New U.S. secretary of state Pompeo is bad for peace -- and Canada

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson greets Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland before their bilateral meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C., on February 8, 2017. Photo: U.S. State Department/Flickr

A mere two months ago, Canada hosted a foreign ministers’ meeting on security and stability on the Korean Peninsula. The featured participant was U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Canada’s Global Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland has been fond of pointing to that conference and to her easy rapport with Tillerson as a sign of Canada’s good relations with the U.S.

Now Tillerson is gone.

President Donald Trump has replaced the former globetrotting business executive with his Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director, and onetime Tea Party congressman, Mike Pompeo. That is not good news for Canada, nor for the world.

Tillerson and Trump did not get along personally. In fact, Tillerson never denied calling the 45th president a moron.

However, their important difference was not personal. The problem was that Tillerson was something of a voice of moderation and reason in an administration that has precious few such voices.

As Trump himself explained to journalists -- in a brief, shouted scrum as he prepared to leave for California to inspect border wall prototypes -- what pushed him to fire his secretary of state was the fact that Tillerson was not enthusiastic about tearing up the Iran nuclear arms deal.

Tillerson had come to the conclusion -- influenced by his own officials and by U.S. allies such as the U.K. and Germany -- that the arduously negotiated agreement with Iran was good for stability in the North Africa/Middle East/Western Asia region, and good for world peace.

An advocate of bombing Iran

The new secretary, Mike Pompeo, has unwaveringly abhorred the Iran deal since his days as a hard-right member of the Kansas congressional delegation.

In 2014, while the Obama administration and U.S. allies were in delicate talks with Iran, then congressman Pompeo advocated air strikes against Iran, rather than negotiations.

“It is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity,” Pompeo told a roundtable of reporters and right-wing house and senate members, “This is not an insurmountable task for coalition forces….”

Tillerson will not go down in history as one of the U.S.’s greatest secretaries of state. In many ways he was a Trump-style wrecking ball. Almost immediately upon taking office, he set out to ruthlessly gut the department he was supposed to lead, depriving it of generations’ worth of expertise and experience. But it was Tillerson’s saving grace that he was amenable to reason and argument.

Tillerson’s replacement is, to all appearances, an immovable ideologue and fanatic, despite his West Point and Harvard Law School pedigrees.

There is no record of Pompeo ever having displayed any interest in Canada. He represented a House of Representatives district in the U.S. rural heartland and was a close ally of the billionaire Koch brothers, who have been among the biggest financiers of Tea Party politicians.

The only glimmer of hope Canada’s Chrystia Freeland might detect in Pompeo’s appointment is that he is not on record as being an ardent protectionist.

The folks of Wichita, Kansas, and its surrounding area who sent Pompeo to Congress are more likely to benefit from relaxed trade barriers than from tariffs on basic goods. To the extent the new secretary of state has anything to say about the NAFTA negotiations, it may be to advocate a certain measure of moderation in dealings with the U.S.’s North American neighbours.

On the other hand, Trump and his chief trade adviser Peter Navarro seem to be fully in charge of the NAFTA file. And Pompeo will have his hands full with Iran, North Korea and other hot spots.

The bottom line for Canada is that the new, hardline, climate-change-denying, war mongering U.S. secretary of state is the last thing we need, at this time. 

Photo: U.S. State Department/Flickr

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