US sheriff Mike Pompeo rode into town last week, telling whoppers as is his wont. The secretary of state – Donald Trump’s top enforcer – accused Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization chief, of cutting a secret pre-pandemic deal with China. Because of this, “you’ve got dead Britons,” he claimed. Pompeo offered no proof. It was an outrageous smear. But Tedros is a wanted man in Washington. He verbally gunned him down.
Pompeo justified January’s real-life assassination of Iran’s Gen Qassem Suleimani by saying he posed an “imminent” threat to US interests.
Declaring the killing unlawful, the UN investigator, Agnès Callamard, ruled this month there was not a shred of evidence to support this. Iran hawk Pompeo had reportedly urged the hit for months. It was he who finally convinced Trump to order the killing.
Pompeo was caught out again last year before Trump’s impeachment. He initially denied detailed knowledge of the phone call in which Trump tried to persuade Ukraine’s president to investigate the son of his White House rival, Joe Biden, saying he had not read the transcript. It later emerged Pompeo had listened in on the call. Democrats accused him of obstructing justice.
Speaking at Texas A&M University last year, Pompeo cheerfully confessed to telling lies when it suited him during a political career that began with election to Congress as a far-right Tea Party member in 2010 and took him to the CIA and state department. “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. It was like we had entire training courses,” he said, as if reprising Marlon Brando’s role in The Ugly American.
In a week when parliament’s report into Russian interference in British life provoked deep soul-searching, the behaviour of Britain’s best friend bears closer examination, too.
In terms of overt and covert influence-peddling, arm-twisting and behind-the-scenes meddling, the US leaves Russia in the shade. And by hook or by crook, Washington, unlike Moscow, usually gets its way.
The US government shows two faces to the world. One is benign, open, and high-minded. The other is darkly dominated by selfish calculation, ultimately reliant on brute force. Pompeo, Trump’s most influential adviser and possible successor, is the undisguised, snarling face of this latter form of manipulative, intrusive and mendacious American power.
He once told Israelis Trump was sent by God to save the Jews from the Persians
In less turbulent, less polarised times, the “special relationship” brought advantages for Britain. In many respects, the opposite is now true. The latest example of US pressure tactics, detrimental to the national interest, was Pompeo’s hysterical appeal last week for a united front of “free nations” to battle China’s “new tyranny”. Manufacturing a cold war with Beijing may suit Trump and the Republicans as they cling to office. It does not suit Britain.
Similarly ill-judged and unwelcome is the Trump administration’s attempt to destroy the International Criminal Court, a part-British creation of which the late Labour foreign secretary, Robin Cook, was rightly proud. Pompeo has imposed sanctions and launched a bogus corruption probe. The ICC’s offence? It dared to investigate alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan.
Pompeo and fellow hawks have done all in their power to prevent Britain and its European allies keeping lines open to Iran after Trump reneged on the 2015 nuclear deal.
They now appear embarked, with Israel, on a covert war of sabotage against Tehran. If it comes to a fight, they will expect UK support. The US has dismissed British views on the climate emergency and the Paris treaty, undermined the UN and Nato, ducked its obligations in Syria and the joint fight against Isis, and sought to drag the UK into half-baked regime-change plots in Venezuela and Cuba.
None of this double-dealing will surprise those who recall Ronald Reagan’s secret deployment of nuclear-armed cruise missiles in Britain in the 1980s.
Clement Attlee’s government quickly discovered the high cost of American friendship after 1945. The Suez humiliation confirmed it. Today, Britain is still paying for the damaging impact of the US “war on terror” and its Iraq adventurism on national security, human rights and international law.
Pompeo’s evangelical faith and apocalyptic “End Times” views help explain US efforts to thwart another long-held British aim: a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine. The support for Israel of Pompeo and fellow Christian Zionists is unconditional and uncompromising. He once told Israelis Trump was sent by God to save the Jews from the Persians. “I am confident the Lord is at work here.”
A recent Pompeo speech elevating religious and property freedoms over other human rights, such as on abortion, was seen in Washington as a further fleshing out of an ultra-conservative platform in preparation for a 2024 presidential bid. Pompeo is an energetic networker. He has been investigated for using taxpayer-funded state department “Madison dinners” to cultivate wealthy political donors. In London last winter, he attended an “off-the-books” meeting of the Hamilton Society, a private US-UK group of well-connected business leaders.
Days before last week’s UK visit, when he condescendingly praised Boris Johnson for dumping China’s Huawei and again ignored calls for justice for British hit-and-run victim Harry Dunn, Pompeo was in backwoods Iowa, a key state for any future presidency. Lauding what he called his “100% pro-life foreign policy”, he declared: “This administration appreciates and knows that our rights come from God, not government. Can I get an amen to that?”
Some Americans may put their hands together. But ungodly Britons who value hard-won, not divinely conferred, democratic rights should beware. Here was an unscrupulous, ambitious and dangerous man – far smarter than Trump – feeding the prejudices, fears and schisms of an alien, alienated society. With friends like these, who needs Russia?