PATRICK LAWRENCE: Mike Pompeo’s Latest Delusion

The U.S. secretary of state’s “West is Winning” speech  in Munich last weekend was delusional.   

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressing Munich Security Conference 2020. (State Department video still)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Even by his highly delusional standards, Mike Pompeo came forth with a doozy at the Munich Security Conference last weekend. “The West is winning,” saith the most dangerous secretary of state to serve at Foggy Bottom since Henry Kissinger’s murderous tenure during the Nixon administration. “We are collectively winning,” the oafish evangelical added. “We’re doing it together.”

Each of these three assertions is baldly, boldly false. The West is losing where there is genuine competition for power, as in the Middle East. It is losing by its own hand when it conjures animosity and competition where there is none, as with Russia and China. And there is no “we” to speak of, given the administration Pompeo serves has done more than any other in my lifetime to pull apart the trans–Atlantic alliance. It is now a shambles — which, in numerous respects, is a very fine thing.

The theme in Munich this year was remarkable in its own right. The annual report published for the conference is titled “Westlessness.” However reluctantly, the industrial post-democracies are at last beginning to grasp one of the 21stcentury’s most essential imperatives: The world’s progress toward parity between West and non–West is evident already and advances as we speak. No number of blustering declamations from illiterate parochials such as Pompeo will alter this fact.    

One can applaud this turn in awareness, but guardedly. Among the more sensible commentators in Munich was Frank–Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s president and previously a thoughtful Social Democratic foreign minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s rainbow coalition. Steinmeier had the honesty to cite the “destructive dynamics” implicit in the kind of policies Pompeo misses no chance to impose upon the world, while noting that it was time for Europe to look after Europe instead of carrying water for Washington.

Frank–Walter Steinmeier in 2018. (Wikimedia Commons)

But the conclusions drawn in Munich in the matter of Westlessness are by and large upside down, as one might have expected. Were it not for a rising tide of obnoxious nationalism, the annual report explains, the Western post-democracies could get on with the business of neoliberal interventionism and all others would continue in their rightfully obsequious envy of the Atlantic world’s superiority in all things. This is a perverse teleology if ever there was one. The nationalist sentiment evident across the planet is in no small measure a consequence of the West’s clunky, nostalgic claim to global leadership. And no one, of course, is as flatfootedly lost in the past as Americans.

Given how frequently Pompeo bloviates on matters he self-evidently does not understand, it is not difficult to discern the essence of his rhetorical strategy. It has two parts — more and he wouldn’t be able to keep track. First, repeat a fallacy often enough and it will miraculously come true. When it doesn’t, pretend it does. Second, assume no one in the audience has any grasp of the facts, so claiming license to lie and mislead at will. This holds all too frequently among Americans, but beyond our shores, where it matters most, our top diplomat comes over as that most odious of U.S. officials — arrogant and ignorant all at once.   

Let us consider how Pompeo’s faux-oracular outline of the winning, in-this-together West holds up.  

To begin at the beginning, the West as a unanimous entity with the U.S. its leader is done for, in my view. It is common knowledge that there are rifts in the postwar alliance; these are routinely remarked upon at this point. But the just-as-common assumption that good leaders will bridge the widening gulf does not hold. Good leaders will do just the opposite. The Atlantic world is entering a new era, and they will grasp this. Europe, gutless as its leaders have so often proven over the past 70 years, is finding an independent voice of its own — and in some cases more than one. This was Steinmeier’s point. The thought is salutary.

The three policy questions taken up in Munich — toward Russia, China, and in the Middle East — now lend this emergent shift urgency and velocity. This is not surprising. All three cases involve the non–Western bloc, so challenging the West’s unity and core identity. In all three cases we find American foreign policy, Pompeo very much the master of ceremonies, at its stupidest and most capricious.  

Wedges Dividing the West

Europe’s desire to advance beyond the new Cold War Washington has conjured with Russia, long incipient, is now unmistakable. Steinmeier opened the Munich conference stating the U.S. under President Donald Trump repudiates “even the idea of an international community” and instead pursues policies “at the expense of neighbors and partners.” As he did last year, Emmanuel Macron again proved the Continent’s standard-bearer on the Russia question, this time calling upon Europe to “re-engage in strategic dialogue” and cajoling the Continent to reject its assigned role as the United States’ junior partner.” The French president added: “I’m impatient for Europeans solutions.” Aren’t we all.

