Pompeo’s Imperative

Until he resigns, Mike Pompeo is Secretary of State, a powerful position from which to make or influence foreign policy. He gave a speech on January 10, 2019 at American University in Cairo. It tells us where he wants to lead America. But why has he chosen the anti-Iran direction that he has?

His philosophy assumes first that “America is a force for good in the Middle East.” The opposite has been true.

Was America a force for good in attacking Iraq and causing untold misery and death? In supporting Saudi Arabia’s attack on Yemen, again a source of widespread agony and starvation? In supporting the destruction of nearby Libya? In supporting war against Syria’s current government, that American support resulting in another huge source of blood, injury, death and refugees? In eliciting the rise of ISIS? In indirectly arming jihadists in Syria and elsewhere?

Neither Pompeo nor any other of our leaders who have made war in the Middle East have shown us, even partially much less convincingly, that the American presence has been good; or that both we and the affected nations would not have been better off if Americans had done nothing in this region. The evidence suggests the costs have far outweighed the benefits. Our leaders have failed miserably to show us that they have done good.

Yet somehow Pompeo sees “good”. He knows that the U.S. actions “…have consequences for nations, and for millions and millions of people, for our safety, for our economic prosperity, for our personal freedoms, and those of our children.” What’s he looking at that makes him think our interventions have been good? Can Pompeo show that this is now different because he’s now in charge?

His first step is to blame Obama for bad ideas and policies. He says that Obama had wrong ideas and failed to counter Iran. Doing good, for Pompeo, is battling Iran for being a “tyranny” and for spreading “its cancerous influence to Yemen, to Iraq, to Syria, and still further into Lebanon.”

Pompeo believes such a battle is righteous, even if it strangles innocent Iranians and even if it causes Iranians to take steps that lead to war. He may even believe that causing a war with Iran is righteous. The term “righteous” applies in this case because Pompeo brings in his religion:

“This trip is especially meaningful for me as an evangelical Christian, coming so soon after the Coptic Church’s Christmas celebrations. This is an important time. We’re all children of Abraham: Christians, Muslims, Jews. In my office, I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and His Word, and The Truth.”

One key question is whether Americans acting in the U.S. government have the right to cut off Iran and Iranians from their livelihoods in an effort to engineer a change in their government to the liking of the U.S. The other main question is whether or not this is wise: Do the benefits exceed the cost? Pompeo answers “Yes” to both questions. He seems to think he has an imperative for regime change in Iran. He thinks it’s crucial or a matter of life and death.

Pompeo has taken up his crusade with fervor. His is not entirely sane or prudent leadership in this matter. His attitude toward Venezuela and Maduro’s legitimacy as elected president is similarly extreme.

Pompeo is acting as if the U.S. polices the world and as if anything less critically hurts American security and the world’s systems. He thinks the U.S. empire is critical to the world: “…when America retreats, chaos often follows.”

Pompeo declares “I’m a military man by training”. He thinks in terms of war, advance and retreat. Combined with his religion, he thinks America is at war.

He believes the myth that thinks America is noble and generous: “In World War II, American GIs helped free North America from Nazi occupation. Fifty years later, we assembled a coalition to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. Would the Russians or Chinese come to your rescue in the same way, the way that we have?” He forgets Russia’s enormous war sacrifices.

Americans did not voluntarily go to war in 1940; the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 was required. Conscription was required. Even had they volunteered en masse, is the situation the same with Iran? What perverse psychology of rivalry and manhood is at work when American leaders like Pompeo persistently seek out and claim they have found enemies the size of Hitler’s Germany and Tojo’s Japan?

There is more than the military-industrial complex at work here and more than the Pentagon. There is even more than Trump’s anti-Iran attitude at work. There is Mike Pompeo himself, whose judgment is warped by his military background, his belief in empire, his fear of chaos, his religion, his streak of righteousness and his need for greatness by imagining great enemies that must be battled.


9:00 am on January 17, 2019