Friday, April 20, 2018

Pompey the Great

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnius, by Tom Rutjens/Deviant Art.

Noah Rothman of Commentary yesterday morning, explaining to NPR why Mike Pompeo is qualified to be secretary of state, makes some very peculiar arguments:
ROTHMAN: Well, among them being that he was just in North Korea conducting a very high-level diplomatic mission. To the extent that he has been acting as a diplomatic ambassador now - and this was apparently leaked to convey to the press and to Democrats that he is essentially functioning as a diplomat...
GREENE: You're saying leaked to the - you're saying the White House wanted this out there so - to try and convince Democrats about his credentials.
ROTHMAN: Oh, we've learned yesterday that that was apparently the case. And it was a very smart move. It established his...
GREENE: But isn't that just one trip? Isn't that just one trip?
ROTHMAN: Well, yeah, but it's one very effective trip, apparently.
It is just one trip and we have no way of judging how effective it was, other than what the White House says, which is what this White House always says, that everything they do is totally great and making America great again only they can't tell you in just what respect.

What was the objective of the trip, even? If it was a "very smart move" for the White House to leak the news, is that because the purpose was to boost Pompeo's chance of confirmation as secretary of state? Is this not so much negotiation with North Korea as negotiation with the US Senate, as Louis Nelson and Eliana Johnson write in Politico?
The revelation was timed to shore up Pompeo’s image as a diplomat capable of executing sensitive negotiations on the president’s behalf, according to a senior administration official—and to undermine Democratic efforts to portray him as a warmonger unsuited to lead the country’s diplomatic corps.
Trump seems to have thought the purpose was to "form a good relationship" with the person he was referring to last September as "obviously a madman who doesn't mind starving or killing his people" and who in turn called him a "mentally deranged dotard". Karoun Demirjian and Shane Harris for Washington Post, with better information sources than Trump watching TV in the bedroom, says it wasn't a negotiation at all but an intelligence mission:
Although he had been tapped weeks earlier as the next secretary of state, Pompeo sat down with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in his role as a spy agency chief and a key adviser to President Trump, people familiar with the meeting said. He did not broker any agreements, and the encounter was not the formal beginning of negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program, these people said.
If that's the case, and the trip was as successful as the White House is claiming, then it woudn't be evidence that Pompeo should be in the state department at all, but that he belongs where he is.

Rothman goes on to say,
He's performing groundwork for some very high-level summitry, some very risky summitry. And everybody's fear about the possibility of a meeting with Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un was that the groundwork would not be laid, there wouldn't be enough preliminary meetings to have an effective meeting and a productive meeting. And this is an example that that groundwork is being done.
Really? Groundwork? What groundwork? With what staff? There isn't any state department involvement, there's no US ambassador to South Korea, the point person on North Korea issues, Joseph Yun, resigned suddenly in February, there was as of last month in the government just one senior officer who had ever met a North Korean official. Pompeo himself set up a Korea Mission Center at the CIA last year, which means he has some resources himself, but that is on a war footing, designed to combat the North Koreans—
"... to more purposefully integrate and direct CIA efforts against the serious threats to the United States and its allies emanating from North Korea," CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in a statement. "It also reflects the dynamism and agility that CIA brings to evolving national security challenges.
—and the "threat" it was a response to was the threat represented by the South Korean presidential election, bringing the pro-peace Democratic Party and Moon Jae-in into power.

I'm pretty sure whatever significant "groundwork" went into Pompeo's visit was done in Seoul, by the Moon Jae-in government, as you know, and I don't think that's at all a bad thing. I'd much rather have President Moon running US North Korea policy than anybody Trump is likely to hire. But as an argument for Pompeo as secretary of state, it isn't one. You might as well call it an argument that Moon should be secretary of state, which is not a good idea, even though the Pompeo trip is clearly a huge success for him, showing how completely he's turned around what seemed four or five months ago like an inexorable march to World War III. I'll nominate him for the Nobel, but not for a post in Trump's cabinet.

Moon's busy with a lot of other stuff, in any event: for example his own summit with Kim Jong-un, scheduled for later this month, in connection with which a telephone hot line has just been established between Seoul and Pyongyang, as I heard this morning on BBC. That's where the work is going to get done.

And then there was this, on the issue that's really a problem in the confirmation of Pompeo, of which his unshakeable opposition to the Iran nuclear deal is just a part:
GREENE: ...Because one thing that did come up at his confirmation hearing was some previous comments he's made about religion. Pompeo was talking to a church group in his hometown, Wichita, Kan., a few years ago, talking about the war on terrorism, talking about Islam. He called for people to pray, to stand and fight and, quote, "make sure we know Jesus Christ as our savior is truly the only solution for our world." Is that public view a problem for a man who's going to be the face of U.S. diplomacy, dealing with Muslim-majority countries?
ROTHMAN: Well, you're going to say then that having any personal conviction is then a problem. If that is a problem to have a personal conviction that is a Christian worldview, then we can't have anybody with personal convictions or religious views performing an act that doesn't necessarily involve having Christian views.
It isn't merely "Christian views", it's retrograde Christian-identity views, and not a "personal view", a longstanding public association with hate-group cranks like Frank Gaffney and Brigitte Gabriel (which he shares with our new National Security Council head John Bolton), as Jonathan Greenblatt clarified a year ago:
Frank Gaffney, an active proponent of anti-Muslim policies, has hosted Pompeoat his think tank, the Center for Security Policy, which asserts that practicing Muslims have an affinity towards extremism since they follow the Muslim code of law, or sharia. In 2015, the center asserted that more than 80 percent of mosques in the United States “are incubators of, at best, subversion and, at worst, violence and should be treated accordingly.” Both Pompeo and Bolton have appeared numerous times on the center’s radio show.
Pompeo also has a long history with Brigitte Gabriel, the founder of ACT for America, an organization that peddles anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Gabriel has suggested that any woman wearing a hijab must be an extremist. Pompeo accepted the organization’s National Security Eagle Award for 2016. That same year, he personally reserved an auditorium on Capitol Hill to host ACT’s annual national conference.
And at his Senate hearings he was unable to walk back the islamophobic and homophobic implications of his past condemnations of Americans who have "worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism and…endorsed perversion and called it an ‘alternative lifestyle'" (qz).

That Senators seem to be showing some interest in not giving jobs to some of these fanatics is a good sign. I hope they're able to stick with it. Pompeo should never have been confirmed as CIA director (his views on torture and domestic surveillance are also problematic, to say the least—he's said that waterboarding and other techniques don't constitute torture and proposed that we should "get back in the business" of collecting phone metadata on Americans as well as information about their "lifestyle", whatever that may mean) and still less should he be in the much more public position of running State.

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