China represents a variation on the theme, another wedge dividing the West. As with Russia, Europeans recognize that conjuring “threats” in relations that should be fundamentally cooperative is a waste of time, a drastic waste of money, and results primarily in a shameful list of lost opportunities. Mark Esper, defense secretary and Pompeo’s technocratic sidekick, delivered a predictably Strangelovian indictment of China’s “manipulation of the long-standing international rules-based order.” (Always be wary of those citing the “rules-based order.” They usually think violent interventions in contravention of international law a perfectly good thing.) Esper’s specific intent was to warn Europe away from its commitment to 5–G telecoms technology made by Huawei, the Chinese market leader the U.S. paints as a security risk because American companies simply cannot compete with it.

One truly must marvel as to how a figure such as Esper can manage to be so stunningly tone-deaf as to speak to others in so imperious a fashion two decades into the new century. To a one, European nations are more or less ignoring American entreaties and coercions.

(Cover of Munich Security Report 2020, Westlessness.)

Munich Turning Point

In this, Munich 2020 may mark a turning point: Both Pompeo and Esper appear to have broken their picks on the Russia and China questions. There is simply too much at stake for Europeans — efficient energy supplies, profitable export markets, 5–G competitiveness, China-led infrastructure projects, the potential benefits of  Beijing’s Belt and Road project as it nears European borders — for the Continent to do more than humor the U.S. in its idiotic denunciations of the Rrrrrrussians and its 21stcentury rendering of the old “yellow peril.”

There is, finally, the Middle East, where the U.S. now faces multiple setbacks, all of its own making. The Pompeo policy has “regime change” in Iran as its core objective. A more hopelessly fanciful proposition one cannot think of. In pursuit of it, losses galore accumulate. The Europeans, needless to say, are on for none of it. Pompeo has assiduously cultivated a grand coalition of Sunni Arab nations and Israel as an anti–Iranian front. But with the exception of Israel, the others now show signs of preferring a regional security settlement with Tehran. That is what Qassem Soleimani, the top Iranian commander, was working on when Pompeo ordered his murder.

Less West in Middle East

If there is a region that may enjoy the benefits of Westlessness before any other, the Middle East is likely to prove to be it.

Since the wanton drone assassination of Soleimani in Iraq last month, the Pentagon has thoroughly alienated the Iraqis and can look forward to a new level of local hostility even if it defies Baghdad’s demand — and there are no reports it has been retracted — to withdraw its troops. Late last week the K1 base in Kirkuk province, the object of provocative rocket attacks in late December, came under fire again for the first time since those earlier barrages.

We now have a report in The National Interest that Trump administration hawks are reviving the long-running, long-failed “regime change” operation in Syria as a new front in Pompeo’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. This is a remarkable combination of miscalculation and daydream. The Russians now signal frequently that their commitment to stabilizing the Assad government is non-negotiable. Someday, somehow, the government-supervised New York Times will trouble to note that Russian forces operate in Syria at Damascus’s invitation and that the U.S. presence, even in its diminished state, is a breach of international law. While this may prove disputatious, no U.S. soldier on Syrian soil deserves anyone’s sympathy or support.

View of Tehran. (Ninara, Flickr, CC BY 2.5, Wikimedia Commons)

As to the maximum pressure campaign, it is now generally acknowledged —outside Pompeo’s seventh-floor office, this is to say — that the layers upon layers of sanctions imposed on Iran since the U.S. repudiated the 2015 nuclear accord have failed. When a radical rag such as Foreign Affairs calls Pompeo’s pet policy a flop, you know things have not gone to plan.  

In this connection, the Times ran a revealing piece about the Iranian economy late last week. Let there be no question, the U.S. sanctions regime is nothing more than economic terrorism and has cut deeply into the lives of ordinary Iranians. But it has also brought benefits. As a matter of necessity Iranian companies have begun to replace formerly imported items with products made domestically. Strikingly, the Tehran share market was the world’s top performer last year.

