By Alain Frachon* - Special for The Geneva Observer
December 8, 2020
He was the godfather, the guide, the one who led his flock the right way—the way of faith. We had never seen the American chief of diplomacy link so closely politics and religion. But Mike Pompeo—with a choir boy’s face and yet a mover’s build, a traditional evangelical, not to say fundamentalist, protestant—is getting ready to leave the State Department. He leaves a number of orphans: the “fundamental values” camp: an international conservative, some would say “reactionary,” coalition.
His departure will be mourned everywhere where the rights of man are not necessarily those of woman, where religion and family count as much as individual liberty and where “social” progressivism disintegrates societies more than it frees them.
All those countries that, with him, have fought here and there, and notably within the United Nations, to nuance, go around, and interpret in one direction—their direction—the understanding of human rights as they are defined in the UN’s Charter. The philosophical and ideological battle is far from over. But Pompeo, who fought in it openly as presiding cardinal, brought to his side the whole weight of the United States. This was not nothing.
His departure will be mourned everywhere where the rights of man are not necessarily those of woman, where religion and family count as much as individual liberty, and where “social” progressivism disintegrates societies more than it frees them. That’s a lot of people—from the Law and Justice Party’s (PIS) Poland, to Saudi Arabia, to Viktor Orban’s Hungary to the United Arab Emirates, from Vladimir Putin’s Russia to Indonesia, the largest Muslim country. As well as others around the world.
A common enemy: the West born of the 1960s, that of feminist, sexual, individual “liberation,” of the challenge to authority and the assertion of the “me.” Its privileged theatre of operations: the third committee of the UN’s General Assembly—the so-called “human rights” committee responsible for social, humanitarian and cultural questions. Since 2018, American diplomats have defended the “Pompeo line” there.
The “Pompeo doctrine” stipulates that not all the individual freedoms gained since the 1960s have the status of human rights in the same way as the UN charter’s statement of rights. These individual freedoms only give rise to "ad hoc rights," says Pompeo, and we must return to the defence of "inalienable rights"—the rights to life and liberty.
In 2019, the Secretary of State created a "Commission on Inalienable Rights," joined by a few volunteers (around 20 States).
Clearly, the "right" to abortion is not a human right, nor is the right to marriage for LGBT people.
The UN General Assembly’s fall meeting in September 2020 saw the same American offensive: promoting the notion of "inalienable rights" against "ad hoc rights." Le Monde UN correspondent Carrie Nooten wrote: The Pompeo initiative is seen as a means "to roll back the rights of women or those of the LGBT community." Human Rights Watch sees it as "a way to get rid of the right to abortion or LGBT rights." In UN jargon, Nooten explains, we talk about SRHR, “sexual and reproductive health and rights”—the traditionalist camp’s bête noire. Clearly, the "right" to abortion is not a human right, nor is the right to marriage for LGBT people.
On the battlefield, Pompeo—in the tank in a suit and tie—advances in the open. He conducts religious diplomacy. He says so. "My faith shapes my work" as the head of the state department, he told the general assembly of a pro-family association in Des Moines, Iowa, on July 17. Under the leadership of Donald Trump, "we are implementing a foreign policy of defence of religious freedom and a foreign policy that is one hundred percent pro-life" (read: anti-abortion). Not a dollar for NGOs that make voluntary termination of pregnancy part of their birth control arsenal—in Africa or elsewhere.
On his desk in the State Department, the Bible. Normal: "God has put his trust in me,” he continues in Des Moines, “so that I execute this mandate." Obviously, as a hierarchical supervisory authority, it is a reference that smacks of theocracy more than democracy. But his wife Susan says it has been like this all his working life. Recounting the moments of a remarkable journey—military graduate from West Point, graduate from Harvard law school, lawyer, brilliant businessman, then congressman from Kansas, finally director of the CIA before his appointment to the State Department—, Susan Pompeo sees there "neither calculated career" nor strategy of access to power: those nominations, "we both know it was the hand of God." Not that of Donald Trump, of course, to whom Pompeo was one of the most loyal, not to say servile, collaborators ...
The "Commission on Inalienable Rights’" group of friends, about fifteen states, was to meet at the UN in Geneva, in October. COVID-19 decided differently. But they still signed up to a so-called “Geneva Consensus Declaration.” In the name of "traditional values," its purpose is twofold. First, to ensure, as part of freedom of expression, the promotion and defence of religious freedom—and endeavour to limit the right to criticism. Read: the right to blasphemy is not part of human rights. Then ban abortion everywhere.
In this battle, Pompeo has made alliances with Saudi Arabia—whose religious tolerance is well- known—, with Orban's Hungary, the Poland of PIS, two so-called "illiberal" democracies, the Egypt of Marshal-President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi—whose attachment to public freedoms is well-known—or the Belarus of Alexander Lukashenko—the humanist of the Kolkhozes. Too bad, one can think that the critique of libertarian individualism born in the bubbling sixties, that the extension of the rights of the individual that followed, that these questions deserved a better, non-Manichean debate, far from militant certainties. But Pompeo, if he is a man of the Book, is not a man of doubt.
But now, evangelicals, at least the most fundamentalist among them, literally interpret some of the texts of the Old Testament, notably the Book of Revelation: the return of the Jews to their ancestral land, he says, must precede the return of the Messiah.
“The hand of God” also played a role in the diplomacy that Pompeo has conducted in the Middle East. “The Bible informs everything I do,” he says. With Vice-President Mike Pence, another leader of the powerful evangelical group within the Republican Party, the Secretary of State is orchestrating the relocation of the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—without asking anything in return from their friend Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister. In principle, this displacement should only take place after a peace agreement fixing the borders and the final status of the Holy City as well as that of the Palestinian territories occupied during the Israeli-Arab war of June 1967 (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip).
But now, evangelicals, at least the most fundamentalist among them, literally interpret some of the texts of the Old Testament, notably the Book of Revelation: the return of the Jews to their ancestral land, he says, must precede the return of the Messiah. As a result, the Trump administration no longer condemns Israeli settlements in the West Bank or the eastern part of Jerusalem. It supports them, encourages them. His "peace plan" even gives the imprimatur to the annexation of more than a third of the West Bank by Israel. Officially, they do not mention the Bible, they “take into account the realities on the ground.” But Pence and Pompeo would not hate it if they, just a little, favoured the return of the Messiah...
Edward Wong, one of the New York Times’ diplomatic correspondents, reports a strange anecdote. Visiting Israel, the Secretary of State gives an interview to the Christian Broadcasting Network. Check-in takes place at a hotel in Jerusalem. The journalist recounts a scene from the Bible where a queen, Esther, saves the Jews from a slaughter planned by a Persian emperor.
Question: Did Mr Pompeo think President Trump had been "raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?" Response from Pompeo: "As a Christian, I certainly think that's possible."
Trump broke the 2015 agreement to control the Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear program. He pursued—in vain—a so-called "maximum pressure" policy on Iran to force Tehran to renegotiate a position of weakness. Pompeo continues: "I am confident that The Lord is at work here."
The latest rumours are that Mike Pompeo is reportedly considering a White House run in November 2024. But in this project, you should see nothing other than "the hand of God."
*Alain Frachon is an editorial writer for Le Monde and an expert on foreign relations.
Translation: The Geneva Observer © The Geneva Observer