Loyalty is a noble trait. But when that loyalty to twice-impeached President Donald Trump in the last week of his troubled administration — at a time where there are more troops stationed in the US capital that are on active service in both Iraq and Afghanistan combined — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo remains the last cabinet member standing resolutely by the side of his boss.
The cynical might say his unflinching fealty to the Commander-in-Chief may be more rooted in his future political prospects and having one eye on taking over the lease on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that it is to serve the interests of his nation to foreign governments. Indeed, given all of the truly tumultuous events that unfolded in the US Capital these past days either through mob rule or the work of all of the Democrats and some Republicans under few illusions about their party leader, Pompeo remains the staunchest Trump backer. And that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the political class in Washington and other foreign powers — nor by the politically class whose support he may likely seek to retain come 2024.
On Tuesday, hours before he was expected to depart, Pompeo cancelled his final overseas trip amid a torrent of global criticism against President Trump including by allies of Washington that the Secretary of State was expected to meet — delivering a not-so-diplomatic snub to both the secretary-general of Nato and the foreign minister of Belgium. Yep, not only is Pompeo in his man’s red corner, he’s holding the fort too. There was supposed to be another stop in Luxembourg too on the trip — but that was cancelled as well after the Duchy’s foreign minister blamed the US president for lighting the figurative fuse to the storming of the Capitol.
The bombastic 58-year-old former Congressman from Kansas has also taken flak from the few career US diplomats still standing at the State Department in Foggy Bottom for standing by Trump even as other Republicans condemned his speech, blamed him for the violence and called on him to recognise Joe Biden as the president-elect. By Wednesday, it will all be moot anyway.
Over these past weeks since November’s general election, the Secretary of State has boosted Trump’s rhetoric of widespread voter fraud and declined to acknowledge the president’s electoral loss. Considering that he has overseen the transition process and met with Anthony Blinken, Biden’s choice to succeed him, that’s quite a diplomatic balancing act even for a man who led the Central Intelligence Agency from January 2017 to April 2018 before he was tapped to take over from Rex Tillerson — a man who learnt he was fired as he was away in India.
The former US Army captain finished top of his class in 1986 from West Point and served in Germany as well as commanding a squadron of tanks, which is more likely why he felt inclined to condemn that mob violence — but he has also defended the president’s record.
“History will reflect on the good work that this president and our administration has done,” he told a conservative talk radio host Tuesday. That may be so in the future, right now, top European officials declined to meet Pompeo in the Trump administration’s final days, with an EU spokesperson saying that there were never any plans during the cancelled trip for Pompeo to meet neither Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, nor Josep Borrell, Brussels’ top diplomat.
And there was fat chance Pompeo would ever meet Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg foreign minister who told the state’s broadcaster: “The sixth of January 2021 was a 9/11 attack on democracy itself, and Trump was the one who egged it on.”
Even though the trip was announced on Monday, by Tuesday it was in doubt, and it didn’t help that Sophie Wilmes, the Belgian foreign minister and deputy prime minister, told the BBC: “Some kind of speeches as a result of dividing a society can really create this kind of problematics. I was saddened to see that President Trump, when things were evolving really badly and it took so much time to calm down people, still kept saying that the election was a fraud.”
If the European on-and-off trip accounted for his work on Tuesday and Monday, on Sunday Pompeo was at work too, designating Yemen’s Al Houthi rebels as a terrorist group, a long-mulled move which was welcomed in many world capitals. “The designations are intended to hold [the Houthis] accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure and commercial shipping,” Pompeo said in a statement. While the Oval Office administration may be in its final days, it certainly has always been consistent on taking a strong line in confronting and containing the regime in Tehran, which is needed given its meddling in affairs from the Bab Al Mendab to the Mediterranean. How and where else could a ragtag cabal of Yemeni rebels get an arsenal that includes sea mines and the ability to launch and target ballistic missiles and sophisticated battlefield drones? Full points to Secretary Pompeo there. As Trump’s foreign policy chief he has pursued confrontation with Tehran and other players with élan.
Back to his loyalty to the US president. Yes, loyalty is a noble trait. Maybe it’s ingrained in all of the officers such as Pompeo who served in the famed 7th Cavalry.
There is no more a loyal figure than General George Armstrong Custer, cutting a dashing figure as he made a courageous last stand against the Lakota Indians at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in a lost cause. There, in Custer’s Last Stand, all 700 men in the famed United States 7th Cavalry were annihilated by a superior force of Native Indians in June 1876. Legend has it Custer was the last to fall.
The wagons have long circled around President Trump. But there, fighting to the last, is Pompeo. That’s an image that will go down well with the cowboys come 2024.