Students interact with leader during lecture, private discussion

The Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government (CCCG) hosted former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on October 13 for a lecture and series of private discussions with Notre Dame students. The lecture, entitled “Religious Liberty, Courage, and the Necessity of Leadership,” was co-sponsored by the Notre Dame International Security Center. 

Pompeo began his career as an Army officer and later worked as a lawyer and businessman. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Kansas’ 4th Congressional District in 2010 before serving as Director of the CIA from 2017–18. On April 26, 2018, President Donald Trump nominated Pompeo to be the 70th U.S. Secretary of State. 

Secretary Pompeo left office at the end of the Trump administration in January of 2021 and currently manages a political consulting firm in his home state of Kansas. Pompeo’s tenure was marked by several significant developments in foreign policy; notably, he presided over Trump’s negotiations with North Korea, the Abraham Accords peace agreement in the Middle East, and the global outbreak of the coronavirus.

Pompeo’s visit began with a private lunch with students from the Menard Family Tocqueville Fellowship. The fellowship, which is run by the CCCG, brings together around two dozen undergraduates for discussions about politics and philosophy, and it allows students the opportunity to meet with speakers that the center brings to campus. During the lunch, Pompeo engaged with questions from students about ongoing events in foreign affairs and his experience in politics.

Professor Phillip Muñoz, who directs the CCCG, launched the discussion by asking Secretary Pompeo his thoughts on the recent events in the Middle East following the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack. Pompeo labeled the situation an “absolute barbarity,” and said that the “world is still taking on board what happened” with respect to the true scale of the carnage.

He contextualized the conflict as part of a broader pattern of rising global tensions, noting the exceptional circumstance of having two major land wars at the same time. Pompeo also denounced the rise in “virulent antisemitism” in response to a question about pro-Hamas demonstrations in various cities and on university campuses.

The conversation later moved to Pompeo’s tenure as secretary of state. Pompeo largely defended the Trump administration’s policies but admitted that his “greatest failure” at the State Department was his handling of the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on self-governance in Hong Kong. Asked what he would have done differently, Pompeo responded that the administration did not apply sufficient diplomatic and economic pressures to deter China.

One student also asked Pompeo about his view of the 2024 presidential election, to which the former secretary simply replied that “[Trump] is going to win the nomination.” He added that the former president will face the unprecedented challenge of “campaigning from courtrooms.” Pompeo cited family reasons when asked why he did not run, stating that he “did not have enormous confidence” in his ability to appeal to such a polarized electorate. He did joke, however, that he was still “five elections away from Biden’s age,” leaving the door open to a run in the future.

Junior Nathan Desautels told the Rover that the lunch provided him with “some insights into [Pompeo’s] long career, especially during the Trump administration,” but he criticized the former secretary’s hawkish foreign policy agenda: “Throughout my time with Pompeo, I felt as if I were in the midst of a fanatical frenzy. The audience was shockingly eager to praise the global exportation of death and destruction he so gleefully promotes.”

After lunch, students proceeded to DeBartolo Hall for the keynote lecture. PhD candidate Hadar Hazony, who returned to his home in Israel two days after the event, introduced Pompeo at the lecture. The former secretary opened his speech with a tribute to Hazony’s eagerness to fight for his people.“It is noble, it is exceptional, but with the Jewish people I have found that it is typical,” he continued, commending the resolve of Israeli citizens in the aftermath of the October 7 violence. He further stressed the importance of American support for Israel, telling the audience that Israel’s retaliation against Hamas will “at times be difficult … at times it will appear ugly,” but that it is “absolutely necessary” for Israel’s survival as a nation.

Pompeo then went on to articulate his foreign policy views more broadly, primarily stressing the importance of U.S. leadership on the world stage. He argued that the United States has a responsibility to “defeat evil in the world,” and that a global power vacuum would emerge should America shy away from this goal. “Timidity is provocative,” he stated, adding that U.S. adversaries like “Vladimir Putin, the Ayatollah, and Xi Jinping” would likely be the ones to fill the void of leadership left by an isolationist foreign policy. 

Sophomore Molly Foote responded positively to his remarks, telling the Rover that Pompeo’s visit was “inspirational” and demonstrated his “dedication and expertise in leading our country.” Foote said she appreciated his visit to Notre Dame and “looks forward to seeing where his career goes in the future.”

Pompeo also highlighted the role of faith in foreign affairs and spoke about the Trump administration’s work in promoting religious freedom across the globe. He declared, “Faith is the basis of human freedom.” He also stated that his support of religious freedom was not “an afterthought, not a way to win brownie points at the State Department,” but rather a “noble thing to do” that was intrinsically tied to the liberal ideas of the American founding. He closed with an encouragement to the audience to continue to defend American ideals such as “freedom” and the “Judeo-Christian tradition,” contending that this is how “America has prospered for the last 250 years and how I am confident it will continue to prosper for the next 250.”

Shri Thakur is a sophomore studying economics and constitutional studies. This summer, he worked for big pharma company Novo Nordisk and would love to chat with you about Ozempic. You can email him at

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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