Mike Pompeo keeps a bible open at his desk to remind him of “God, and his word and the truth”, he told an audience in Cairo on Friday. The US secretary of state also appears to keep a darts board of Barack Obama’s face in his office. That America’s chief diplomat would give a speech in Egypt is unremarkable. That he would give one attacking the last US president is less normal, though not unprecedented. That he would start with a declaration of his evangelical faith is even less typical, but still pardonable. To do all three at once — attacking America’s last president in the Middle East in a speech to a Muslim audience that was aimed at Christian radicals — is in a category of one. It’s certainly not diplomacy.
But that’s the kind of politician he is. As Julian Borger reminds us in the Guardian, Pompeo is a genuine, end-of-days, believer in the apocalypse. It’s a cloud-parting eschatology he shares with Mike Pence, the vice-president. “We will continue to fight these battles,” Pompeo told a church congregation in Wichita three years ago. “It is a never-ending struggle . . . until the rapture. Be a part of it. Be in the fight.” Generally I believe a public figure’s beliefs should be irrelevant to their job. Whether they’re atheist, Opus Dei, Buddhist or Muslim, should have no bearing on our assessment of their fitness for office. Yet I can’t help but feel anxious that both of Donald Trump’s main global envoys, Pompeo and Pence, have a conflict between their private beliefs and what they publicly claim to be doing.
Both profess to be pro-Israel for example. Each enthusiastically backed the decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last year. Each also subscribes to the Christian Zionist belief that the rapture will only come once the Jews have all regrouped in the Holy Land. At which point, they, along with the rest of the unrighteous, will be smitten by a vengeful God. It’s pretty hard to argue that the embassy move advanced prospects for Arab-Israeli peace. Here’s another: hardline evangelicals believe the end of the world is at hand. Mightn’t it be righteous to help it along? Ah, I hear you cry, “if Pompeo were Muslim, wouldn’t he be secretly plotting a jihad against the Godless west?” To which my answer would be, “only if he were a hardline salafist”. Mainstream Islam, like mainline Christianity, is not a millenarian cult. Christian Zionism is closer to being America’s version of Salafism — a militant creed that believes we’re destined for a final conflagration in which the righteous will vanquish the wicked.
Call me a serial fretter, but I don’t take comfort from the fact that Pence is a heartbeat away from being commander-in-chief. Nor do I see Pompeo as one of the grown-ups restraining Trump. He’s an enabler, not a preventer. Where Trump goes, Pompeo will follow. Let’s hope Trump never gets religion. Rana, it’s an act of personal faith to assume you will read this. I know your book leave is short by normal standards (and I much look forward to reading it). But your absence feels longer. Please give us a sign.
- My column this week looks at the rise of economic populism in America. The age of Clinton-Obama incrementalism is over. For the first time I can recall, America’s intellectual energy is stronger on the left. I also wrote last Friday about why Trump will never stop talking about the Mexican border wall. Much as believers see a God that’s invisible to unbelievers, Trump keeps seeing that wall.
- Talking of eccentric diplomacy, Susan Glasser has an instructive piece in the New Yorker about the coming House foreign affairs committee investigations of Trump’s foreign policy conflicts. Top of its investigative list are the contents of Trump’s meetings with Vladimir Putin, notably that two-hour radio silence in Helsinki last July. If nothing else, the committee will earn headlines.
- Finally, my colleagues James Politi, Sam Fleming and Mark Vandevelde have a timely analysis of Jim Yong Kim’s abrupt departure from the World Bank. Swampians might find the bank’s internal politics to be mildly esoteric in this age of rapture. But it’s worth paying attention. Bretton Woods was at the heart of America’s postwar creation. If Trump nominates someone unacceptable to the rest of the world — say David Malpass, or possibly Ivanka Trump — a geopolitical tug of war could result.
Get alerts on US economy when a new story is published