Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with President Donald Trump during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C. on June 21, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with President Donald Trump during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C. on June 21, 2018

Pompeo: One Land-Mine a Day

Gwynne Dyer on the U.S. Secretary of State’s last days in office

By Gwynne Dyer

When defeated armies are retreating, they always lay mines behind them if they have time. The mines slow pursuit, they may inflict casualties on the victors, and they give the losers something purposeful to do amidst panic and despair. That’s what Mike Pompeo has been doing just before time is called on his ideologically driven term as United States Secretary of State.

Pompeo started last Saturday by declaring that the US State Department would end its restrictions on direct intergovernmental dealings with Taiwan, a policy in place since the US transferred its diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China (ROC-Taiwan) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

“No more,” said Pompeo. “I am lifting all these self-imposed restrictions.” But they were not ‘self-imposed’. They were a key part of the 1979 deal that let the US have its cake and eat it too: to go on protecting Taiwan’s de facto independence while formally accepting that Taiwan is legally a province of China.

So the United States agreed that there was only one China (without actually saying that Taiwan was not its legitimate government), while China agreed that “the American people” would continue to carry on “commercial, cultural, and other unofficial contacts with the people of Taiwan.” They could talk and trade all they like; just no public, official contacts.

This is why we all employ diplomats. They can square the circle and let us be friends, or at least trading partners, by coming up with a formula of words that veils our differences. The US could go on selling arms to Taiwan, sail the 7th Fleet down the strait between Taiwan and the PRC, pretty well anything – except have US government officials talk openly to ROC officials.

Then, 41 years later, Pompeo springs his little surprise. China exploded, of course, accusing Pompeo of “seeking to maliciously inflict a long-lasting scar on China-US ties.” Fair comment, but Pompeo’s real target was the incoming Biden administration, which will have to reverse this policy while the Republicans shower it with accusations of being ‘soft on China’.

Sunday: Another land-mine. Pompeo designates Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization. That means nobody can deal with them, so attempts to broker an end to the long and devastating war between the Houthis and the Saudi Arabian-backed, ‘internationally recognised’ (but no more legitimate) government are now outlawed.

It wins more time for Saudi Arabia to go on bombing the place in the hope of restoring its candidate to power, but it makes it far harder to bring aid to the diseased and starving millions in most of the country (which is controlled by the Houthis, who are not terrorists). It will take the Biden administration some time to unpick this mess.

Monday: Pompeo puts Cuba back on the list of ‘state sponsors of terrorism’. It’s nothing of the sort, but this will please the older generation of Republican-voting Cuban refugees in south Florida, and the Republicans can call Biden a ‘Commie-lover’ while he’s reversing it. Besides, it was Obama who took Cuba off that list, and all his works must be destroyed.

Tuesday: Pompeo announces that Iran is now the main home of al-Qaeda, the Islamist terrorist organisation that planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks on the United States, and later created the ‘Islamic State’ that devastated Iraq and Syria for a number of years.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called Pompeo’s assertions “warmongering lies”, which seems about right. They are certainly lies – nobody who knows the region believes that the Shia Muslim theocracy in Iran would have anything to do with the Sunni Muslim extremists of al-Qaeda. In fact, al-Qaeda routinely murders Shias as heretics.

And they really are ‘warmongering’ lies, designed to sabotage Biden’s policy of rejoining the 2015 international deal that guarantees Iran will not build nuclear weapons. (Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018, presumably because it was Obama’s signature achievement in foreign policy.)

If the United States does not end its savage sanctions against Iran and re-commit to the deal within months, it will finally collapse, and the risk of an eventual nuclear war in the Middle East will move from remote hypothesis to plausible prospect. But it lets Republicans accuse Biden of being ‘soft on Iran’ and ‘soft on terrorism’ when he tries to fix it.

Come to think of it, ‘land-mines’ is the wrong image here, because land-mines are hidden. Pompeo is setting slow-burning fires in plain sight, which is why a European foreign minister recently described him as a ‘political pyromaniac’ – and this is his ‘scorched-earth’ policy.

That’s the other, bigger thing that retreating armies often do. Burn it all down. If we can’t have it, nobody can. And Pompeo still has time to insult North Korea and start a fight with Mexico before he leaves the scene.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work)’.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Today, on April 22, over 1 billion people will come together – virtually – to mark Earth Day.(Pixabay)
Earth Day 2021: a time to reflect

By Ruth Kamnitzer Today, on April 22, over 1 billion people will… Continue reading

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
54 more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty-two people in the region are in hospital with the virus, 11 of them in intensive care

While pharmacies across B.C. are using AstraZeneca for public immunizations for people 40 years of age and older, there is no availability currently in the Kootenays. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
No AstraZeneca vaccine availability in Kootenay pharmacies, says Interior Health

Vaccine has been opened up at pharmacies in other areas of the province to people 40 years of age and older

Balsamroot, pictured here, can be found on Sunflower Hill in the Kimberley Nature Park, Eager Hill, Wycliffe Buttes, and many other areas across the Rocky Mountain Trench. (Paul Rodgers file)
Spring’s yearly spectacle of balsamroot

Ever year in May, balsamroot emerges for a brief showy period

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

Letisha Reimer, 13, was killed Nov. 1, 2016 in a stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
Second-degree murder conviction stands for Abbotsford school killer

Judge finds that Gabriel Klein is criminally responsible for death of Letisha Reimer

FILE – RCMP officers wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 stand by as protesters opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion block rail lines, in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday, November 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Very scary’: B.C. travel rules too vague, shouldn’t involve police, civil liberties group says

BCCLA said that speaking with communities could have avoided top-down approach

Ocean Legacy Foundation members conduct a shoreline pollution cleanup in Vancouver. (OLP)
It’s time to end ‘suffocating’ plastic pollution along B.C. shorelines, advocates urge

This Earth Day, Ocean Legacy Foundation is launching a free educational platform to educate the public about plastic pollution

A teacher-librarian in Nanaimo was fired in 2019 for checking out an age-inappropriate graphic novel to a student. The discipline agreement was published Wednesday, April 21. (News Bulletin file photo)
B.C. teacher-librarian fired for checking out too-graphic graphic novel to student

Teacher had been previously disciplined and suspended on two occasions

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. university rowing coach ‘deeply sorry’ after complaints

Barney Williams says he’s been committed to ensuring no other member of the roster had a similar experience

Aria Pendak Jefferson cuddles ChiChi, the family cat that ran away two years ago in Ucluelet. The feline was missing until Courtney Johnson and Barry Edge discovered her in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess earlier this month. Aria and her parents were reunited with ChiChi in a parking lot in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
B.C. girl’s wish granted as her cat came back, two years later

Courtenay family reunited with cat that went missing in Ucluelet in 2019

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read