Afghanistan was a distraction for George W. Bush and North Korea is the same for Donald Trump. While the former set his sights on Iraq, Trump is after Iran – so says Peter Kuznick, a history professor at American University.
Former CIA Director Mike Pompeo was officially made Washington’s top diplomat for foreign policy Wednesday after he was sworn in as the new secretary of state. He’s been given a strong endorsement by President Trump – in stark contrast to his predecessor Rex Tillerson who was often at odds with the commander in chief.
After a series of overseas trips, Pompeo will spend the next several weeks in Washington attempting to pick up where Tillerson left off. However, Kuznick fears US foreign policy might take on a more hostile approach under Pompeo.
RT: Why do you think there’s been quite a warm reception for Pompeo in the media, especially compared to Tillerson?
Peter Kuznick: There has been a positive reception to Mike Pompeo in certain circles, not across the board … because he is not Rex Tillerson. Donald Trump, in announcing that Tillerson was going to be leaving office, said that he disagreed with Tillerson about the Iran policy. That was a key factor. He is not going to disagree with Pompeo because Pompeo is much more hawkish when it comes to the Iran policy. Pompeo as a congressman said that he wanted to tear up the Iran deal; he thought it was a terrible deal. Then as CIA director, he referred to Iran as a “thuggish police state” and “despotic theocracy.” Clearly, Pompeo is among the real hawks when it comes to Iran policy. He is going to reinforce Donald Trump’s worst tendencies along with John Bolton. Trump is happy to have him. The mass media is happy to have him because Rex Tillerson was missing in action. In fact, I used to joke that Rex Tillerson was in a witness protection program. We never saw him. What did Tillerson do as a secretary of state? He tore up the bureaucracy of the State Department, slashed the roles at the State Department, he was involved very little in diplomacy. But he was in some ways a more moderating influence on Trump. It was good to have him. Pompeo is not going to be a moderating influence. And that worries me.
RT: What are your thoughts about Pompeo’s stance on North Korea and the future peace treaty between South and North Korea?
PK: North Korea was a distraction for Donald Trump in the same way as Afghanistan was a distraction for George W. Bush… George W. Bush wanted to get Afghanistan out of the way so that they could go after Iraq which was his real target. Donald Trump wants to get North Korea out of the way, I fear, so that they can go after Iran, which is his real target. During the campaign he focused on Iran, he said that it is the worst deal ever. He said it was the stupidest deal ever. He said it was lopsided. But he has got his vendetta against Iran which is shared by much of the Republican foreign policy establishment, shared by Trump’s allies in Jerusalem and Riyadh. And that is why the Europeans are so frightened. That is why 100 foreign policy experts, including 50 retired military officials wrote a letter to Trump saying we should not break this deal with Iran. It is in US interests. It is a good deal and Iran has been following it…But there are people in Israel, in Saudi Arabia and in Washington who would like to see the US go to war with Iran…There is a strong hawkish element. I fear that Trump is going to take their advice, the same thing with North Korea. North Korea right now looks very positive. But we know that between now and the time when this deal is concluded there are hundreds of ways that it could blow up. But the situation is a 100 percent better than it was just a few weeks ago. At least we are not threatening each other, we are not calling names, and we are not on a verge of military confrontation which would have been an absolute disaster in every sense. There was no good military scenario. If Pompeo wants to be a moderating force on North Korea, that is great. I hope he will also be a moderating force when it comes to Iran – but I doubt it.
RT: How different do you think the State Department will actually be under Pompeo’s leadership?
PK: That really remains to be seen. The State Department under Pompeo – I think they are going to stop the bleeding. Pompeo in his opening statements has tried to restore a confidence and the spirit of the State Department which is completely demoralized. They haven’t appointed the key people in major positions, they haven’t appointed ambassadors to crucial countries like South Korea, Morocco, other places. They have been totally undermanned, understaffed in the State Department. Pompeo is going to try to stop that, he is going to try to at least make it back into a functioning department. His first trip overseas as secretary of state: he went to Saudi Arabia, went to Israel, went to Jordan, met with the NATO leaders.
The NATO situation is very troubling. Clearly, NATO has been building up its forces in the Baltic States and in Poland, thousands more NATO troops there. The recent statement by the top American general in Europe, top NATO official before Congress is along the lines of the RAND report that just came out…that says that if there is a military confrontation, Russia will win in Eastern Europe, Russia has got far more troops, far more tanks. So, what the officials are saying is that NATO needs to be strengthened. It needs more money, more troops, more tanks…That is a situation that could unravel very quickly. Will Pompeo be a voice for diplomacy, like most secretaries of state have been? We can only hope so.
RT: Does Pompeo’s hawkish rhetoric and belief in American exceptionalism make a good combination for a diplomat?
PK: I think not. I think that Pompeo’s hawkish statements over many years, openly brandishing his ideas about American exceptionalism reinforce Donald Trump’s America first policy, his idea of ‘Make America Great Again.’ That is not the message that the world wants…Maybe, Pompeo is getting the message that the world wants him to be a statesman. If he plays that role, he will be rewarded and supported.
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