Trump Is Handing the State Department Over from Exxon Mobil to the Tea Party

The likely next Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is a Koch-funded, far-right ideologue who supports torture, denies climate change, disparages Muslims and sounds thirsty for war.

Stephen Zunes March 14, 2018

There is little hope that the Senate will block Mike Pompeo’s nomination. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

On Tues­day, Pres­i­dent Trump abrupt­ly fired Rex Tiller­son and announced CIA Direc­tor Mike Pom­peo as his choice to become the next Sec­re­tary of State. This deci­sion serves as anoth­er dis­turb­ing devel­op­ment in the increas­ing­ly dan­ger­ous for­eign pol­i­cy turn tak­en by the cur­rent administration.

Pompeo will only reinforce Trump’s most dangerous, reckless and militaristic instincts.

No tears should be shed over the depar­ture of Tiller­son, who over­saw the dec­i­ma­tion of some of the more respon­si­ble agen­cies of the State Depart­ment and the down­grad­ing of its capac­i­ty and resources. Tiller­son cared lit­tle for diplo­ma­cy and his close rela­tion­ships with the lead­ers of Rus­sia, Sau­di Ara­bia, the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates and oth­er oil-pro­duc­ing autoc­ra­cies appeared to be lit­tle more than a con­tin­u­a­tion of his agen­da as CEO of Exxon Mobil to pro­mote the glob­al pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion of fos­sil fuels.

Still, when it came to the administration’s for­eign pol­i­cy, Tiller­son report­ed­ly helped to keep some of Trump’s most dan­ger­ous impuls­es in check and demon­strat­ed at least some respect for pro­to­col and inter­na­tion­al cooperation.

Pom­peo, by con­trast, is a right-wing ide­o­logue who will only rein­force Trump’s most dan­ger­ous, reck­less and mil­i­taris­tic instincts. A West Point grad­u­ate, Pom­peo will be yet anoth­er for­mer mil­i­tary offi­cer to hold a top posi­tion in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. Richard Bouch­er, a career diplo­mat who has served as an ambas­sador and State Depart­ment spokesper­son under both Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can admin­is­tra­tions, observed how Trump has been look­ing for peo­ple who see every prob­lem as a threat that needs to be dealt with by mil­i­tary force, rather than an issue that can be coun­tered through diplomacy.”

While many cur­rent and for­mer State Depart­ment offi­cials have referred to Tiller­son as the worst Sec­re­tary of State in their life­time, it appears that it won’t take long for Pom­peo — who first came to Con­gress as part of the right-wing Tea Par­ty move­ment in 2010 — to sur­pass him in that dubi­ous distinction.

When it comes to the UN-rat­i­fied nuclear agree­ment between Iran and sev­en major gov­ern­ments, Pom­peo has said he is look­ing for­ward to rolling back this dis­as­trous deal.” As a con­gress­man, he urged the Unit­ed States to bomb Iran dur­ing the sen­si­tive nego­ti­a­tions, insist­ing that going to war was a bet­ter way to pre­vent Iran from devel­op­ing nuclear weapons than a bind­ing and enforce­able nego­ti­at­ed treaty. Claim­ing that Iran is intent on the destruc­tion of our coun­try,” he has insist­ed that the Unit­ed States must act to change Iran­ian behav­ior, and, ulti­mate­ly, the Iran­ian régime.”

Pompeo’s belief that the Unit­ed States can get its way by mak­ing uni­lat­er­al demands rather than by give-and-take was again demon­strat­ed on Sun­day when he insist­ed that the Unit­ed States would refuse to make a sin­gle con­ces­sion in nego­ti­a­tions with North Korea.

On Israel, Pom­peo has been an out­spo­ken sup­port­er of the poli­cies of right-wing Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu, includ­ing the ongo­ing occu­pa­tion and col­o­niza­tion of the Pales­tin­ian West Bank. In 2016, when Israeli occu­pa­tion forces faced crit­i­cism from Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al and oth­er human rights groups for extra-judi­cial killings of Pales­tini­ans in the occu­pied ter­ri­to­ries, Pom­peo respond­ed by prais­ing what he referred to as the Israeli military’s admirable restraint,” com­mend­ing them for their pro­fes­sion­al­ism” and thank­ing them for all they do.”

He has open­ly expressed his sup­port for the use of tor­ture and oth­er vio­la­tions of the Fourth Gene­va Con­ven­tion by both the Unit­ed States and allied gov­ern­ments, prais­ing those impli­cat­ed in tor­ture at Guan­tanamo Bay as patri­ots,” and insist­ing that Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors who ques­tion the use of such ille­gal meth­ods put Amer­i­can lives at risk.”

Anoth­er fright­en­ing impli­ca­tion of Pom­peo as Sec­re­tary of State regards the Unit­ed States’ rela­tions with coun­tries that are major­i­ty Mus­lim, a faith he has relent­less­ly stereo­typed and demo­nized. Claim­ing Islam is a threat to Amer­i­ca,” he has said that the alleged fail­ure of some Amer­i­can Mus­lim lead­ers to not more vig­or­ous­ly con­demn acts of ter­ror­ism con­sti­tutes a kind of col­lec­tive guilt that makes them poten­tial­ly complicit.”

While Tiller­son, despite being a for­mer oil com­pa­ny exec­u­tive, opposed Trump’s deci­sion to with­draw from the Paris Cli­mate Agree­ment, Pom­peo — who has close ties to the bil­lion­aire Koch broth­ers and has refused to even acknowl­edge cli­mate change — sup­port­ed Trump’s action, claim­ing that the Unit­ed States was bow(ing) down to rad­i­cal envi­ron­men­tal­ists” by join­ing the rest of the world’s nations in sign­ing the accord.

There is lit­tle hope that the Sen­ate will block Pompeo’s nom­i­na­tion. He not only received unan­i­mous Repub­li­can sup­port for con­fir­ma­tion as CIA direc­tor last year, he was also backed by 15 Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors, includ­ing minor­i­ty leader Chuck Schumer, rank­ing Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee mem­ber Dianne Fein­stein and 2016 vice-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Tim Kaine.

Dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Trump disin­gen­u­ous­ly tried to out­flank Hillary Clin­ton from the left on for­eign pol­i­cy, crit­i­ciz­ing her hawk­ish record and claim­ing he would be less inter­ven­tion­ist, less mil­i­taris­tic and put Amer­i­ca first.” As with his pledges to pur­sue eco­nom­ic poli­cies that chal­lenge Wall Street, sup­port the country’s work­force and drain the swamp,” Trump’s nom­i­na­tion of Mike Pom­peo for Sec­re­tary of State is yet anoth­er sig­nal that his deci­sions are the oppo­site of what he promised.

Stephen Zunes is a pro­fes­sor of Pol­i­tics and Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of San Fran­cis­co. Read more of his work at stephen​zunes​.org.
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