PATRICK LAWRENCE: Mike Pompeo’s Cold-War Fever
As this dreadful year draws near its close, the top U.S. diplomat has put us at far more risk of war than we were at its start.
Will we start a war with Iran? Will we invade Venezuela? Will we push the Russian Federation a step too far into a desperate corner? Will we confront Russian troops in Syria? Will we provoke China into a strike across the Taiwan Strait? It is bitter, for American citizens, that these questions now press upon us. Two months before our presidential election, the world according to Mike Pompeo all at once assumes a frightening clarity.
Pompeo is the most dangerously deluded secretary of state since John Foster Dulles, whose paranoiac lawlessness held the world in some proximity to chaos until illness, which can sometimes prove a mercy for the rest of us, forced him to resign late in President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second term.
Our rotund top diplomat is forever advising us that “the word will be safer” in consequence of the many aggressions he directs. Dulles used to say the same back in the 1950s. Now as then, can any thought be emptier in the face of the perils perfectly evident out our windows?
As this dreadful year draws near its close, we are at far more risk of war than we were at its start. Your columnist wondered in this space as the Covid–19 pandemic exploded upon us whether the U.S. would set aside its too-numerous animosities and ideological obsessions in the name of common humanity. Not a chance. Pompeo the poseur Christian was never going to prove capable of any such thing.
On Saturday evening, midnight GMT, Pompeo declared in Washington that “virtually all previously terminated UN sanctions” against Iran are reimposed — an invocation of the “snapback” provision written into the 2015 accord governing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programs.
This is farce, of course. The U.S. is no longer party to the nuclear pact and has no legal standing to announce that the UN is doing anything related to it. The entire Security Council, other than the admittedly powerful Dominican Republic, dismisses Pompeo’s position and has no intention of abiding by it.
It is an excellent thing that the U.S. has isolated itself on the Iran question, and excellent again that Pompeo’s astonishing overestimation of American power is on such clear and full display. But there is more to this story.
Strike Group in Strait of Hormuz
Last Friday, a day before Pompeo’s sanctions announcement, the Pentagon disclosed that a carrier strike group and two missile-carrying cruisers had just passed through the Strait of Hormuz — the first such deployment in the Persian Gulf since John Bolton, then Trump’s national security adviser, ordered a similar force into the region more than a year ago.
With this, Pompeo’s choreography is evident. Given his imminent failure at the UN, sending the Nimitz and its attendant group into the Gulf now appears to be preparation for the U.S. to enforce unilaterally the sanctions nobody else takes seriously. These are likely to apply to foreign-flag vessels as well as Iranian ships.
We’re looking at what, if the U.S. goes through with this, will amount to a blockade of the Islamic Republic. Any Iranian response will then be cast as aggression, and Pompeo will get his longed-for war.
Trita Parsi, co-founder and executive veep at the Quincy Institute, writes that he may be looking for “an October Surprise; a confrontation with Iran that will be cast as both defensive and lawful.” Parsi predicts that hostilities could begin as early as this week.
I agree with the astute Parsi that there is a political dimension to Pompeo’s latest doings. In my read, he is getting as much of his dangerous program into place as he can should President Donald Trump lose to Joe Biden in the U.S. elections — though it is highly questionable how much of it Biden would change.
A Latin American Tour
Blockades seem to be Pompeo’s new flavor. Last week he made one of those hop-skip tours of Latin America that U.S. officials deign to manage every so often, this one to Suriname, Guyana, Brazil and Colombia. Look at a map: But for Suriname, which is at one remove, these nations surround Venezuela.
We will have to see, but this looks awfully like a blockade in the making. And it is the same as in Iran. Both nations, honorably enough, prove able to survive Pompeo’s “maximum pressure” campaigns, but in my read a new “maximum” is on the way. And as with the Islamic Republic, Pompeo appears to be cultivating his moment to invade the Bolivarian Republic on the preposterous pretext it is “both defensive and lawful.”
Danger in the Taiwan Strait
Serious as the Iranian and Venezuelan crises are, they are by magnitude not a match for the danger the U.S. courts across the Pacific.
Last Thursday the government-supervised New York Times reported that the Trump regime intends to notify Congress within a few weeks that the U.S. will sell no fewer than seven large weapons systems to Taiwan in one of the largest such weapons transfers on record.
