When push comes to shove, allies of the US may see their own democratic processes pushed over the side of the cliff.
Before being appointed US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo occupied the position of director of the CIA. Such public figures tend to be doubly guarded and prudent, even in their private conversations after leaving their functions. Perhaps inspired by the personality of his boss, US President Donald Trump, the head of US diplomacy has acquired a dangerous, undiplomatic habit of occasionally speaking candidly in semi-public events, with the effect of revealing the devious practices most people suspect about the actions of both the intelligence services and the State Department.
In April, Pompeo unhesitatingly boasted — accompanied by a condescending snicker — that the CIA lies, cheats and steals. This might have made mainstream media like CNN and MSNBC think again about the total trust that, night in and night out, they put in former intelligence directors, such as James Clapper and John Brennan, who appear regularly as commentators on White House news on the assumption that they know what the truth is and will unerringly report it to the American people. It would have been interesting to hear Clapper and Brennan’s commentary on Pompeo’s burst of honesty. But the media paid no attention to this inadvertent but obviously truthful admission.
Now, Pompeo has given the world a glimpse of another official secret, this time concerning US meddling in foreign elections, specifically British electoral politics. In a closed-door meeting in New York, “Jewish leaders” (lobbyists?) expressed concern for Jews in the UK if Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister after a potential general election provoked by the Brexit crisis.
The Washington Post reports: “Pompeo was asked if Corbyn ‘is elected, would you be willing to work with us to take on actions if life becomes very difficult for Jews in the U.K.?’ In response, Pompeo said, ‘It could be that Mr. Corbyn manages to run the gantlet and get elected. It’s possible. You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best.’”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
In the language of US intelligence services, initiate clandestine actions to prevent undesirable outcomes in democracies outside the borders of the United States.
This admission isn’t quite as frank or as easy to decipher as Pompeo’s description of the CIA’s lying, cheating and stealing. But a brief analysis of his language reveals how US foreign policy shades into the practice of disrupting the democratic integrity of other nations. Pompeo begins prudently by saying it’s “possible.” But what follows becomes a promise: “we won’t wait for him … to begin to push back.” Is this a promise that the US will do its “level best” to prevent Corbyn from ever being elected?
Jonathan Tobin, writing for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, approves of what he sees as Pompeo’s commitment to supporting Israel, considering it an act of moral courage. At the same time, he recognizes what has become routine in US foreign policy, even if US media systematically fail to notice it. “While the United States and its European allies may think it’s their right to meddle in the affairs of smaller countries, as they have done in Israel for decades, playing that sort of game with each other is rightly considered beyond the pale,” Tobin writes.
In other words, the US plays the role of bully on the world stage, but, according to Tobin, usually stops short of doing so with well-populated allies, such as the UK. Tobin may have forgotten that, thanks to WikiLeaks, we know that the Obama administration tapped not just German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone, but those of her ministers as well — and probably not for the purpose of improving their language skills in German. When you live to lie, cheat and steal, you are unlikely to spare the rich as a matter of principle.
To set the scene, Pompeo elaborated on his hypothesis: “It could be that Mr. Corbyn manages to run the gantlet and get elected.” In other words, because there’s an outside chance Corbyn may become prime minister, the audience can count on the US putting in place a preventive strategy. According to journalist Alex Tiffin: “This response received a voracious round of applause from those in the meeting.” He reminds readers that “a strong Lobby for Israel in UK politics … has played against Corbyn on many occasions. However, now the US Israeli lobby is getting involved, this ramps things up significantly. The United States has always been much closer to Israel and any threat to the status quo will be seen and treated as a threat.”
But what about the accusation that Corbyn is anti-Semitic, which most media are content to repeat as if it was a given? Palestinian-American activist Zainab Salbi was in the news this week complaining about the Trump administration’s surreal Middle East peace plan led by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Refusing to mince her words, she said Trump, the billionaire responsible for serial bankruptcies, “has no idea what a deal is.” She also dared to state the obvious, which applies to Corbyn as well as herself: “This idea of me being anti-Semitic is the most ludicrous of them all. I believe in the liberation of the Palestinian people. I believe in a nonviolent movement of boycott divestment sanctions. And those positions, those positions that I just put forth are what critics will say makes me anti-Semitic.”
Brian Cloughley, a former diplomat and military historian, writing for The Strategic Culture Foundation, describes the current style of US policy both globally and at home: “The foreign and domestic policies of the US Administration appear to be guided by a combination of financial greed, the desire to exploit weakness for the sake of doing so, a partiality for malevolence, and determination to be spiteful.”
President Trump, Secretary Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton apparently want to be seen as greedy bullies. This is in contrast with Barack Obama, who let the global system do the bullying while he played the role of the clear-sighted moral pillar, the symbol and guardian of democratic virtue. The Trump team also contrasts with George W. Bush, whose aggressive policies claimed to be no more than the altruistic sowing of the seeds of freedom in foreign waste lands.
Pompeo’s discourse says nothing about virtue or the cause of freedom. It’s all about not letting anyone get in the way of the US and reminding them that the US has monetary, military and technological means to push non-conformists out of the way. Tom Engelhardt has just reminded us of the long history of US meddling in foreign elections, a history that offers the most reliable gloss on Pompeo’s announced campaign against Corbyn.
Earlier this year when Corbyn recommended withdrawing US sanctions to allow Venezuelans to solve their own problems, Pompeo employed one of every government’s favorite rhetorical tools against him: visceral moral indignation: “It is disgusting to see leaders in not only in the United Kingdom but in the United States as well who continue to support the murderous dictator.” He was referring to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
After a few seconds of thought, some might find Pompeo’s double standard even more disgusting. It’s very unlikely that Secretary Pompeo would ever use the following words when speaking of Saudi Arabia: It is disgusting to see leaders in not only in the United Kingdom, but in the United States as well who continue to support the murderous crown prince.
Some murderous dictators — even ones that assassinate journalists who are residents in America — appear to be more deserving than others of unconditional US support.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.
In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.
We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money. Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.