Watching the horrors unfold in Israel would be hard for anyone, but it has to be especially difficult for leaders like Mike Pompeo, who, as a member of the Trump administration, worked to ensure nightmares like this never happened. Three years removed from the White House, the world is a different place than it was when the 45th president was in power — and Americans aren’t the only ones who feel it.
From his perch at the State Department, Pompeo prided himself on a peace through strength philosophy — a model that led, not only to a relatively stable period around the globe, but to unprecedented progress in Middle East relations. Seeing that work largely undone, and the historic Abraham Accords on shaky ground, has been a bitter pill to swallow for the team who made Arab-Israeli normalization seem possible.
Now, with President Biden suddenly suggesting a halt in Israel’s ground offensive, the former secretary can’t help but be appalled. “It would be a mistake for Israelis to [press] pause,” Pompeo said, referring to the White House’s sudden shift in messaging. Frankly, he told Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, “it would be a mistake for them to not do what they think is in their best interest, regardless of what the Biden administration or anybody else asks them to do. They need to do the necessary thing, which is to destroy the barbarians that killed 1,400 of their own.”
And let’s not forget, the secretary reminded people, “[Hamas] killed 30 Americans as well. So, I hear him talk about pauses and ceasefires — none of that makes any sense to me. If the objective is to take out this terrorist organization, to prevent it from ever inflicting these kind of horrors again, then this has got to be [addressed] hard and fast and with all the might that Israel can bring to it, certainly with American support.”
As for the U.S., Pompeo insisted, we have a part to play too — and it’s a big one. “We have to continue to remind the world why [Israel is] engaged. … And second… [we need to point people to] the primary address for the bad actors, [because] it doesn’t sit in Gaza, it doesn’t sit in the West Bank, it doesn’t sit in Lebanon. The primary address for the bad actors sits in Tehran. And the United States is the only nation in the world that can make clear to the Iranians: If they escalate this war, there will be real costs imposed on them.”
Instead, the entire world has a front row seat as Iranian proxies attack U.S. troops in the Middle East without any real response from this administration. Sure, Pompeo said, we had one “rather modest response” by taking out terrorist warehouses, but “I doubt that Iran views that as a serious, credible threat against the regime, which is the only thing … that will slow down Hezbollah or the Houthis that are threatening Saudi citizens every single day with rockets into Saudi Arabia. The only thing that’s going to slow them down is an America prepared to confront the real evil, the driver of this evil. And that’s the Ayatollah and his henchmen, [Iranian] President [Ebrahim] Raisi.”
And while the two sides may have their differences, this is not an instance, Perkins pointed out, where Republicans are rooting for Biden to fail. “I pray regularly for the president. I want him to make the right decisions, because it’s to our benefit that he makes the right decisions, because I actually want to live in a safe country.” But that doesn’t negate the very serious conflict of worldviews between the two parties, especially in global flare-ups like this one.
“There is a propensity on the Left to simply want to do conflict containment, where on the [Right] we understand that evil doesn’t know boundaries.” But instead of neutralizing the threat,” Perkins said, “it seems like every step this administration has taken in its foreign policy — going back to Afghanistan — has communicated to Iran that we’re weak. We’re not interested in neutralizing anything.”
Unfortunately, Pompeo agreed, “they have taken a view that you can use sweet words and American money and diplomacy to push back against evil — whether that was the debacle in Afghanistan that killed 13 Americans [or] whether that was what happened in Ukraine.” Vladimir Putin didn’t invade Europe “on my watch” or “on the watch of President Trump,” the secretary said. “He understood that we were serious about protecting our friends and allies and providing support to them. And when you don’t do that, when you allow a Chinese spy balloon to come over your country for five days and do nothing, when you allow them to threaten your friends and you don’t support your partners in the region, you call the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a ‘pariah state,’ the bad actors can see that. And Chairman Kim, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, you should know they’re all working together, and they’re working against the things that matter to every American.”
Is there any chance the U.S. can get back to a place of global respectability? Pompeo wants to believe so. “I hope the Biden administration can see that they just grabbed the wrong end of the stick with respect to Iran by sitting around the table with them, trying to beg to get back into the nuclear deal, [which] generated precisely the context against which Hamas conducted its barbaric actions on October 7th. That weakness, that appeasement model is dangerous.”
But it’s more than looking strong abroad. “Think about our own border,” the secretary prompted. “If the whole world sees that we’re not prepared to defend our border, that we are going to allow tens of thousands of illegals to enter our country every day, they don’t for a moment think we’re going to go defend someone else’s border and help them do that. You have to get these things right. It is a fundamental understanding of human nature. … We drew red lines that made sense for our country. And when someone crossed them, we defended them precisely as we promised the world that we would.”
This president, many fear, has no red lines. And when our enemies see those things, they move more aggressively, Pompeo warns. “It is true every time in the civilization’s history, strong civil societies, people who have a foundational understanding of who they are and their faith are much more prepared and capable of protecting their own people.”
But “I’m rooting for America today,” he insisted. “President Biden is from the other party that I’m not part of, but I am rooting for him and his team to be enormously successful. It matters to me and my family and to our country that they get this right.” And to our allies around the world too.
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.
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