By law, a perverse Cold War hangover, the U.S. is required to sell the island territory defensive weapons. But air-to-ground missiles that can hit inland Chinese cities, the most provocative items in this sale as carried by the 66 F–16 jets the U.S. sold Taiwan last year, are by no stretch defensive.
The mainstream press can mark this down to Trump’s “get tough on China” posture all it wants. But it is wrong. Trump is tough on trade and tariffs are his weapon. This is Pompeo’s doing, following as it does a summer of purposefully provoking military drills and diplomatic assertions related to the South China Sea question.
A day after the Pentagon posted its disclosure on the government bulletin board we call the Times, while a top U.S. diplomat was in talks in Taipei, China sent 18 fighter jets and bombers roaring around the Taiwan Strait. “Those who play with fire are bound to get burned,” a senior defense official said in Beijing. This is our end-times secretary of state’s favorite language: He wants danger, the knife’s-edge threat of war, the finality of biblical violence.
It is the height of irresponsibility for any U.S. official active in 2020 to press a question that dates to the “who lost China” days after the 1949 revolution and the nationalists’ retreat across the Taiwan Strait.
The island’s status is an internal affair to be worked out between Taipei and Beijing. Even an official as stupid as Pompeo knows that outside interference taken beyond China’s tolerance, which is considerable at this point, is the ne plus ultra if one is looking for a war with the People’s Republic. But this is precisely Pompeo’s intent.
The Russian Fixation
Never a dull moment in Washington’s smoldering campaign against the Russian Federation, of course — another Pompeo fav. The alleged poisoning of Alexei Navalny last month has unraveled into another transparently implausible put-up job. Navalny may have a 2 percent popularity rating among Russians, but he’s now set up as the Juan Guaidó of Russia — a righteous opposition leader who doesn’t lead much of anybody but who can be cast as a critical threat to the legitimate government. Tell me a story.
It has been plain from the first that the immediate motive behind the Navalny ruse is to alienate Berlin and Moscow, so sabotaging the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on the very eve of its completion.
Russia needs the income Nord Stream 2 will generate, in all likelihood badly. But the U.S. wants into the European gas market, no matter how uncompetitive it may be to ship the product into multi-billion-dollar port terminals that do not yet exist.
But there is a larger picture here that goes beyond sheer greed and should not be missed.
George Friedman, the American geopolitical forecaster, nailed the point in an interview last week with Deutsche Wirtschaftsnachrichten, German Economic News.
Bringing history to bear, Friedman puts the Nord Stream 2 question in the context of Washington’s longtime anxiety about a lasting rapprochement between Germany and Russia. “A Russian–German entente,” Friedman said, “would dominate Europe, end the rationale for NATO, and achieve the exact outcome that the U.S. wanted to prevent in both World War II and the Cold War.”
This magnifies the Navalny silliness and the Nord Stream 2 dispute many times. It also serves as a warning of how tenaciously Pompeo will press the Germans to ditch the gas project and learn to hate Russia as long as he is in office. Friedman’s interview is here, in German. The translation is courtesy of Diana Johnstone, the noted Europeanist and sometime contributor to Consortium News.
Just before the weekend we had a telling moment as to the authorship of the policies reviewed here. On Friday the Defense Department announced that it was sending 100 additional troops, along with armored transports, to join the 500 U.S. soldiers still in Syria. The Pentagon explained that this is in response to the collision last month of Russian and American armored vehicles.
Here’s the interesting thing: The Army’s announcement came the same day Trump declared that, apart from the 500 remaining soldiers, “We are out of Syria.”
Trump is a statesman’s bad dream, all over the place on Syria and many other foreign policy questions. Those 500 troops still operating in Syria are there to guard Syrian oilfields, he explains regularly — that is, guarding Syrian oil from the Syrians who own it.
But the crossed wires on Syria confirm what was already evident to some of us. Trump has been a threat to the Pentagon, the national security apparatus, and the rest of the Deep State since he campaigned for détente with Russia and against our pointless wars four years ago.
Pompeo is doing his job: It is to make sure any barely breathing suggestion that what helped win Trump the 2016 election is dead and never to return.
Fever-pitch anxiety and fear: This is Pompeo’s legacy. No voice is raised against it that is not, like Tulsi Gabbard’s, instantly marginalized. Given the Democrats have little to say about any of what Pompeo hath wrought, it is likely to be with us regardless of the Nov. 3 result.
This column is offered in memory of Sherle Schwenninger and Stephen Cohen, honorable friends.