Commentary: The US that no longer bothers about diplomacy

Commentary: The US that no longer bothers about diplomacy

US Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings and US action on Israel’s settlements suggest the swamp has now invaded foreign policy, says the Financial Times’ Edward Luce.

U.S. Ambassador to EU Sondland testifies at House Intelligence Committee hearing on Trump impeachme
US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland takes his seat to testify at a hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump, Nov 20, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Loren Elliott)

WASHINGTON DC: It has been a bad impeachment for Mike Pompeo.

Not only does it turn out that Donald Trump’s secretary of state was always “in the loop” on the attempt to extort political help from Ukraine, according to Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the EU; Mr Pompeo is also the face of America’s disintegrating foreign policy.

READ: Top diplomat Sondland implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

These apparently separate worlds — Mr Trump’s impeachment at home, and America’s loss of control over events abroad — are two sides of the same coin. Mr Pompeo’s face is on both.

SO MUCH FOR THAT POLITE FICTION

Until Mr Sondland’s testimony, those who worked for Mr Trump could maintain the polite fiction that Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, was running a rogue foreign policy.

That is no longer tenable. According to Mr Sondland everyone, including Mr Pompeo, was involved in the attempted Ukraine quid pro quo at the “express direction of the president”.

The distinction between official and unofficial has no meaning in Mr Trump’s world. Others, including Mike Pence, the vice-president, and John Bolton, the former national security adviser, are also implicated.

THE BIGGEST CASUALTY

But Mr Pompeo was the biggest casualty of Mr Sondland’s testimony. As Mr Trump’s most loyal henchman, Mr Pompeo has permitted no daylight between what his boss wants and what he does.

If that means contradicting himself on the same day, whether it be about a Turkish ceasefire, US air strikes on Iran, or indeed US-Ukraine relations, Mr Pompeo is happy to oblige.


It was thus always hard to believe Mr Pompeo was not closely involved in the project that mattered most to Mr Trump — tarnishing Joe Biden, his potential 2020 rival.

Mr Pompeo now faces a choice that sooner or later befalls so many of Mr Trump’s employees. Does he cut himself loose and try to salvage his reputation?

Or does he double his bet with an extravagant gesture of loyalty? Washington rumours of Mr Pompeo’s resignation are rife. But it is too late to dissociate himself from Mr Trump.

WASHINGTON’S VORTEX OF SELF-ABSORPTION

The impeachment process has pushed Mr Pompeo’s standing among America’s diplomats even lower in an already demoralised state department.

Testimony from Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, her acting replacement, and George Kent, a senior US diplomat, made it clear that Mr Pompeo did not lift a finger in their defence.

Bill Burns, the former US deputy secretary of state, describes Mr Pompeo’s actions as “bureaucratic arson”.

NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a news conference at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium November 20, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)

Stronger epithets apply to his conduct of US foreign policy. Since the impeachment process began, Washington has disappeared into a vortex of self-absorption.

This has further weakened oversight of America’s actions abroad.

DECADES OF US FOREIGN POLICY TORN UP

On Tuesday, Mr Pompeo tore up decades of US foreign policy when he said America would now recognise Israel’s settlements in the occupied territories.

He swapped international law for “facts on the ground” in an effort to help Benjamin Netanyahu in what would be yet another Israeli general election.

Palestinian demonstrator runs aways from tear gas fired by Israeli forces during an anti-Israel pro
A Palestinian demonstrator runs aways from tear gas fired by Israeli forces during an anti-Israel protest near the Jewish settlement of Beit El in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on Nov 11, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)

READ: Commentary: The Israeli annexation genie has been let out of the bottle

READ: Commentary: Why Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory matters

The same day US officials walked out of talks with South Korea after it balked at a demand to quintuple its bill for hosting American troops.

Mr Pompeo gave higher priority to a transactional demand of a US ally than to reviving moribund nuclear talks with North Korea.

The fate of Syria’s abandoned Kurds barely registers in impeachment Washington.

NO LONGER BOTHERS ABOUT DIPLOMACY

Then there is Ukraine. Mr Trump’s impeachment process must look surreal from Kyiv's perspective. Their country dominates America’s headlines. Yet little attention is paid to the on-the-ground impact of US absent-mindedness.

In the past few weeks, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has begun a rapprochement with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The two are due to meet in Paris next month.

US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland points to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's
US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland points to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's role in the Ukraine matter at the center of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (Photo: AFP/Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS)

While Washington fights over “Ukraine”, Mr Zelensky is inching closer to striking a deal that would give Russia de facto control over the real Ukraine’s eastern portions.

What choice does Mr Zelensky have? His country can only thrive with strong US backing. As Mr Sondland reportedly said, Mr Trump “only cares about the big stuff”, which means being re-elected.

That is thus what Mr Pompeo cares about.

In what seems like an age ago, US politics used to stop at the water’s edge. Now foreign politics has invaded the Washington swamp.

Mr Pompeo is the face of an America that no longer bothers with diplomacy.

Source: Financial Times/el(sl)

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