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Pompeo’s RNC Speech Was Worse Than You Thought

He abandoned norms and likely violated the law—but the substance of his remarks was awful, too.
August 27, 2020
Pompeo’s RNC Speech Was Worse Than You Thought
In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addresses the virtual convention in a pre-recorded video from Jerusalem, Israel, on August 25, 2020. The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)

The clues are in plain sight: Mike Pompeo is doing everything within his power to position himself as a contender for the 2024 GOP nomination. The secretary of state has adopted a MAGA-esque manner, is pandering to the base from his office, and conducts diplomacy with the nation of Iowa. And, this week, he delivered a prerecorded speech for the Republican National Convention.

Much has already been said about how it was unprecedented, inappropriate, and likely illegal for Pompeo to have addressed the convention in the way that he did. The norms preventing such speeches arose to keep the nation’s top diplomat out of partisan politics; the laws forbidding such speeches were enacted to draw important ethical lines between governance and politics.

What made Pompeo’s convention appearance worse, however, was that he gave the speech from the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem—an obvious pander to evangelical voters, since President Trump himself recently admitted that the relocation of the embassy was chiefly done to appease them. And worse still, Pompeo’s act risks making the U.S. relationship with Israel an even more polarized issue than it already is, which is dangerous both for U.S. interests in the Middle East and for Israel’s security. The more that Republicans polarize the issue of U.S.-Israel relations, the more they are encouraging Democrats to distance themselves from Israel. It will be terrible for the tiny Jewish nation if it is hugged for four or eight years when there is a Republican president and kicked around for four or eight years when a Democrat comes into office. (It is important to note that Joe Biden’s platform is quite pro-Israel, but this is not true of the Democratic party’s progressive insurgents like Bernie Sanders and AOC.)

Pompeo knows all this. He just doesn’t care. Again: He wants to be president.

But let’s set aside the norms and the laws and instead analyze the speech itself. According to Pompeo, the Trump administration has made the United States safer and more prosperous over the past three and a half years. How?

First, he mentioned that Trump’s trade war with China has benefited U.S. workers. This is a lie, according to the Trump administration itself, which has cut massive checks to help the U.S. farmers who have been harmed by Trump’s trade war. Pompeo said that the jobs shipped to China “are coming back home.” They are not. There is no evidence for that. There is also little economic reason for most companies to move such jobs to the United States at the moment; even if China were to become too costly for U.S. businesses to profitably remain there, there are plenty of other countries with attractive labor markets and costs.

Pompeo also mentioned the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the monstrous Iranian general-diplomat. The world is a better place, and America a safer nation, with Soleimani gone. But when Iran decided to launch a cosmetic retaliation to save face domestically, the Trump administration allowed it. During the winter conflict, the country that attacked last was Iran. And over a hundred U.S. troops received brain injuries from the attack, for which the Trump administration let Iran go unpunished.

Pompeo also mentioned that “Ukraine has defensive weapon systems.” True. But did he think that we all somehow forgot the story that convulsed the country last year—that Trump initially blocked that Ukraine aid to get dirt on Biden, and only released it after the whistleblower came out, resulting in his impeachment?

“In North Korea,” Pompeo said, “the president lowered the temperature and against all odds got the North Korean leadership to the table.” Which achieved nothing! Why? The talks with Kim Jong-un were so pointless that Trump abruptly left them in the middle—and he was right to do so. Pompeo is correct that the North Koreans have not been conducting nuclear tests, but he omitted to mention that, on Trump’s watch, North Korea’s nuclear fuel has increased up to four times, according to estimates, and the country has built a much more advanced nuclear reactor.

“Because of President Trump, NATO is stronger,” Pompeo said—a laughable proposition, especially only weeks after the United States pulled its troops out of Germany. NATO’s aggregate spending on defense has increased, but NATO’s founders never intended to reduce it to merely a military alliance. NATO was intended to be a community of nations with shared values. And the bond between the members of the community and the United States has never been weaker—as vividly demonstrated by the way Trump was literally laughed out of a NATO summit.

“Because of the president’s determination and leadership,” Pompeo said, “the ISIS caliphate is wiped out. It’s gone.” Except that: (1) the Trump administration diminished the Islamic State by continuing to implement the Obama administration’s strategy; (2) Trump fired James Mattis, the secretary of defense who succeeded in winning the war against the Islamic State; and, (3) the Islamic State is making a comeback, this time on Trump’s watch.

And, of course, Pompeo ended with Israel, mentioning the relocation of the embassy and the peace deal between Israel and the UAE. Except, well, the deal is already falling apart because it was negotiated by a bunch of rookies with no diplomatic experience.

As to whether Americans are safer than they were four years ago and whether the world is more peaceful than it was before Trump took office, you be the judge.

Shay Khatiri

Shay Khatiri studied Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He’s an immigrant from Iran and writes the Substack newsletter The Russia-Iran File.