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Tuesday, November 17, 2020, 10:30
US foreign policy: Failed agenda has been built on a broken base
By Grenville Cross
Tuesday, November 17, 2020, 10:30 By Grenville Cross

“Power tends to corrupt”, said Lord Acton, the English statesman, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” No better exemplar of this can currently be found internationally than US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Since his appointment in 2018, he has systematically abused the powers of his office, and demeaned the lofty ideals upon which US foreign policy was once said to rest. Apart from carving out a role for himself as President Donald Trump’s hatchet man, he will be remembered as one of the most unscrupulous individuals ever to hold this high office.

Until now, Pompeo had not been seen as a threat to US democracy, but this has changed. Although former vice-president Joe Biden has clearly won the presidential election, in terms of both the Electoral College votes and the popular vote, Trump continues to impugn the result. In this, he is being egged on by Pompeo, who hopes to ingratiate himself with the “alt-right”, a white nationalist movement, and emerge one day as its savior. On Nov 10, therefore, rather than spelling out some home truths to Trump, he announced that there would be a “smooth transition to a second Trump administration” in January.

In the US, there is a long tradition of outgoing presidents facilitating a smooth transition of power, and Pompeo’s remarks provoked outrage. They were seen, correctly, as bolstering Trump’s attempt to “steal” the election from the American people.

From the Democratic camp, Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Pompeo “shouldn’t play along with baseless and dangerous attacks on the legitimacy of last week’s elections”. His colleague, Representative Mark Takano, pointed out, moreover, that Pompeo’s job was “to call out authoritarian behavior abroad, but his comments made a mockery of our democratic process”, which was incontrovertible. 

In Hong Kong’s case, for example, Pompeo has tried his best to damage the city and undermine its development, hoping thereby to harm China. He pokes his nose into its affairs at every opportunity, and issues condemnations like confetti on issues of which he knows nothing.

Since Pompeo has, of late, gone out of his way to express concerns about, for example, the way elections were conducted in Belarus, Cote d’Ivoire and Tanzania, his hypocrisy could hardly be starker. Even his admirer, former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, condemned him for making a “mockery” of US democracy, and paving the way for “authoritarianism”.

Nobody should be in the least surprised by Pompeo’s behavior. This, after all, is the same individual who, on Sept 2, in defiance of international norms, slapped punitive sanctions on the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, for daring, in accordance with her mandate, to investigate war crimes allegedly committed by US personnel in Afghanistan. Pompeo’s actions have been globally condemned as a threat to the international rule of law, although this means nothing to a believer in “might is right”.

Nobody was harsher in their criticism of Pompeo’s remarks than Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, who described Pompeo as “delusional”. Bolton added that Pompeo had “eviscerated his credibility internationally”, which, while true, is certainly nothing new. His approach to foreign policy has, after all, always prioritized hypocrisy and intimidation over principle and persuasion, as the evidence shows. 

In Hong Kong’s case, for example, Pompeo has tried his best to damage the city and undermine its development, hoping thereby to harm China. He pokes his nose into its affairs at every opportunity, and issues condemnations like confetti on issues of which he knows nothing. Not content with canceling the city’s preferential trading status and sanctioning its officials, he has even provided safe haven for its criminal fugitives, including at least one of the vandals who trashed the Legislative Council building on July 1, 2019. As a seasoned bully boy, Pompeo enjoys kicking small places around, although his own country’s human rights record has long since sapped his authority. 

On Nov 9, in Geneva, things came to a head when the United Nations Human Rights Council conducted its first examination of the US since May 2015, and it was not a pretty sight. America’s own allies heavily criticized its record, citing the use of the death penalty, police violence against African Americans and the separation of migrant children from their families. Even the United Kingdom, itself the victim of Pompeo’s intimidation over its decision, since reversed, to allow Huawei a role in its 5G network, offered some tepid criticism, over the lack of reproductive services in the US, although it was left to others to do the heavy lifting, notably France.

The French had the guts to say what needed to be said. They called on the US to halt federal executions, to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, where it holds its Muslim prisoners, and to “guarantee women and girls access to their rights and sexual and reproductive health”. Whereas China and Russia also called on the US to root out racism and police violence, Cuba and Venezuela said it must provide equal access to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

As UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab spends so much of his time lecturing China on human rights, he will hopefully have taken note of the global condemnation of the US record, and must not be afraid to confront Pompeo. Instead of obsessing endlessly about Hong Kong, which is doing just fine, Raab, together with his counterparts in Australia, Marise Payne; Canada, Francois-Philippe Champagne; and New Zealand, Nanaia Mahuta; must now concentrate upon improving human rights in the US, if necessary, by the threat of sanctions.

As the council ended, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, Jamil Dakwar, said that “what we are seeing today was unsurprising condemnation by many countries around the world of the United States’ human rights record”. He added that country after country had urged the US “to take serious measures to address structural racism and police violence”. If, however, he seriously expects Pompeo to do anything, he will be sadly disappointed, which is precisely why Raab and his partners must now up the ante.

After all, on June 16, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on the US to abide by its treaty obligations, and to fully implement the Convention by ensuring “compliance of domestic laws and policies with the Convention”, yet the situation has since deteriorated. Indeed, on Pompeo’s watch, the harassment of Chinese citizens living in the US, including students, has increased exponentially, and is now reminiscent of the country’s 19th-century Sinophobia, legitimized by racists at the time as “the yellow peril”. 

Everyone is aware of the plight of the African American community in 2020. The police, for example, killed Breonna Taylor by shooting her eight times in her Louisville home on March 13, asphyxiated George Floyd on a Minneapolis street on May 25, and shot Jacob Blake multiple times in the back in his car in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Aug 23, leaving him paralyzed for life. In September, CBS News, using databases from Mapping Police Violence, the research collaborative, and The Washington Post, compiled a list of 164 black men and women killed by the police between Jan 1 and Aug 31, and this pattern has continued for years.

In 2019, for example, Mapping Police Violence estimated that more than 1,000 people were killed by the police, with African Americans accounting for 24 percent of those killed, even though they comprise only 13 percent of the population. With figures like these, it is little wonder that the US is being so widely condemned in the UN Human Rights Council, and beyond.

Many African Americans will undoubtedly have had enough of the violence and discrimination they have had to endure, and will want out. There is no end in sight, so who can blame them. Raab and his partners, therefore, must now draw up contingency plans to provide them with an escape route, including a “pathway to citizenship” in their own countries, as things will not improve. 

Indeed, instead of apologizing for the situation, Pompeo simply shrugs his shoulders and continues to malign other places whose human rights records are infinitely superior to that of the US. The Hong Kong Police Force killed nobody in 2019 during months of violent protests, in which they were repeatedly attacked by armed mobs using petrol bombs, knives, corrosive chemicals, catapults, slingshots and iron bars. Pompeo, however, instead of praising the force’s restraint and professionalism, has gone out of his way to besmirch its heroism. If he was genuinely concerned about police brutality, he would have invited the Hong Kong police to instruct US police officers on how to handle riots and other dangerous situations without killing people or resorting to excessive violence.

Only after Pompeo has put his own house in order will he be in any position to lecture others. By his hypocrisy, he has forfeited the moral high ground, and shredded his own credibility. If those who live in glass houses should not throw stones, it must follow that Pompeo should not only be keeping his own counsel, but also hanging his head in shame.

The author is a senior counsel, law professor and criminal justice analyst, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong SAR.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.


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