

How can Pompeo think he’s got what it takes to make the hard decisions needed to lead a nation as president, and send soldiers to war, when he can’t make a clear-cut easy decision to protect one of his own diplomats from being smeared by people acting outside our system.

As two now retired, longtime State Department diplomats, Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky, wrote on CNN.com on Saturday, “At the very least, Pompeo enabled the smear campaign to go unchallenged, acquiesced in the Giuliani back-channel effort with Ukraine and failed to say a word in defense of Bill Taylor, George Kent or Marie Yovanovitch. These are breathtaking acts of craven political cowardice and beneath the dignity of any secretary of state.”

Mike Pompeo: Last in his class at West Point on ethics in leadership.

I get the fact that Rep. Devin Nunes and Sen. Lindsey Graham have a contest going over who can debase themselves in public the most by defending indefensible actions by Trump. (It’s neck and neck.) But they’re GOP politicians, people we now know who will do anything to avoid giving up their $174,000-a-year salaries and free parking at National Airport.

But Pompeo is the secretary of state. That is such a privilege and responsibility. Thomas Jefferson was the first person to hold that job. Pompeo is no Jefferson. All he is doing now is trying to hide as much as possible from public view, counting on the next Trump outrage to wash away his own outrageous behavior. But the mark of Cain on his forehead will not wash off. He didn’t even have the decency or courage to speak to Yovanovitch personally, to look her in the eye and at least say, “Hey, I’m sorry.’’

Reporters and columnists need to ask Pompeo every chance they get: “What moral code are you operating by that would justify such behavior?’’

I wanted to make sure that I was not being unfair to the secretary of state, so I Googled the phrase “Pompeo Defends Yovanovitch” — just to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything. These were the headlines that came up: “Pompeo Is A ‘Coward’ For Not Defending Marie Yovanovitch,” “Pompeo Doesn’t Address Concerns Raised by Yovanovitch,” “Pompeo ducks questions about State’s lack of support for Yovanovitch” and “Senior State Adviser: Pompeo’s Silence on Yovanovitch Attacks Absolutely Killed Morale.”

So it’s now clear that Pompeo had not taken an oath to defend and protect the Constitution. He took an oath to defend and protect Donald Trump and Pompeo’s own future political career — above all else — and that’s exactly what he’s been doing. Shame on him.

As for Yovanovitch, thank you for your service. You are a credit to our nation and its ideals — everything your boss was not. Hold your head high. Jefferson would have been proud of you.

Thomas L. Friedman | The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.