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The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: “Showdown” with Milk and Pompeo

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Mike Pompeo, 2014 © Mark Reinstein

July 12, 2018 06:22 EDT

Can the diplomatic attack on mother’s milk herald the imminent eruption of a smoldering volcano? Perhaps the last days of Mike Pompeo?

In a story about the wholesomeness of mothers’ milk, The New York Times exposes the current negotiating techniques of the United States, intent as always to protect the sources of corporate profit around the globe as well as to prevent women from exposing themselves.

The scandalous attempt of some developing countries to encourage breast-feeding in the interest of the health of their people represents a dangerous trend capable of compromising the revenue stream of the world’s agro-industrial giants. Rather than engage in dialogue, The Times describes how the US applied its standard negotiating procedure: the showdown.

“The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the United States,” says Andrew Jacobs in The New York Times.

Here is today’s 3D definition:


An approach to settling disagreements first elaborated in the screenplays of Hollywood westerns that, for American negotiators, offers an effective alternative to constructive dialogue, considered unduly time-consuming and risky because it might lead to acknowledging the value and pertinence of an opposing point of view. A showdown typically involves staging a direct confrontation that will be settled by a show of force.

Contextual note

The Times article makes it clear that direct intimidation, threat and, what one commentator called, “blackmail” were the main weapons in the American arsenal. “What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant and young child health,” said Patti Rundall, policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action.

Ecuador initially sponsored the proposal, but the US immediately threatened Quito with “punishing trade measures” and withdrawal of “crucial military aid.” Once Ecuador capitulated, “at least a dozen” other potential sponsors for the resolution — mainly among the poor nations of Africa and Latin America — similarly backed off, fearing American retaliation.

In a final ironic twist, a champion of the cause of poor nations appeared: Russia. It’s as if the devil himself had intervened to protect the interest of the struggling mothers in the developing world. “In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them,” says Jacobs.

The brave American negotiators, ready to show their bravado by whispering threats into the ears of diplomats from countries depending on maintaining good relations with the US, backed down when Russia stood up. That isn’t the way the movie would have ended had John Wayne been there to set things right. But Wayne’s masculine force has long since been replaced by Donald Trump’s deviousness and the pusillanimity of diplomats who represent corporate interests before even thinking about the needs of people.

Historical note

In another showdown very much in the news, initially orchestrated in the form of a glitzy summit meeting in Singapore between two wrestling stars (The Donald and his favorite opponent, Rocket Man), Bloomberg reports the final result that contradicts the warm glow of success projected by the US administration: “No sooner had [Mike] Pompeo left when [Kim Jong-un’s] media published a statement saying the U.S.’s ‘unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization’ risked upending ties less than a month after Trump and Kim shook hands in Singapore.”

Secretary Pompeo has now responded — in an apparent attempt at wit — by claiming that “if those requests were gangster-like, the world is a gangster.” He may have a point. Despite its traditional, often polite veneer, diplomacy has always included backstabbing and “offers one couldn’t refuse,” godfather-style.

There has been much talk recently, in the form of regret or even shock, of a growing trend to deviate from the honorable “rules-based” political and economic order of the golden era of American supremacy following World War II. As with most comforting illusions, the Trump administration seems intent on revealing the rotting bone beneath the weathered skin, at the cost of watching the flesh of that civilization peel away as the body politic is drained of its life forces.

Pompeo has seen it from the inside. In a showdown there are no rules other than draw, aim and shoot. 

*[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.

Photo Credit: Mark Reinstein /

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