Something of the same occurred many years ago, when white-ruled Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) made its unilateral declaration of independence from Britain. As London piled on the sanctions, Rhodesians learned to make their own bicycles, machinery, car parts, whiskey, and what have you. By way of a home-grown manufacturing sector, they developed an import-substitution economy. This is what we witness in Iran today. They are making lemonade out of a lemon — leaving the hallucinatory Pompeo with one of his greatest lemons.   

In the city of great beers, Pompeo opened his speech last weekend offering to show the attending grandees the best Bierhallen in Munich. This was his most sensible idea. He should have led the tour and left it at that. Global politics would now be a smidge better off.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him on Twitter @thefloutist. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. 

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17 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: Mike Pompeo’s Latest Delusion

  1. Karl Brantz
    February 21, 2020 at 12:43

    Unfortunately since I reside in USA I am totally aware that it is a failed state in the fullest sense of the term. Although most of the hapless inhabitants don’t fully realize the extent of their plight, a rapidly increasing number of them are becoming aware of the fact that: “sumthin’ haint right no more round here!” The deplorables are gradually becoming aware of their unenviable situation. Some have even blown off the bloated fraudulence that is Trump, but have retained – even increased- their displeasure with whatever or whoever can be construed as a “government” at this point. A simple stroll down many streets of cities and towns past the increasingly chaotic and odiferous jumble of tents, tarps and trash of the homeless and destitute folk goes a long way toward dispelling the current myth of the great and bounteous American economy touted by the billionaires and their politicians of both meaningless factions. For those of us unfortunate enough to have read some history, the future – and I do mean the relatively immediate future – appears grim at best and violently destructive at worst. The coming “election” farce will only serve to exacerbate a volatile situation. You don’t have to read “Das Kapital” or ”The Shock Doctrine” to get the picture. It seems that we’ve unfortunately run out of countries that we can easily invade, conquer and pillage to keep the ever increasing number of billionaires in our natty empire solvent. It would appear that we are destined to become our own final victim.

  2. Jeff Harrison
    February 20, 2020 at 12:14

    Spot on, Patrick … but there’s one obviously missing bit. All this American BS is consequence free! As one commenter noted, Macron is feting our never elected but hand selected Presidente in Venezuela. The Europeans are just a bunch of has-been colonial powers who don’t realize that they’ve run off the edge of the cliff and only have canyon below them as they drop behind India. Unfortunately, their idea of rules based order are like the American idea of rules based order – Calvinball….

  3. peter mcloughlin
    February 20, 2020 at 11:27

    Non-negotiable means core interests: when core interests of one state mirror the core interests of another – where neither side can back down – the result is war. That is the apocalyptic scenario Washington and Moscow need to avoid, as history warns. For more on this discussion read the free e-book and essay. Search: never forget the ghosts of history – WordPress.

  4. Eric Arnow
    February 19, 2020 at 18:43

    So why has the North Atlantic Treaty Organization spread into Columbia in South America, to Afghanistan and now Iraq, both thousands of miles from the North Atlantic? Western imperialism is still alive and well, no matter what Western diplomats superficially squabble about, whether US, UK or European.

  5. February 19, 2020 at 09:43

    When you see that picture of a beautiful Tehran and think some crazy bastards can turn it into rubble, it sickens me.

    • February 20, 2020 at 15:03

      That sickens me, too, Herman. That photo of a beautiful Tehran – with modern skyscrapers and older buildings, along with decorative mosques – and think some crazy scumbags can turn it into rubble, tears at my heartstrings.
      It also harkens back to February of 1945 the Venice of Northern Europe (Dresden) in all its glory and splendor in a photo, shortly before UK and US heavy bombers flew over it and dropped incendiary bombs – turning that Baroque city into an inferno that killed up to half a million civilians and left the city in ashes. There was no justification for destroying Dresden, which was declared an open city, but FDR and Winston Churchill ordered its destruction, anyway.
      Let’s hope Teheran doesn’t get destroyed and its residents killed by war criminals such as Fat-face Pompass and the other warmongers.

    • February 20, 2020 at 15:44

      And, how many of Pompeo’s 500,000-1,000,00 fellow Christians is he willing to kill in the attack on Iran?


