It’s hard to say what’s worst about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s role in the assassination of Iran’s top military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and the overall escalation of hostilities with Iran. He is widely reported to have been a major force behind the killing, after Donald Trump’s decision not to retaliate for Iran’s downing of a US surveillance drone, which left Pompeo “morose,” according to The Washington Post. The former Kansas representative, widely thought to be eyeing a 2020 Senate run, has been a career-long Iran hawk, seeing a coalition of pro-Israel donors and right-wing evangelical Christians as the cornerstone of his political ambitions. The Post reports he’s been pushing Trump to kill Suleimani “for months.”
The Secretary of State is normally in charge of diplomacy, but Pompeo seems all in for war, and he’s peddling it with the same mix of mendacity and recklessness the George W. Bush crew used to justify their 2003 Iraq debacle. “I saw last night there was dancing in the streets in parts of Iraq,” he claimed on Friday. “We have every expectation that people not only in Iraq, but in Iran, will view the American action last night as giving them freedom.” That ludicrous claim rivaled then–Vice President Dick Cheney’s pre-war prediction that American troops in Iraq “will, in fact, be treated as liberators.” (Spoiler alert: They were not.)
In fact, the million-plus people in the streets of Iran Monday were not dancing but angrily mourning Suleimani (two months ago, 200,000 were instead protesting the regime, according to the interior minister); Iraqi leaders were livid, with lame-duck Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi denouncing the assassination, and the Iraqi Parliament passing a (non-binding) resolution demanding that the US withdraw its troops from Iraq. The Pentagon seems to be in freefall, with someone releasing a letter from a brigadier general that seemed to indicate the U.S. was leaving Iraq out of respect for Iraqi sovereignty; officials had to backtrack and say the letter was a draft not intended for release. It’s all a shitshow. Heck of a job, Mikey!
Pompeo also beclowned himself on all five major Sunday shows, robotically accusing the Obama administration of “appeasing” Iran, even though Trump has been in office for three years and ended Obama’s Iran deal, and the Iranian regime has only gotten more bellicose. Pompeo also moved away from his earlier claim that a strike by Suleimani was “imminent,” only insisting that Americans, and the world, will be safer with him gone. On Meet the Press, NBC’s Chuck Todd wasn’t entirely convinced, given that Pompeo’s State Department is telling its employees to get out of Iraq immediately.
“We do expect retaliation on American citizens, correct?” Todd asked Pompeo. He didn’t deny it. “It may be that there’s a little noise here in the interim,” the secretary of state callously replied, a remark that rivaled Rumsfeld’s indifferent “stuff happens” and “freedom’s untidy” in the wake of violence and looting after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
If, and more likely when, Americans die in an Iranian retaliatory strike, I hope many people remind Pompeo that he called those deaths “a little noise.”
But Pompeo was also humiliated by Trump himself Sunday. He seemed to dismiss a tweet by Trump warning that the United States is prepared to hit 52 Iranian sites—52, for the 52 American hostages seized at the US Embassy in Tehran 40 years ago—including cultural sites, if Iran retaliates for Suleimani’s killing, which would be a war crime. Pompeo told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that the US would act “lawfully,” continuing, in the face of the host’s skepticism: “I’ve seen what we are planning in terms of the target set…. The American people should know that every target that we strike will be a lawful target.”
Only hours later, Trump contradicted him on Air Force One. “They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people and we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way,” he blustered.
No one should be surprised by that, including Pompeo. Trump ran as the war-crimes candidate, telling Fox News in 2015 that he would “take out the families” of ISIS fighters. “When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families,” Trump said. Deliberate attacks on civilians would constitute, yes, a war crime.
During a GOP presidential debate in 2016, Trump said he “would bring back waterboarding,” a form of torture, and “would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” The same year he praised an apocryphal story about a US general killing Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood as an effective approach to terrorism. And just last month, he granted clemency to court-martialed Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, whose behavior—war crimes—was so brutal other SEAL team members testified against him, and Trump entertained him at Mar-a-Lago over the same holiday during which he and Pompeo planned the assassination of Suleimani.
Will any of that embarrass Pompeo? Nah. Expect him to quickly get on the same page as his boss and defend bombing cultural sites and other war crimes. In 2016, he warned that Trump would be “an authoritarian president who ignored our Constitution.” In 2020, he’s his chief enabler in doing just that. According to The New York Times, he’s set aside his Kansas Senate plans, to concentrate on his disastrous Iran project.
On Monday a New Republic headline called Pompeo “The Most Dangerous Man In The World Right Now.” The article qualifies the claim (but who can resist a great headline? Not me!) by noting that Trump is more dangerous, because he has the actual power. But he’d be a twittering Cheet-o without his toadies, and Pompeo is the toady in chief.