American News

The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: Bad “Behavior” According to America

Mike Pompeo, Pompeo news, US State Department, Donald Trump news, Trump latest, Iran news, Iranian news, Iran sanctions, Pompeo UAE visit, America news

Mike Pompeo in Brussels, Belgium, July 2018 © Alexandros Michailidis

July 13, 2018 00:30 EDT

Mike Pompeo, the moralist, knows how to identify another nation’s bad behavior without worrying about his own.

In a visit to the always well-behaved United Arab Emirates, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who believes the world is a gangster, used the opportunity to affirm the intention of the United States to act boldly against the designated enemy of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Trump administration. As the world knows, the Iranian regime had the effrontery to respect an international agreement with the US and five other countries (plus the European Union) in a devious plot to avoid sanctions. Punishment, Pompeo assures us, is on its way.

The secretary of state announced the Trump administration’s intention to “deny Iran the financial capacity to continue this bad behavior.” He explained what those actions would be: “[It’s] a broad range, a series of sanctions aimed not at the Iranian people, but rather aimed at the single mission of convincing the Iranian regime that its malign behavior is unacceptable and has a real high cost for them.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:


For the US government, actions that only other nations do, which is usually “bad” or “malign,” since the actions of the US should never be called “behavior”

Contextual note

This is a fine example of political double-talk. In Pompeo’s rhetoric, nothing can be worse than behavior and everything he doesn’t like can be called behavior. Behavior has never had good press and, when they talk about it, people usually use the word to formulate a reproach: “Learn to behave,” “I don’t like your behavior,” “that’s unbecoming behavior.”

But what in the behavior of the Iranians worries Pompeo so much? Iran has reacted to stated US policy by threatening to respond to a draconian blockade of the Iranian economy — a virtual state of siege — by taking action to prevent other nation’s oil shipments passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Is Pompeo justified in calling a conditional threat — in response to a concrete action — “bad behavior”? There is no doubt that the US has already started not only applying sanctions, but also sanctioning its own allies (for example, India) for not applying those same sanctions. Shouldn’t that action (rather than a threat) be called “behavior”? Behaving means acting. Threatening falls short of acting.

For Pompeo and for most Americans, US actions cannot be called behavior. When America acts, it is, in a quasi-religious sense, simply “fulfilling the law.” No other explanation of its behavior is required, since it doesn’t “behave” (wilfully engage in an act). Its actions are determined by its higher mission: “[To] be a light unto other nations, and to further the cause of freedom and justice all over the world.”

Historical note

Although there are examples of positive references to behavior (“behave like a gentleman”), the idea usually assumes that if you talk about behavior, it is probably bad. When a man behaves like a gentleman he rises temporarily above his natural tendency toward bad behavior. “Good behavior” is nothing more than the avoidance of bad behavior. This is nowhere more obvious than in the meaning of the phrase, “to be on good behavior.”

US diplomacy typically stands above the fray and judges nations on their behavior, which essentially means one of two things: conformity with American cultural values (usually referring to the practice of democracy and civil liberties) or acquiescence in US military and economic strategy within the nation’s region. US administrations typically invoke the common theme of “human rights” to condemn other nations and justify the application of economic sanctions, with the further implicit consequence of invasion or war in case of repeated violations.

But as one researcher has explained: “Since the beginning of the 1990s, economic sanctions have become an increasingly employed tool by major powers in order to achieve international political objectives. A growing body of research has emerged, however, indicating that the use of sanctions has the unintended consequence of increasing human rights violations in targeted countries.”

Secretary Pompeo claims the sanctions that the US is now imposing on Iran after unilaterally breaking the nuclear agreement —with no “behavioral” justification — are “aimed not at the Iranian people, but rather aimed at … convincing the Iranian regime that its malign behavior is unacceptable.” He expects the Iranian people to be reassured by this noble intention. Thus when they suffer the consequences, as the Iraqi population did in the 1990s, they will realize that their suffering is simply a benign form of “collateral damage.” Don’t blame the Americans. Sanctions are simply a powerful rhetorical device for “convincing” the regime that it needs to mend its ways.

Causing misery to an entire population, as Jon Schwartz forcefully points out in The Intercept, has been for decades, in the eyes of the US, a form of “generosity.” Threatening to retaliate against it, however, is “malign behavior.”

*[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: Alexandros Michailidis /

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