Pompeo: Springtime for Irano/Islamophobes

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump nominated Mike Pompeo, currently the CIA director, to be the next Secretary of State. (Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

Pompeo: Springtime for Irano/Islamophobes

When it comes to the Middle East, Islamophobes and Iranophobes must be elated over the nomination of Mike Pompeo

"Great news for the Republic!" tweeted Sebastian Gorka, on hearing the news that CIA Director Mike Pompeo is replacing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Gorka, who was forced to resign from his position as a former deputy assistant to the President in major part due to his apparent membership in a Hungarian "knighthood" that collaborated with the Nazis in World War II, thinks quite highly indeed of the former Kansas congressman.

"Having somebody like Pompeo come into the State Department would be great news," he told Breitbart News back in October when rumors about Tillerson's replacement first surfaced. "I had lunch with Mike Pompeo very soon after the inauguration, in the Navy mess, in the West Wing. This guy is fully on board, very loyal to the president. He's one of us."

Gorka is a protege of both disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon as well as a staunch admirer of former Hungarian dictator and self-confessed anti-Semite Adm. Miklos Horthy. His endorsement should greatly reassure hesitant senators worried that the former Kansas congressman is not sufficiently aligned with America First ideology.

Pompeo's Islamophobia

And when it comes to the Middle East, Islamophobes and Iranophobes must be elated. By most accounts, Pompeo's worldview is not far distant from Gorka's or those of his two wayward proteges, even if the CIA director, who graduated first in his class at West Point and subsequently served as editor of the Harvard Law Review, is a good deal smarter and presumably far better informed.

Pompeo's Islamophobia is well documented, and any questions about it should be answered by Tuesday's excellent recap by Dean Obeidallah in The Daily Beast, "Mike Pompeo's Disturbingly Consistent Friendships with Anti-Muslim Bigots." In 2016, Pompeo reportedly accepted the "National Security Eagle Award" from ACT for America, which, according to the Anti-Defamation League, "propagates the hateful conspiracy theory that Muslims are infiltrating US institutions in order to impose Sharia law [and] stokes irrational fear of Muslims via a number of false claims that headscarves are a sign of radicalization, and that 25 percent of Muslims approve of terrorism." (Flynn served on ACT's board, while Gorka has spoken before local ACT chapters around the country.) It's not surprising then, that the country's most influential Islamophobe Frank Gaffney has interviewed Pompeo on his radio show more than 20 times, and Pompeo also figured prominently among the speakers at his Center for Security Policy's (CSP) 2015 "Defeat Jihad Summit."

Videos of Pompeo speaking to church groups suggest that his animosity towards to Islam is rooted in a belief that Islam and Christianity are at war.

"This threat to America," Pompeo told a Wichita church group in 2014 (and first reported by The Intercept's Lee Fang in November 2016), is from a minority of Muslims "who deeply believe that Islam is the way and the light and the only answer."

"They abhor Christians," Pompeo said, "and will continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior is truly the only solution for our world."

In 2015, Pompeo spoke at an evangelical church in Wichita and described attending an Easter sunrise service in Baghdad with soldiers from Fort Riley, Kansas. He said:

It was the most amazing moment. These young men and women had been there a long time [...]. We got a chance to pray. The sun came up and we were in the middle of this ancient Christian place where our fellow followers are being tortured and beheaded and made to scatter from traditional Christian homes. But we were able to pray that day. We were able to pray that we knew Jesus Christ was our savior.

Aligning with the Saudis

Like other Islamophobes, and, for that matter, many neoconservatives, Pompeo recognizes the necessity of allying the U.S. with Sunni-led authoritarian states against Iran and popular movements like the Muslim Brotherhood (which ACT and CSP identify as a "conspiracy" to impose sharia law in the US). In December, for example, he met with both King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia as part of a long-standing effort to promote an anti-Iran coalition of Israel and the Gulf Arab states. "We absolutely need Sunni partners," he noted the following month in a talk at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI). "This administration has broadly reached out to Sunni countries all throughout the Middle East to form coalitions ...not only against ISIS, but against Iran as well."

Pompeo's closeness with the United Arab Emirates and their shared hawkishness on Iran is reflected in emails provided to LobeLog by "GlobalLeaks." The messages purportedly originate from an email account belonging to UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al-Otaiba.

A November 18, 2016 email allegedly originating from Richard Clarke, chairman of the Middle East Institute, shows Clarke observing: "[Flynn and Pompeo] are, at least, hard liners on Iran."

Otaiba allegedly responded, "They are. I know Pompeo very well. Never met Flynn."

