America: A house divided

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL January 12, 2019

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to Cairo with a nonsensical message – we care, the other guys didn’t. But there really was only one point he was sent to telegraph to the world.

That the Trump administration feels profound antipathy to Barack Obama, America’s first visually black president. Mr Trump likes (possibly even respects) Kim Jong Un of North Korea more than he does America’s 44th president.

He sent Mr Pompeo to tell the world, uncaring about how unseemly it looked. Mr Pompeo is President Donald Trump’s oft-praised pick for chief diplomat. True to his brief, he pulled no punches in the Cairo speech against the previous administration. It’s hard to know if Mr Pompeo was more incensed about Islamist militants, Iran or Barack Obama.

Without mentioning Mr Obama by name, Mr Pompeo re-told the supposed story of the Obama years in the Middle East – a naive president scorned longtime allies, pursued detente with Iran and plunged the Arab world into chaos. “The results of these misjudgments have been dire,” Mr Pompeo said. He rejected Mr Obama’s acknowledgement of mistakes made by America post-9/11, preferring to assume a lofty posture at odds with reality.

Americans – Trump-supporters and those opposed to the 45th president –  should not cheer.

There are many relevant words and phrases for what Mr Pompeo (and by implication, his boss, Mr Trump) said and did in Cairo: they showed disloyalty and disrespect to one of their own. They exposed America’s internal political and social divisions to a watching world. To use the cliche, they washed their dirty linen in public.

Mr Trump’s subsequent praise for China as more “honorable” than Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi is in the same category. As columnist Dana Milbank has written: “Reasonable people disagree over border walls and other national priorities. Opponents often dislike each other. But it’s another thing to believe loyal Americans, sworn to uphold the Constitution, are less honorable than the leaders of China, which former defense secretary Jim Mattis described as a ‘malign actor’ promoting its ‘authoritarian model’ at our expense.”

Or for a US Secretary of State to make a hostile attack on his country’s former president.

For all the hosannas, the Arab world will not be truly, deeply admiring. It knows the destructive effects of disunity. After Mr Pompeo’s broadside, America becomes even less of a safe bet for the Middle East region.