    • Jeff Harrison
      February 20, 2020 at 20:19

      Tehran does look beautiful in that pix. But that’s not how I remember it. I lived there from 1977 to 1979 and when I lived there it was dusty and smog choked. When NIOC stopped delivering oil products to Tehran in the fall of 1978, I took a week’s worth of pix from my balcony looking south to where the town of Qom should be. Finally, after 7 days of virtually no naft or other oil products, the smog cleared out enough that you could see Qom at the foot of the mountain. Instructive.

  6. James Whitney
    February 19, 2020 at 08:58

    “Emmanuel Macron again proved the Continent’s standard-bearer on the Russia question, this time calling upon Europe to “re-engage in strategic dialogue” and cajoling the Continent to reject its assigned role as “the United States’ junior partner.” The French president added: “I’m impatient for Europeans solutions.” Aren’t we all.”

    But in important ways Macron acts exactly as a junior partner to the U.S. He received Juan Guido as a close friend, and actively support Guido’s efforts in Venezuela, and I think supports all of Trump’s actions in Latin America. France is in great turmoil resulting from Macron’s economic program dictated by the European Commission in favor to the speculative investor class, and is hurting badly those French who are not comfortably well off. I suspect that in the next presidential election Macron will not run because like the previous presidents Hollande and Sarkozy he is much disliked for many of the same reasons.

  7. Kathy Woods
    February 19, 2020 at 05:18

    Your description of Pompeo’s two step rhetorical strategy was dead on and applies equally to any number of US pols. I heard a clip of Pelosi speaking in Munich and my first thought was “Does she think she’s talking to Americans?” She rolled out the script about the security risks posed by Huawei without any acknowledgement that most of the world has already heard the argument and shrugged it off. She also repeated the illogical argument that Huawei had “reverse engineered “ the technology from “the US, which doesn’t explain why they are years ahead of us on 5G. I used to think the true value of American politicians was their willingness to trot out ridiculous and hypocritical nonsense with a straight face, but now it occurs to me that most of them have no idea they should be embarrassed. They’ve gone unchallenged for so long they’ll believe anything they say.

    • can you hear me now
      February 20, 2020 at 12:05

      you’d think the germans must have already forgotten just who was caught eavesdropping on frau merkel’s cellphone….

  8. February 19, 2020 at 02:56

    It’s obvious that Pompass is on acid or some other hallucinogenic drug.

    • Skip Scott
      February 19, 2020 at 10:44

      I wish someone would dose him. It would either drive him even more insane, so as to be non-functional, or it would lead to a life changing epiphany.

    • Gregory Herr
      February 19, 2020 at 21:14

      I thought the same thing, Skip. Pompous needs to get outside his ego for a while.
      Grace Slick had the same idea for Nixon!

  9. geeyp
    February 19, 2020 at 02:20

    This Secretary of State is just as annoying as H. Clinton was and still is and to me, equally traitorous. I can’t stand to see and hear him say things that everyone in the room knows is a lie. The one time he mentioned the CIA cheats, lies, etc. was his one moment of truth. Of course then he laughs. He does not represent anyone I know in the USA. I don’t like negativity like this, it’s just that our State Department is a sham.

  10. Moi
    February 19, 2020 at 02:17

    While I agree that the US, case in point Pompeo, has lost the way, there are lots of problems with this article.

    Like the Europeans are pretty idiotic too. Turkey wages proxy war on Syria and creates millions of refugees. They then bleat to Europe who in turn then pay Turkey billions to stem the tide. But Europe still winds up hosting lots of those refugees thereby straining their internal politics.

    Then we have: “no U.S. soldier on Syrian soil deserves anyone’s sympathy or support.” The exact opposite is true. Anyone want to volunteer to be a grunt in a hostile land when nobody can even articulate what the mission is? The leaders who put those grunts in harm’s way deserve gaol terms, not sympathy or support, but that has zero chance of ever occurring.

    Overall I agree with the tenor of the article, just not necessarily the details.

  11. Nathan Mulcahy
    February 18, 2020 at 21:12

    America’s sanctions against Russia have made Russian economy much more self reliant. Good to see the Iranians trying to do the same.

Comments are closed.