President Pompeo? How one secretary turned a doctrine into a possible bid for higher office
President-elect Joe Biden has selected Tony Blinken, a long-time advisor, to be his Secretary of State. Yet until Biden’s inauguration, Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continues to use his office for personal gain, as demonstrated by his recent trip to Europe and the Middle East.
In November, Pompeo seemed to be on a “See You Soon” tour intended to cement personal friendships with autocratic leaders in the Middle East and to build up his hard-right foreign policy credentials in preparation for a possible run for president in 2024. Furthermore, his comment about a “smooth transition to a second Trump administration” indicates his determination to ingratiate himself with Trump’s active base, regardless of the implications for American democracy.
Pompeo’s actions on this tour could also be seen as deliberate attempts to limit President-elect Joe Biden’s options, taking a page out of his boss’s playbook. But they’re more than that. In the weeks since Trump lost the election, Pompeo has implemented policies aimed at pandering to the rulers of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The so-called “Pompeo Doctrine” reflects his personal political ambitions while undermining the interests of the United States.
Saudi Arabia: Pompeo’s State Department reportedly plans to designate Yemen’s Houthi movement a terrorist organization. This would not only deepen the country’s current humanitarian crisis by hindering aid and NGO access to the wartorn Houthi-controlled areas, but it would make it more difficult for Biden to end U.S. support for the Kingdom’s failed war, which he had pledged to do on the campaign trail. Pompeo seems to have overlooked the looming humanitarian catastrophe to accommodate the desires of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
The news that Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia — unprecedented for an Israeli head of state — to meet with MBS during Pompeo’s visit on Sunday raised speculation about a possible normalization deal with Israel, or perhaps escalating aggression towards Iran.
The UAE: The week after the election, Pompeo notified Congress of an intended $23.37 billion arms sale to the Emirates. The massive sale, which controversially would include up to 50 F-35 aircraft, is the price the UAE demanded for normalizing relations with Israel in August. Members of Congress have advanced legislation to limit or block the sale, largely pointing to Israel losing its “qualitative military edge,” or concerns the weapons will continue to be used to kill civilians in the Yemen war.
Rather than considering whether providing the UAE with some of America’s most advanced military technology is in fact in the interest of the United States, Pompeo seems primarily motivated by cultivating his relationship with Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince and de facto ruler of the wealthy and increasingly powerful Gulf nation.
Israel: Here, the secretary has been a critical figure in reversing Washington’s position towards advancing a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict. While previous administrations have maintained a veneer of neutrality, Pompeo and Trump have bowed to the preferences of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli right. Pompeo and other pro-Israel advocates in the administration were instrumental in decisions like moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, closing the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s office in D.C., and embracing Israel’s expansionist territorial goals in the Trump Peace Plan.
On his final tour, Pompeo further entrenched the pro-Israel bias of the U.S. government by visiting an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, as well as the occupied Golan Heights. Although international law — as well as previous American administrations — view these Israeli settlements as illegal, Pompeo announced that products manufactured in settlements would now be labeled “Made in Israel” and called the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement “anti-Semitic.”
Iran: On November 18, the State Department revealed new sanctions against Iranian entities, while Pompeo has indicated plans for a “flood” of additional sanctions prior to Biden’s inauguration. Reports emerged that Trump had considered a pre-emptive strike against Iran on November 12, while Israel recently conducted airstrikes in Syria that killed ten Iranians, and is prepared for further military action. Biden has expressed a “deep commitment” to Israel; if Israel starts a war with Iran, Biden’s plan to rejoin the JCPOA becomes impossible.
Pompeo’s antipathy towards Iran has been consistent throughout his career. It also plays well with his allies in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, and Jerusalem and simultaneously appeals to American evangelicals, a key constituency in a potential Republican primary. Pompeo arguably violated the 1st amendment of the Constitution by declaring himself a “Christian leader.” His visit to the Psagot winery in the West Bank was recommended by Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent evangelical leader in Iowa, and the winery is owned by the Falic family, powerful pro-settlement lobbyists and major GOP donors.
Pompeo’s efforts to cater to evangelicals have included his emphasis on religious freedom, which in practice has been advanced by opponents of the rights of women and LGBTQ individuals. Pompeo’s current tour included visits with the Orthodox Patriarch in Istanbul, (where he snubbed Turkish president Erdogan), as well as the Patriarch of Georgia.
While Trump continued to demand his supporters fund his futile efforts to dispute his loss, Pompeo was busy implementing his own agenda before he loses his powerful position. He has already been accused of using his office for politicking and building a future war chest, so one can only assume that his tour across the most volatile parts of the world last week helped to cultivate allies and even financial backers for a future presidential bid. Meanwhile, Joe Biden is unlikely to have the time or fortitude to immediately focus on overturning Pompeo’s favors to foreign autocrats or undo the damage of Trump’s final weeks in office.