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Can We Trust Pompeo’s Unmistakable Certainty on Iran?

Mike Pompeo has “no doubt” that Iran is guilty of attacking the tankers in the Gulf of Oman, while the rest of the world is left wondering.

Seeking to understand where US policy on events in the Persian Gulf are likely to lead, Fox News journalist Chis Wallace asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this question: “How certain are you that Iran was responsible for these attacks and do you have more evidence that you can share with us?” Initially avoiding a direct reply, Pompeo affirmed, as if there was no room for doubt: “It is unmistakable what happened here. These were attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran on commercial shipping on the freedom of navigation with the clear intent to deny transit through the Strait.”

At the same time, Jeremy Hunt, the UK’s foreign secretary and candidate to replace Theresa May as prime minister, declared that his government is “‘almost certain’ Iran was behind attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Unmistakable:

The equivalent in US English of “almost certain” in British English

Contextual note

Pompeo may be prudently hedging his bets as a rhetorical ploy. Some, including the regime in Tehran, suggest this may have been a false-flag operation initiated either by the US or Saudi Arabia. The aim of such an initiative could be to exacerbate tensions as a prelude to war as a means of granting US National Security Adviser John Bolton his dearest wish, or alternatively, to create a climate of war followed by a “noble” show of restraint, following the historical model of John F. Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Everyone is left guessing not only who committed these attacks, but what their motives might have been.

If Secretary Pompeo knows or even suspects that Iran was not the perpetrator, his use of the term “unmistakable” could simply mean that because his accusation is an outright lie, the fact that the information is wrong — like the Bush administration’s conviction that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of weapons of mass destructions — cannot be considered a mistake, which is the usual way of denying faulty intelligence after the fact.

In the interview, Pompeo continued his clever stonewalling by denying what every serious commentator, including UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres and his interviewer Chris Wallace, has noticed: the evidence so far presented leaves room for a lot of speculation. But Pompeo has access to the unvarnished truth and hints that he may even share it with the rest of the world: “There’s no doubt. The intelligence committee has lots of data, lots of evidence. The world will come to see much of it, but the American people should rest assured that we have high confidence with respect to who conducted these attacks, as well as half a dozen other attacks throughout the world over the past 40 days.”

The public must trust Pompeo, though he has boasted about his own professional commitment to lying. Like President Donald Trump explaining his position concerning the release of his financial statement, Pompeo would love to share his evidence but isn’t about to do so.

In Trump’s case, the hypocrisy is more evident. After affirming that he’d “like to have people see my financial statement,” his interviewer, ABC News journalist George Stephanopoulos, blurts out, “but it’s up to you.” Trump immediately denies having the power to authorize it: “No. it’s not up to me. It’s up to lawyers, it’s up to everything else.”

Just as Trump knows his financial statement is “phenomenal,” Pompeo knows that “the intelligence committee has lots of data, lots of evidence.” Why should the public, foreign governments or the media — or for that matter, the secretary general of the United Nations — want to see it? Don’t they trust Pompeo?

Historical note

In January 2003, Americans trusted the testimony of the unimpeachable general and secretary of state, Colin Powell, and others in the Bush administration who had not just “high confidence,” but certainty that Saddam had a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. Sixteen years later, are Americans ready to trust the raucous voices of a Trump administration that has turned bluffing, lying and pure intimidation into the basis of its diplomacy?

In the interview, Pompeo goes further than just asking for trust. He reveals the strategy the administration is pursuing. Pompeo claims that he has already begun approaching several nations with what Mario Puzo once called “an offer they can’t refuse.” He tells Wallace that because the major Asian nations — including Japan, China and Indonesia — depend on oil coming through the Persian Gulf, they have every reason to join a new alliance led by the US with the mission of guaranteeing unimpeded traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. “I’m confident that when they see the risk, the risk to their own economies and their own people, and the outrageous behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran, they’ll join us in this.”

The Trump administration has consistently used ongoing war, the threat of war, primary and secondary economic sanctions, and arbitrarily imposed tariffs as tools of “persuasion” (i.e., intimidation), with the stated aim of crippling the economies of rogue nations such as Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. The US calls it “maximum pressure.” But up until now, these actions were presented as the punishment of hostile regimes for not complying with US policy. This time, Pompeo has taken on the task of “reminding” nations such as Japan and Indonesia of the risk of not joining forces with the US. It’s a move not dissimilar to the method of Monty Python’s mafioso brothers when they proposed to protect a British military base.

Middle East expert Juan Cole highlights one of the accusations Pompeo has made in his campaign against Iran concerning a suicide attack in Kabul as “so embarrassing as to be cringe-worthy … either a lie in the service of war propaganda or a display of such bottomless ignorance on the part of America’s chief diplomat as to be grounds for impeachment.” Explaining the demographics, the cultural, linguistic and religious background of Afghanistan and the relationship of its diverse component populations with Iran and its Shia regime, Cole demonstrates the absurdity of Pompeo’s claim, which the secretary of state is using to aggravate the climate of war in the Middle East.

Cole’s short article is worth reading carefully as it provides some of the essentials for understanding the complexity of a region the US has been ignorantly blundering through for decades and appears to be seeking to open a new chapter. Can Pompeo himself be that ignorant? In any case, he expects the American public to share that tragic ignorance. It’s a question of trust.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.] 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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