Unscrupulous and aggressive, Pompeo plans to be the next Trump – but smarter
By Simon Tisdall* – The Guardian
The secretary of state
has laid political booby traps for Biden in a diplomatic onslaught – with the
aim of winning the White House
While all eyes are on Donald Trump and his
Capitol Hill mob, a would-be heir and successor is running riot all by himself,
storming citadels, wagging the flag and breaking china. No, it’s not Donald Jr,
or Ivanka, or Ted Cruz, and certainly not poor, conflicted Mike Pence.
Mike Pompeo may not strike many people as presidential
material. But Trump lowered the bar. Make no mistake. America’s snarly,
bully-boy secretary of state is focusing not on Joe Biden’s inauguration this
week but on how to beat him or any other Democrat in 2024.
Pompeo, the man who would be king, is playing political
hunger games – and, looking ahead, he aims to win.
In a display of extraordinary chutzpah, Pompeo has spent the
time since Trump lost the election setting booby traps and laying diplomatic
minefields in global conflict zones. Partly he aims to secure his own and
Trump’s “legacy”. Partly it’s to screw Biden. But mostly it’s about winning the
Pompeo has upended established policies, adopted
ultra-hardline positions, and claimed imaginary successes to advance his
personal standing with the Trump rump. In fact, he’s trying to out-Trump Trump.
Like him, he’s unscrupulous and aggressive, but here’s the difference: he’s not
That potentially makes the former Kansas Tea party
congressman and CIA chief more dangerous to the Biden presidency, and the
progressive cause, than a disgraced Trump may ever be. He showed his political
savvy by steering clear of the impeachment fracas. Instead, Pompeo is busy setting future agendas.
Speaking in Washington last Tuesday, for example, he
declared – without new evidence but drawing from a dust-heap of recycled,
unproven claims – that “al-Qaida has a new home base: it is the Islamic Republic of Iran”.
The American right has been trying to make the Iran connection ever since
Dick Cheney falsely fingered Saddam Hussein for 9/11. But Pompeo does not get
hung up on facts. He prefers assertions, tweets and slogans. Thus, he claimed,
“they [Iran and al-Qaida] are partners in terrorism, partners in hate… This
axis poses a grave threat to the security of nations and to the American
There’s no doubting where Pompeo and his re-purposed axis of
evil are headed with this sort of talk. “We ignore this Iran-al-Qaida nexus at
our peril,” he said. “We must confront it. Indeed, we must defeat it.” Message
to Biden: when dealing with Iran, make war, not peace – or be accused of
Raw bellicosity plays well on the right, especially with Christian Zionists and
evangelical born-againers, of whom Pompeo is ostentatiously proud to be one.
Such voters now seek a less toxic Republican standard-bearer. His new
designation of Yemen’s Tehran-supported Houthis as terrorists is yet more grist
to this mill, regardless of the civilian suffering he admits it will cause.
Pompeo also arbitrarily returned Cuba to the US list of
terrorist sponsors last week. Cuba accused him, reasonably enough, of “political opportunism” to obstruct improved relations under
Biden. Pompeo is notably less vocal about Havana’s ally, Venezuela, where he
and John Bolton risked Bay of Pigs II with failed regime change plots.
Pompeo loves baiting China, the new “evil empire”, no matter
that “Wuhan virus” insults, sanctions, and sabre-rattling are plainly
counter-productive. He gratuitously goaded Beijing again last week by strengthening contacts with
Taiwan. Decades of delicate east Asian diplomatic balancing flew out the
This last-gasp diplomatic blitzkrieg does not fatally tie
Biden’s hands but coupled with past policy blunders, it makes sensible
policymaking more difficult. In truth, the Pompeo-Trump legacy is best defined
in negatives: not achieving North Korean disarmament, wrecking the Iran nuclear
deal, quitting the Paris climate accord, alienating allies, undermining the UN.
In this sense, Biden just needs to act positive.
Pompeo’s last big push for a trademark achievement –
persuading Saudi Arabia to join Gulf states in cutting highly-questionable
“peace deals” with Israel – ran into the sand. The Trump administration leaves
office with the Middle East in greater disarray than when it arrived, whether it’s Palestine,
Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, or the western Sahara.
Unabashed, Pompeo is zealously re-writing this record of
failure as a fake narrative of success. “If Pompeo’s efforts [to promote his
legacy] look comical… if they are a bloated mess of obsequious praise for
Trump, empty sloganeering, and half-truths, well, they are also a fair
reflection of the man himself,” wrote analyst Jeffrey Lewis.
As he not so stealthily lays the groundwork for a 2024 run,
Pompeo has controversially exploited his position to deliver partisan speeches,
hold exclusive dinners for wealthy backers, woo Christian groups, tour key
domestic battlefields such as Iowa, get chummy with authoritarian foreign
leaders – and tailor US foreign policy
to his hawkishly regressive views.
His politicised machinations have not gone unnoticed.
Pompeo’s professional conduct has been investigated by his own state
department. He was accused of lying about the Ukraine phone call that got Trump impeached the first
time. For a while, he abetted Trump’s election denialism with talk of a “second
“Selfishness at the expense of the national interest isn’t
the mark of an honourable diplomat or a patriot,” a New York Times editorial scathingly remarked on Friday.
Many abroad are wary. After Pompeo, anxious to get out of
Dodge during last week’s Trump showdown, invited himself to Brussels, he was
roundly snubbed. EU politicians who have smarted at past insults, served up one
of their own. They did not have time for him. The trip was cancelled.
Many in Europe hope finally to have seen the back of him.
Fat chance. If he gets his way, Pompeo will be the next Trump. It’s an alarming
prospect for America and the world.
*Simon Tisdall is a
foreign affairs commentator. He has been a foreign leader writer, foreign editor
and US editor for the Guardian
–US states see small protests ahead of Joe
supporters have begun their rallies across the country but there hasn’t been
reports of major violence. Security has been beefed up in state capitals ahead
of Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.Police and National Guard troops were
deployed Sunday to fortified US government houses around the country in
preparation for a potential wave of violent protests by supporters
of President Donald Trump.