Pompeo on lifetime mission to upend regional stability

September 30, 2020 - 11:43

TEHRAN – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is using everything in his power to advance policies that could result in nothing other than chaos and instability in a region already suffering from ill-considered policies and violence.

Pompeo’s unconstructive policies were on full display in Lebanon and Iraq, where they stood in stark contrast with not only the interests of the Lebanese people but also with the Europeans’ interests.

In Lebanon, Pompeo’s State Department failed the French initiative to form a national salvation government to handle the country’s growing crisis after a huge explosion razed to the ground Beirut port in early August.

On August 4, a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the port of the city of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, exploded, causing at least 200 deaths, 6,500 injuries, $10–15 billion in property damage, and leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless. The explosion sent shock waves across Lebanon, leading to the resignation of the Lebanese government.

The explosion came at a time when the country was grappling with an unprecedented financial crisis, soaring inflation, and rising unemployment. Then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his resignation amid uproar over the blast, creating a dangerous political vacuum that the Lebanese political factions were not prepared to fill. After the resignation of Hassan Diab, French President Emanuel Macron offered a political initiative to fill the vacuum during his visit to Lebanon following the deadly explosion. Macron visited the destroyed parts of Beirut port with great fanfare, offering a carrot and a deadline. He demanded change and reforms.

“Lebanon is facing political and economic crises and urgent response to this is required,” President Macron said after landing in Beirut on August 6. He was the first foreign leader to visit Lebanon after the Beirut disaster.

“If reforms are not made, Lebanon will continue to sink,” the French president said, referring to the energy sector, public tenders, and corruption. Macron once again returned to Lebanon in late August in a bid to hasten the formation of a new government. To this end, Macron held a meeting with all Lebanese political leaders, including a representative of Hezbollah. Meanwhile, a Lebanese diplomat was nominated to form the new government. Intense talks were held in Lebanon. The diplomat, Mustapha Adib, met with various Lebanese political figures in an effort to gain their support. Everything seemed to go smoothly until a Pompeo aide interfered in the process of forming the Lebanese cabinet. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, paid a visit to Lebanon in mid-August. He pressed for marginalizing Hezbollah in the cabinet formation, according to Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar.

The newspaper said that the Americans “believe that the time is right to apply more political and economic pressure on Lebanon in order to compel Hezbollah to change its direction. They also show their willingness to take steps or impose sanctions to force the party’s allies to exert pressure on it in order to force it into giving concessions in the government formation process or to deprive the party of having any representation in the cabinet.”

As the U.S. continued its pressure, Lebanon’s prime minister-designate announced that he was resigning from his post. Adib did not give any details about what caused him to resign but reports said the prime minister-designate failed to ignore the American demands to marginalize Shia parties in the cabinet formation.

Adib’s failure to put together a cabinet is widely attributed to Pompeo’s interference who opposed the French efforts to include Hezbollah in the Adib cabinet.

Pompeo himself had said in early September that Lebanon’s future government should not include Hezbollah, a demand that torpedoed Macron’s effort in Lebanon because his initiative was not aimed at keeping Hezbollah out of the cabinet.

The State Department spokesperson also reiterated Pompeo’s opposition to any participation of Hezbollah in the cabinet.
“We, at the State Department and in our Congress, we’ve all been clear about our opinion for decades now, of Hezbollah being in the Lebanese government. It is not a party that we are willing to do business with,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told Al Arabiya in an exclusive interview.

David Hale has recently said the U.S. has spent more than $10 billion in Lebanon.

“Over the years, we have provided $10 billion in support to Lebanon both the security services on one hand and to private NGOs on the other for economic development and humanitarian support. No one else has contributed as much foreign assistance as we have,” Hale said during a Senate hearing on Thursday, adding that he has met with protest leaders during his visit to Lebanon after the Beirut explosion.

The U.S. pressure on Lebanon may have been the main reason behind Adib’s resignation in the midst of crisis. Following Adib’s resignation, the talks on cabinet formation appeared to be put on hold until after the U.S. presidential election. If true, this means that Lebanon will face another period of uncertainty because of Pompeo’s insistence on keeping Hezbollah out of government.

Pompeo’s destabilizing efforts are not limited to Lebanon. He is also trying to shake the fragile security in Iraq by threatening to launch a military attack on Iraqi resistance groups and closing U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

During a telephone conversation with Iraqi President Barham Salih, the secretary of state issued a stern warning to Iraq over the recent attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq, according to Iraqi news website Iraqi24.

“The decision to close the embassy in Baghdad is in President Trump’s hands and is ready… If our forces withdraw and the embassy is closed in this way, we will eradicate everyone who is proven to be involved in these acts,” the website quoted Pompeo as telling Salih.

Pompeo's stark threats came against a backdrop of simmering tensions over attacks on U.S. forces and its embassy in Iraq. Whether the U.S. will close its embassy in Iraq and take action against the country remains an open question. The U.S. sought to suggest that it was intent on shutting or at least curtailing its diplomatic presence in Iraq. The Arabic-Language al-Mayadeen news network reported Sunday the U.S. decision to close its embassy in Baghdad has been taken. However, Iraqi analysts believe that the U.S. may have threatened to close its embassy to force the Iraqi leadership, especially Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadhimi, into taking drastic measures against some resistance groups.

“So far, it’s nothing more than exaggeration,” al-Akhbar quoted a senior source in the Iraqi resistance groups as saying of the Pompeo threat to close the embassy.

The Iraqi leadership has moved to deescalate tensions between Baghdad and Washington but analysts voice concerns over possible efforts by Pompeo to convince Trump into taking military action against Iraq as he did in early January when he pushed Trump into assassinating a prominent Iranian general near Baghdad’s international airport.  

The general, Qassem Soleimani, was assassinated in an American drone strike on January 3 along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Iran launched a missile attack on an Iraqi base housing American troops in retaliation for the assassination of General Soleimani and vowed to expel the U.S. forces from the Western Asia region.


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