Qatar, which has endured a Saudi-led blockade for the past nine months due to its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and economic partnership with Iran, cannot be pleased with Pompeo's replacement of Tillerson. Along with Defense Secretary James Mattis, Tillerson had been among Doha's strongest defenders against Pompeo and other anti-Iran hawks.

Against Iran

Iran is Pompeo's biggest target in the region--particularly the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Pompeo's ascendancy will clearly shift the balance within the administration in favor of those who, like Trump himself, have wanted to "tear up" the agreement and pursue a far more confrontational policy against Tehran in concert with Israel and the Gulf states. In October, according to Politico, Tillerson and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin favored certifying that Iran was complying with the JCPOA, while UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Pompeo (who, as CIA director, is theoretically not supposed to offer policy advice) led the charge for decertification. The fact that Trump, in confirming Pompeo's nomination, singled out differences he had with Tillerson over the Iran deal, makes it far more likely that the president will exit the JCPOA between now and May 12, the next deadline for him to recertify the agreement.

For years Pompeo has it in for Iran, especially for any nuclear agreement that leaves Tehran with an enrichment capability. In the middle of sensitive negotiations between Iran and the U.S., he indicated a preference for a military solution for Tehran's nuclear program. "In an unclassified setting," he told a roundtable held with fellow superhawk, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), "it is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces."

Similarly, on the day that the JCPOA was announced seven months later, Pompeo complained that "the administration negotiated a deal against the will of the American people that does nothing but give Iran leverage and enable this totalitarian regime to continue growing its terrorist practices... This deal allows Iran to continue its nuclear program--that's not foreign policy; it's surrender."

As a congressman, he introduced legislation that would block the U.S. purchase of heavy water from Tehran, requested a visa from Iran to "monitor" its elections, and joined Cotton in claiming (falsely) that there were "secret side deals" between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the Obama administration had kept from the public to get the Iran deal through Congress.

Since becoming CIA director, he has kept up his extremely hostile rhetoric against Iran, quite possibly in an attempt to provoke Tehran to renounce the JCPOA and/or to strengthen hardline forces in the Islamic Republic opposed to rapprochement with the West.

"Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are the cudgels of a despotic theocracy, with the IRGC accountable only to a Supreme Leader," he declared to an audience at the University of Texas on the eve of Trump's announcement last October that he would decertify Iran's compliance with the JCPOA but waive sanctions. He went on to compare Iran with the Islamic State (ISIS or IS).

[U]nlike ISIS and its mirage of a caliphate, Iran is a powerful nation-state that remains the world's largest state-sponsor of terrorism. The Islamic Republic is Iran's version of what the caliphate ought to look like under the control of an Ayatollah and his praetorian guard, the IRGC. [...] They're the vanguard of a pernicious empire that is expanding its power and influence across the Middle East. In recent years, the IRGC has become more reckless and provocative, seeking to exploit the vacuum left by instability in the Middle East to aggressively expand its influence.

Unlike Cotton, Pompeo has not relied during his political career on support from neoconservative donors like Paul Singer. But he has shown a strong affinity for organizations whose views are close to those of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In addition to speaking before AEI--a popular destination for ambitious foreign-policy politicians--he has worked with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), perhaps the most well endowed anti-Iran "think tank" in Washington today. After Trump charged in his October decertification announcement that Iran had supported al-Qaeda, Pompeo ordered a tendentious re-exploitation of already exploited documents captured in the raid at Abbottabad, Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, according to the former top intelligence community analyst for the Middle East, Paul Pillar.

This time the purpose was to find any possible connection between bin Laden's group and Iran,. Pompeo took the highly unusual step of giving an advance look at the selected documents to an advocacy organization: the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a leader of efforts to kill the agreement that limits Iran's nuclear program.

FDD duly did its part in the insinuation by highlighting a single document that it depicted as suggesting some sort of Iranian assistance to al-Qaeda. This was despite the fact that the thrust of the Abbottabad documents as far as Iran is concerned is that Tehran was in conflict, not cooperation, with al-Qaeda. This remains the judgment of experts who follow the terrorist group closely. Even the very document FDD highlighted did not say what those highlighting it contended it said. It held no evidence of any Iranian assistance to al-Qaeda. This entire effort to manipulate public perceptions has been remarkably similar to the efforts by promoters of the Iraq War to use whatever scraps they could find to suggest that there was, in George W. Bush's words, an "alliance" between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda that in fact never existed.

Now, all we need is for Trump to replace National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster with former UN Ambassador John Bolton and the chances of some kind of military action against Iran before his presumed run for reelection will likely rise to a near certainty.

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