Six things India can expect (and hope for) from Trump’s new Secretary of State

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo testifies during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "Worldwide Threats" on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo
Donald Trump took to Twitter on March 13th to announce the firing of the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, adding to a long list of recent high-profile departures from his administration.


For Tillerson’s replacement, Trump has named another member of his administration, Mike Pompeo, currently the director of the CIA, declaring that he would “do a fantastic job”. Pompeo’s appointment is subject to the approval of the US Senate.

But what does this mean for India? Here are six highlights of what is expected and what India can hope for (but may be unlikely) from the new leader of US foreign policy:

  1. A stronger relationship with Pakistan (hopeful)
While seemingly counterintuitive to India’s interests, declining investment in Pakistan by the United States has been largely replaced by investment from China. In 2016-2017, for example, foreign direct investment (FDI) from the US was $45 million compared to $1.2 billion from China. Ten years prior, US FDI was $1.3 billion while “Chinese investment was scarce,” according to Gateway House, a foreign policy think tank based in Mumbai. The other traditional theater of US influence, defence, has seen similar decline. From Gateway House: “Over 60 per cent of Pakistan’s arms imports (2012-16) were from China. Pakistan uses Chinese-built submarines, warships and combat jets, the most expensive platforms for any armed force.”

Seeing large investment in Pakistan by the United States has traditionally been a thorn in India-US relations. But given a choice between Chinese or US influence in Pakistan, the latter would be more strategically advantageous for India because it would isolate Chinese military influence to the India-China border. Trump has already deployed more troops to Afghanistan since taking office, so it is possible that a larger commitment to Pakistan in support of that strategy may get more steam with a new Secretary of State.

2. Or a colder relationship with Pakistan (expected)

Trump’s first tweet of 2018 was an insult-laden message directed at Pakistan for its alleged weak stance on terrorism, a message India welcomed.


This was followed by the US canceling $255 million USD in military aid to Pakistan. Like Trump, Pompeo has lambasted Pakistan, saying in a January 2018 interview: “We see that Pakistan is continuing to provide safe harbor havens inside of Pakistan for terrorists who present risks to the United States of America.”

3. A tougher stance on China (hopeful and expected)

Less than two months ago, Pompeo cited infiltration of schools, hospitals, and corporate America as examples of China’s larger capacity to engage in cyber attacks in comparison to Russia. "Think about the scale of the two economies,” said Pompeo referring to Russia and China. “The Chinese have a much bigger footprint upon which to execute that mission than the Russians do."

In light of the ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia during the 2016 election, it can also be expected that focus on China’s capacity to interfere will only grow. This trend of shifting focus from Russia to China began to play out in comments on China made on Monday on Fox News where Pompeo used the phrase “pushing back against the Chinese threat” twice in a nearly identical context.

4. More restrictions on free trade (expected)

USA Engage, a trade council, shows Pompeo has having a neutral stance on free trade, a departure from a longer term trend of US endorsement of removing trade barriers. In the past, Pompeo has voted against the US Export-Import bank resuming the aid that it offers to foreign companies in the form of loans and insurance for buying US commodities.

This is all in the larger context of Trump signing new tariffs on steel and aluminum last week, signalling a broader Trump Administration turn towards protecting American industry at the expense of freer trade.

5. Stronger demands of the India-US relationship in Afghanistan (expected)

In a speech given at the Fort Myers military base August last year, Trump told an audience that included Mike Pompeo that he wanted India to take a more decisive role in Afghanistan. He alluded to the $30 billion USD trade deficit the US has with India and said that India could use some of its trade gains to invest in Afghanistan’s redevelopment. The announcement, which came two months after Narendra Modi’s hug-heavy visit to the White House, showed that the Pompeo could solicit more help from India in rebuilding Afghanistan. This would be restricted to economic aid as India has ruled out military involvement, which at least makes geographic sense: despite India’s Google Map rendition of India’s border, there is not a direct route for India to reach Afghanistan by land or air.

6. More “Trumpism” in US foreign policy (expected)

It is no secret that Tillerson and Trump have had a tense relationship, which was likely a large factor in Tillerson’s removal. Tillerson was reported by NBC to have called Trump a “moron,” which Tillerson has not denied (a State Department spokesperson denied the comment) and Tillerson appears to have found out he was fired via Trump’s Twitter feed.


A difference of opinion does not make for a unified Trump cabinet, but it does imply that the foreign policy leadership of Tillerson was not necessarily the verbatim will of the President.

By contrast, Pompeo is very much in line with Trump. A former US army veteran and Republican congressman from Kansas, Pompeo has opposed the nuclear deal with Iran, called China out for sending spies to the US with the intention to steal secrets, and led the inquiry against former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for her handling of the attacks on a US diplomatic enclave in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. Even in public statements, Pompeo has always tailored his responses to match with the President’s outlook. A glaring example is how Pompeo dealt with speculation of Russia hacking the US Elections of 2018.
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