Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Thu, Jan 10th, 2019

Open Bible, Closed Mind

The current U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, a former CIA director and congressman, gave a speech Thursday, January 10, at the American University of Cairo. He began by pointing out that he was an evangelical Christian, adding: “We’re all children of Abraham: Christians, Muslims, Jews. In my office, I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and His Word, and The Truth.” Capitalizing on the Biblical “Truth,” he immediately switches to a lower-case “truth” (in the Trump style), specifically that “America is a force for good in the Middle East.” It may be an open Bible on his desk, but he definitely has a closed mind on the impact of American foreign policy.

I am not sure what verses his open Bible reveals to him, but I doubt it is Isaiah 2:4: “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” The swords and spears of the prophet’s time are the missiles and cluster bombs that the U.S. and other weapon-mongering nations provide to just about everyone in the Middle East. Pompeo’s suggestion that America is a “force for good” is closer to the Old Testament eye-for-an-eye mentality and the slaughter of the Canaanites than the Beatitudes. 

Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9), while Pompeo used an academic setting to attack former President Obama’s call for “a new beginning” in the way the U.S. looked at Islam. This is followed by a neocon revisionist denial of America’s role in helping create the conflicts in the region. He believes that the U.S. was “timid in asserting ourselves when the times – and our partners – demanded it.” Timid? How timid was the U.S. in supporting Saddam when he went to battle against Iran? How timid was George Bush the Elder (another CIA director) in destabilizing Iraq in the first Gulf war or George Bush the Younger in following up with a second Gulf War? Had Saddam not been toppled, it is doubtful that ISIS would ever have been created and certainly Iraq would not have become a close ally of Iran.

The takeaway from Pompeo is nothing short of an invitation for more war. “We learned that when America retreats, chaos often follows. When we neglect our friends, resentment builds. And when we partner with enemies, they advance.” We can only retreat if we have advanced too far, as we have done over and over again in the Middle East. When billions of dollars of weapons are sold to regimes in the region and the U.S. props up dictators, it is no surprise that chaos often follows. I am not sure what “friends” have been neglected; certainly not Israel or Saudi Arabia. As for partnering with enemies, Trump’s overtures to Russia (a “true” enemy) and North Korea’s unstable Kim have indeed allowed both to advance their partisan interests. Iran poses no threat to the U.S. and is a power in the region that cannot be ignored. No doubt Pompeo would delight in reinstating a puppet Shah, as we assisted the British in doing over half a century ago. Rejecting a treaty that would greatly curtail Iran’s nuclear program only harms the people of Iran with a crippled economy, which is why European countries choose to abide by the treaty.

Pompeo seems to think that U.S. policy towards Islamic terrorism began with Trump, a totally false claim. Obama outdid Bush in drone attacks. In fact, it is Trump in his “America First” policy and decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria (and Korea) that is hardly a call for neocon military might in the region. Pompeo puts a positive spin on this “retreat” by saying the job is done and America can go home (and let the American economic interests and local actors take over). It is not surprising that Pompeo, while in Egypt, praised Sisi for denouncing terrorism, ignoring the multiple human rights violations of the new Egyptian Ramses. I suggest Matthew 7:5 for this.

His brief remarks about Yemen are telling. “In Yemen, we’ve assisted our coalition partners as they take the lead in preventing an Iranian expansion that would be disastrous for world trade and regional security. As is always the case with America, our engagement has also been coupled with robust humanitarian aid.” This assistance is weaponry that has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, about which he says nothing at all. The influence of Iran in Yemen, by all serious accounts, is minimal and certainly not a viable threat to the Saudis. The disaster in Yemen is not about “world trade,” unless he means the interests the Saudis and Emiratis have in Yemen’s oil and gas. There is nothing “robust” about U.S. humanitarian aid with the ongoing coalition blockade of the port of Hodeidah. 

I do agree with Pompeo’s closing remarks, but not as he sees them: “First, it’s never easy to recognize truth. But when we see it, we must speak it.” Perhaps he was thinking of President Trump when he noted how it is not easy to recognize truth. He goes on to say that the U.S. has never been “an empire-builder or an oppressor.” This shows a profound ignorance of American history. Tell that to the Native Americans who were systematically robbed of their land and dignity. Tell that to the generations of slaves brought over against their will from Africa. Tell that to the victims of the Spanish American War, which ultimately extended our empire to Hawaii. There is no question that the U.S. has many times been a force for good, but the real truth is that our policies in the Middle East have created more problems than goodness. 

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.