In his excellent memoir, Never Give an Inch, Mike Pompeo has an anecdote about Barbra Leaf when she was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and he was still CIA Director. Pompeo offers her up as a case study of the Department of State’s workforce, which he describes as: “a union-led, passive-aggressive, establishment leak-machine.” He saw this firsthand at a dinner with the UAE crown prince:
In 2017, I traveled to the United Arab Emirates as CIA director to visit with the Emirati crown prince, his team, and my intelligence counterparts—highly capable operators who were and are great partners of the United States. I was at a casual dinner that night, a short, nonbusiness affair to which my wife, Susan; several diplomats from the embassy; and Barbara Leaf, a career official then serving as the temporary US ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, had been invited. About twenty minutes into the evening, she began to rip into the Emiratis in the most rude and arrogant fashion I have ever seen in a public setting. At a purely social gathering, she called out Emirati officials by name, recounted stories about American officials that I felt were not appropriate to share with the group present, and made a slew of statements clearly demonstrating to me that she was not on board with current US policy. Not a pipehitter.
I was pissed and decided to cut the evening short. As we left, I apologized to our host—the Emirati ambassador to the United States. Then I let Secretary Tillerson know what had happened and asked to see Leaf in her office the next morning. While it was not my place to do so, I demanded she apologize to the Emirati ambassador, which she never did. I warned her that I was going to do all that I could to make sure she never represented America at so much as a game of tiddlywinks. All she could do was stare at me with the self-satisfaction of a careerist who intended to outlast the Trump administration. In a normal organization, violating both decorum and policy in the way Barbara Leaf did would result in her getting fired and never working there again. But the State Department is not a normal organization. After hitting the think-tank circuit for a few years, Leaf is at this moment the Biden administration’s assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs. She is the US government’s highest-ranking official overseeing Middle East policy.
Stories like these are what makes memoirs worth reading.
Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.