Mike Pompeo's Time Bombs

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François Brousseau (access the author's page)

The Trump administration is in its dying days, but its foreign policy will leave many pesky, if not messy, traces for the team of Joe Biden that is forming.

A few days before great departureWashington is almost under siege, but so is part of the world, due to the final Republican elephant kicks.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, last faithful among the faithful of the outgoing president, sees to it.

From January 9 to 12, a week before emptying the premises, he multiplied the thunderous, even provocative, announcements concerning Iran, the war in Yemen, relations with Cuba and even with Taiwan.

The outgoing administration leaves behind, before leaving, a whole series of time bombs not only internally, of course, but also – we can see it better now – internationally.

Serial provocations

On Saturday, January 9, Pompeo announced that he was lifting formal restrictions on contacts between American and Taiwanese officials: an aggressive gesture by Washington towards Beijing, and a poisoned gift for Taipei.

On Sunday January 10, the State Department designated the Houthi rebels in Yemen as terrorist organization, much to the scandal of humanitarian organizations who have warned of the disastrous consequences this designation would have for diplomatic efforts and aid operations in a country torn apart by war.

On Monday, January 11, the Secretary of State officially classified Cuba as State sponsor of terrorism. An anachronistic return to the cold war in the middle of the 21st century.

And finally, on Tuesday January 12, Pompeo, without proof, accused Iran of being support and sanctuary Al-Qaeda terrorist group, rekindling fears that the Trump administration, just before leaving, might decide to militarily strike the regime in Tehran.

A series of provocations or potential harm, directed as much to the countries concerned as to the Biden administration.

A poisoned gift given to Taiwan

A woman gives a speech at a podium.

Taiwanese President Tsai-Ing Wen delivers a speech on National Day in October 2020.

Photo: Reuters / ANN WANG

However, if we come back to these big announcements, we could argue that at least as far as Taiwan is concerned, here is an ally that could be strengthened, since, according to this decision of the State Department, it must be no more restrictions in state-to-state relations between Washington and Taipei.

Washington is almost considering Taiwan to be an independent country.

At first glance, it might seem like a nice gift to President Tsai Ing-wen's government, which faces constant hostility and threats from Beijing. But if you take a closer look, you might see more of a poisoned gift and a time bomb.

Even in Taipei – a capital which indeed seeks recognition and help from the rest of the world in its heavy and perilous face to face with a threatening China – we are smart enough today to take this latest statement with a grain of salt. .

Successive American administrations have carefully managed their relations with Taiwan, a de facto quasi-independent country that the United States (like most other States in the world) does not formally recognize, in order to spare their relations with Beijing.

But by blowing up the status quo, the Trump administration could force that of Joe Biden into a more direct confrontation with China. Mike Pompeo's gesture is less driven by solicitude for the independence and democratic convictions of Taiwanese, than by a claw against China and embarrassment for Joe Biden.

There were certainly one or two Taiwanese officials to celebrate publicly, such as Taipei's envoy to Washington, Bikhim Hsiao. But others, more senior and more circumspect, starting with President Tsai Ing-wen herself, abstained.

Tsai, a determined and down-to-earth woman, has not commented in the days following Mike Pompeo's announcement. She has her reasons, and some good ones.

In Yemen, the humanitarian disaster

A mother with her malnourished daughter at a hospital in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen.

A mother with her malnourished daughter at a hospital in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen.

Photo: Reuters / KHALED ABDULLAH

On Yemen now, the State Department has spoken out on one of the two great protagonists of this deadly war which has been slaughtering civilians for more than five years.

War started in May 2015 by a campaign of bombing Saudi Arabia, a country heavily armed by France and the United States. Washington announced that the Houthi rebels, opposed to the official power of Sana'a (the capital), themselves backed by Iran, are now a terrorist group (official category of the State Department).

We can certainly discuss the fact that, in this war where Saudi Arabia is the main responsible for destruction, epidemics and food shortages, the Houthis, who control a good part of the national territory, are not altar boys either, and that they themselves have committed war crimes.

Humanitarian agencies, which reacted very quickly and very strongly to Washington's announcement, argue that this designation will mean that it will no longer be possible to deliver humanitarian aid, food and medicine to the ground. . All of which Yemenis are tragically dependent on, in a country devastated by nearly six years of conflict.

This is yet another move designed to annoy the Joe Biden administration, when it intends to be less complacent than the Trump administration in its dealings with Saudi Arabia and Israel.

From a geopolitical point of view, Pompeo wants to accentuate the very strong alliance developed, under Donald Trump, between the United States, Israel and several Gulf countries to the detriment of civilians like the Yemenis and the Palestinians.

The Palestinians who saw each other totally downgraded, on the geopolitical scene, during the four years of the Trump administration, obsessed with its hostility to Iran and totally aligned with Israel.

Cuba: back to the 20th century

Finally, Cuba … Cuba sees itself designated by Washington as State sponsor of terrorism : a retro-flavored name, which has long been applied by Washington to the Fidel Castro regime, but which had been abandoned by the Obama administration.

Barack Obama who, we can remember, made his spectacular trip to Havana in 2016.

Again, it is about undoing what was done by the previous administration, and laying mines for the next.

A woman walks on a sidewalk in Havana.

A woman walks on a sidewalk near a wall with a Cuban flag printed on it, in Havana on January 12, 2021.


Donald Trump has developed a real obsession with anything that bears the mark of his predecessor.

Cuba, godfather of terrorism? We can discuss the Havana regime, its inability to reform and democratize from within. Of his desire, especially in his early days, to export his revolution with what it could represent, in the days of the Cold War, from the point of view of democracy in the world, or of American interests.

But in 2021, officially designating Cuba as terrorist (for aid to Venezuela? To the rebels in Colombia?), it's pushing the plug a little hard and bringing 20th century categories back to the 21st century.

And once again, doing everything possible to put a damper in the wheels of the Biden administration. An administration that will already have its hands full on the home front.

Rebuilding after Hurricane Trump will be a huge challenge, fraught with pitfalls and explosive mines, many placed there deliberately for the simple purpose of causing harm.

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