P.G. Wodehouse once described a character as so crooked that he sliced bread with a corkscrew. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s behavior on the Sunday morning television shows brings to mind Wodehouse’s description. No, Pompeo wasn’t toting a corkscrew or a loaf of bread, but he offered a study in deceit. Pompeo didn’t merely reiterate the wafer-thin claim that Iran was about to pose an ‘imminent’ threat to American interests in the Middle East, but also claimed that President Obama and his aides had essentially been in league with the mullahs of Tehran.
In responding to Jake Tapper of CNN, Pompeo was unable to explain how blowing Qasem Soleimani to kingdom come would enhance the safety of America. Instead, he retreated to bluff and bombast: when in doubt, it seems, blame Obama. Pompeo declared, ‘Team Obama appeased Iran and led to Shia militias with money, Hamas, the PIJ, hundreds of thousands of Syrians killed by Soleimani himself.’ The most he would concede is that ‘it may be that there’s a little noise here in the interim if the Iranians makes the choice to respond.’ Noise.
When it came to Trump’s threats about bombing scores of Iranian cultural sites in memory of the 1979 hostage crisis, Pompeo pooh-poohed the notion that the administration might be contemplating perpetrating war crimes: ‘The American people should know that every target that we strike will be a lawful target, and it will be a target designed at the singular mission of protecting and defending America.’ So far, however, the administration has provided no information that would suggest that it was suddenly imperative to rub out Soleimani. If anything, Trump appears to have acted largely on whim, determined to efface the impression that he lacked the cojones to take on Tehran.
Pompeo was also blasé about the prospect of Iraq instructing America to withdraw. Iraqi leader Adel Abdul Mahdi deemed the American move ‘a political assassination’ and said that it was time to demand the withdrawal of foreign troops for the ‘sake of our national sovereignty’. The fight against Isis, in other words, is coming to an end. Trump’s pursuivants are trying to portray this as some kind of three-dimensional chess that he’s playing: he gets to retreat from Iraq. And, of course, hand it over lock, stock and barrel to Iran. In short, the neocon dream of a liberated Baghdad ends with an emboldened and empowered Iran that effectively has suzerainty over much of the Middle East. This is hardly a prospect that the Saudis, among others, can relish.
For good measure, Iranian state TV is reporting that Iran will not abide by any provisions of the 2015 nuclear deal. No doubt Pompeo and Trump will cite this as yet another to double down on a course of confrontation against Tehran. They have a deep bag of tricks to reach into. Having willed the ends, they are willing the means.