WASHINGTON — Mike Pompeo isn’t quietly fading away. In his final days as secretary of state, he’s issuing orders that have caused international consternation and tweeting up a storm on his official and personal accounts to cement his legacy as a prime promoter of President Donald Trump’s “America First” doctrine.
With a potential eye on a 2024 presidential run, Pompeo has doubled down on his support for Trump, even as other Cabinet members have resigned or stayed out of sight in the aftermath of the Capitol violence. While the House debated Trump’s role in encouraging the riot, Pompeo sent a tweet promoting Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Over the past week, Pompeo has celebrated controversial policies that are likely to be overturned by his successor, stepped up criticism of what he believes to be unfair news coverage, and he has complained about alleged censorship of conservatives on social media.
And in a sign of his post-Trump ambitions, he urged followers of his official State Department Twitter account to start following his personal one.
While it’s not unusual for outgoing Cabinet members to publicize their successes, Pompeo has taken it a step further by trashing his predecessors in the national security community, some of whom will play prominent roles in President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.
“Remember this Middle East ‘expert?’ He said it couldn’t happen. We did it,” Pompeo said in a taunting tweet featuring a video clip of John Kerry saying Arab countries would not recognize Israel without an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Kerry, a former secretary of state, will serve as climate envoy in the Biden administration.
Already the most political of recent secretaries of state, Pompeo has bristled at even the mildest criticism and accused his critics of being misguided, unintelligent or incompetent. He has ignored the advice of his own advisers by forging ahead with pet projects, some of which seem designed to complicate Biden’s presidency.
Since last Saturday, he has:
—Rescinded long-standing restrictions on U.S. contacts with Taiwan, a move that’s main result is to anger China.
—Declared Yemen’s Houthi rebels a terrorist organization, a step that the United Nations and relief agencies say could worsen what is already a humanitarian catastrophe.
—Re-designated Cuba a “state sponsor of terrorism,” an action that will impede or at least delay any attempt by Biden to improve ties with Havana.
—Accused Iran of deep and longstanding ties with al-Qaida, a pronouncement that many in the intelligence community find overblown given a history of animosity between the two.
The actions are in line with a tough “America First” policy that he has long espoused with gusto.
He has attacked China, Iran, various U.N. organizations, multilateral institutions like the International Criminal Court, and bilateral treaties such as arms control accords with Russia, two of which the Trump administration has withdrawn from during his time as America’s top diplomat.
On Iran, Pompeo has been particularly harsh, re-imposing all sanctions that had been eased by the Obama administration after the 2015 nuclear deal and adding more penalties. He also advocated for the killing of a top Iranian general in Iraq at the beginning of last year and has been at the forefront of an effort to encourage Sunni Arab states to unite against predominantly Shiite Iran.
“The foreign policy blob constantly looks for a moderate inside the Iranian regime who will ‘normalize relations’, Pompeo said this week. “The reality is you have a better chance finding a unicorn.”
Pompeo has made a sport out of trashing China, Cuba and international organizations, as well as Obama administration officials he believes were hopelessly naive in negotiating with them.
“As the UN’s largest contributor, I put U.S. taxpayers and America’s interests first,” Pompeo tweeted on Monday. It was accompanied by a photo of former President Barack Obama, Kerry, Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice and Obama’s U.N Ambassador Samantha Power at the United Nations. Along with Kerry, Rice and Power have also been named to prominent positions in Biden’s administration.
Yet for all the efforts to celebrate Trump administration foreign policy, Pompeo and the State Department have had minimal roles in some of the biggest areas, with the White House taking charge. That was most notable in what Trump supporters see as one of his top accomplishments, improving Israel’s ties with its Arab neighbours.
Led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, the administration relentlessly promoted Israeli-Arab peace efforts, culminating in agreements for the normalization of relations between the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. Pompeo and the State Department were largely absent from that diplomacy, with the exception of Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who reports mainly to the White House.
Pompeo’s State Department was effectively shut out of Kushner’s much-talked-about Israeli-Palestinian peace “vision” — and the secretary of state was not present for the rollout of the economic part of the plan in Bahrain in 2019. Pompeo and other Cabinet members were present for the unveiling of the political piece of the proposal last January, yet his role in creating the plan, which was immediately rejected by the Palestinians, is murky.
On Thursday, Pompeo lauded Trump’s March 2019 decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in 1967. He tweeted a video of himself and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem that night with the caption: “I’ll never forget this moment.” Yet he and his delegation had been out of the loop on the timing of the Golan Heights decision, which Trump made after consulting with Kushner just minutes before Pompeo was to meet with Netanyahu.
Similarly, the State Department took a backseat in Kushner’s negotiations to get Morocco to normalize ties with Israel, which involved U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the former Spanish territory of Western Sahara.
Pompeo did void a decades-old U.S. legal opinion regarding the legality of Jewish settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians. On his last visit to Israel in November, Pompeo became the first secretary of state to visit a settlement and on Thursday proudly promoted a West Bank wine named after him.
“L’Chaim to Pompeo wine!” Pompeo said on Twitter.
Matthew Lee, The Associated Press