The strange tour of Mike Pompeo, between farewell, symbols and denial

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What does an American secretary of state do when the allies of the United States have already turned the page on Donald Trump’s presidency even though he refuses to admit defeat?

Mike Pompeo came up with a surprising answer to this equation: embark on a long farewell tour that does not say his name, dodging the press while polishing the legacy of his controversial foreign policy.

Paris, ghost visit

Fifty-four hours in Paris. One minute of public appearance.

The trip of the head of diplomacy of the first world power begins, in an unusual way, with a private weekend with his wife at the residence of the American ambassador, who organized a series of meetings not mentioned on his official agenda.

And if Mike Pompeo resurfaces on Monday, it is for a furtive and silent tribute “to the victims of the recent attacks” in France. His meeting with President Emmanuel Macron takes place away from microphones and cameras.

The French authorities did not want to give too much emphasis to this “courtesy visit” by a departing minister. Especially since at the same time they are showing their desire to rebuild the “transatlantic deal” with the President-elect of the United States Joe Biden, warmly congratulated after four turbulent years with Donald Trump.

The lack of a press conference helps avoid awkward questions, as the loyal Trumpist minister assured against all evidence, before leaving Washington, that there would be a second term for the Republican and he criticized foreign leaders too in a hurry to dialogue with the Democratic winner.

But then, why come to France? Probably, because he still had not made a bilateral visit to the “oldest ally” of the United States – which says a lot about the state of US-European relations.

Istanbul, missed opportunity

In Paris, amidst many disagreements, the Americans and the French displayed their common grievances against Turkey. Mike Pompeo wants to “convince” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stop his “very aggressive” actions.

He goes, in the process, to Istanbul. That turns out well.

Or not: despite intense negotiations, Washington and Ankara failed to slip an interview with Turkish officials into this visit devoted to “religious freedom”, the main – the only one say its detractors – of Mike Pompeo, devout human rights Christian.

“Incompatibility of agendas”, minimizes the American side.

On the Turkish side, we rave about what looks like a hollow criticism of Turkey’s record in religious matters.

The American-Turkish relationship, up and down, but often saved by the Trump-Erdogan “friendship”, seems to be going through a bad patch at the end of the term. The Turkish president has also already congratulated Joe Biden.

Georgia, like an echo

Contested ballot, recount of votes, mistrust in the electoral system.

If Mike Pompeo hoped to escape the American political cauldron, he is served in Tbilisi: Georgia of the Caucasus is going through an internal crisis that resonates strongly with that which agitates the United States and, in particular, the State of … Georgia where a recount will confirm, later in the tour, Joe Biden’s victory despite protests from the Trump camp.

Jerusalem, new taboos broken

Mute since the start of the trip, the Secretary of State finally speaks.

It is because he is in Jerusalem and the Middle East to perfect his balance sheet around the alpha and omega of the Trumpist strategy: unequaled support for Israel, “maximum pressure” on Iran.

It is the hour of the last stabs to the American diplomatic tradition and to the international consensus: he becomes the first Secretary of State to visit an Israeli colony in the occupied West Bank – more precisely to the vineyard of Psagot and its “cuvée”. Pompeo ”- and also the first in the Golan, this Syrian plateau annexed by Israel and whose Trump administration has recognized Israeli sovereignty.

“Mike Pompeo seems not only to want to complicate the Biden presidency, but also to serve his own interests,” protests on NBC Ben Rhodes, former adviser to Barack Obama. Translation: by multiplying unilateral gestures favorable to the Hebrew state, the Republican tenor wants to flatter American evangelical Christians, a key electorate for those who are credited with presidential ambitions for 2024.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, politically savvy enough to omit in his presence to mention the “warm conversation” he just had by telephone with President-elect Biden, is nothing but praise for his “friend Mike” .

But his words, a real farewell speech, must have a bitter taste for the American. Even the unwavering “Bibi” is already looking to the post-Trump era.

Gulf, anti-Tehran front

Last steps, in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to consolidate the nascent anti-Tehran union in the wake of historic agreements to normalize relations concluded, under the aegis of Donald Trump, by Israel with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. And speak with the Taliban, at a time when the outgoing president hastens the American withdrawal.

Does Mike Pompeo intend to enlighten the Arab allies on the intentions of the American government for its last two months, between the promise of new sanctions against Iranian interests, the threat of blacklisting the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the hypothesis, unconfirmed, even more spectacular actions that could go as far as military strikes against Iran?

Difficult to know. And it is difficult to know if he still supports Donald Trump in his crusade to deny his defeat.

On the ninth and penultimate day of this trip, also affected by health restrictions, the journalists accompanying him still did not have the slightest opportunity to ask questions of Mike Pompeo – extremely rare, if not unprecedented, in history travel by Secretaries of State.

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