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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to arrive in Sochi to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today. Pompeo had initially announced plans to meet President Putin in Moscow yesterday, but cancelled that aspect of his Russian itinerary at the last moment, deciding instead to remain in Brussels to hold talks with British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, German foreign minister Heiko Maas, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini.
Secretary of State Pompeo stated that these discussions primarily concerned what he called “multiple plot vectors emerging from Iran,” but also referred to Ukraine, Venezuela, Syria, Libya, and “issues relating to NATO.”
All the usual suspects, then.
Seeing as the titular head of the Trump administration has a background in business but none whatsoever in diplomacy, it is hardly surprising that his officials have started to emulate his habit of playing bait & switch. Making a verbal commitment to something and then backing out at the last moment is an everyday negotiating-strategy in the spiv-culture which characterizes later capitalism.
In diplomacy, however, it simply seems naïve. What Trump officials primarily signal when they behave like this in a diplomatic context is that they are simply hopelessly out of their depth.
In short, we can be confident that there was nothing accidental about Pompeo’s “last-minute” decision to remain in Brussels yesterday. Only the naïve would doubt that it was entirely premeditated. What Pompeo was attempting to show the world was that there were at least 5 other people in Europe to whom his time would be better spent talking than Vladimir Putin. His cancellation of the Moscow-leg of his visit reeked of all the contempt and flakiness of a malignantly narcissistic 16 year-old girl.
We might bear in mind that Pompeo’s path toward being nominated by Trump as Director of Central Intelligence in November 2016 was an unusual one, as Pompeo had no previous professional background in intelligence-related work, apart from having served on the United States House Intelligence Subcommittee on the CIA. His lack of decorum in diplomatic matters is partially explained by the point that he is the quintessential businessman-turned-politician, a political and diplomatic lightweight.
President Putin maintained his characteristic grace in the face of this uncouth American behaviour, and has not ruled out the possibility of meeting Pomeo in Sochi today. Then again, President Putin can afford to be graceful, as he understands the deeper meaning of cheap gestures such as these. They are the hallmark of a nation unable to formulate or to project a coherent foreign or strategic policy. In the absence of that, cheap gestures will have to do.
In the run-up to this visit, other examples of Pompeo’s amateurish attempts at diplomacy include his denial of having authorized a State Department statement on May 9th, concerning Montenegro. The same day, a Montenegrin court had convicted 14 people, including two alleged Russian military intelligence officers in absentia, on charges of attempted terrorism, relating to an alleged plot to overthrow the Montenegrin government and kidnap the then prime minister in 2016.
There is no independently verifiable evidence that either of the persons named as Russian intelligence officers even exists. The Montenegrin court was told that their whereabouts are unknown.
The State Department’s statement had read “Since the thwarted Russian-backed coup attempt on Montenegro’s parliamentary election day in October 2016, Montenegro has taken important steps toward integrating with the Transatlantic family, most notably joining NATO in June 2017.” It was recalled and deleted from the State Department’s website only hours later.
Yet again, we can be confident that this was no mere bureaucratic blunder. Stuff like that just doesn’t happen by accident. As somebody who was Director of Central Intelligence, however briefly or nominally, you’d expect Pompeo’s practice of the art of plausible deniability to be smoother than that.
State Department officials have said that the agenda for the Sochi-meeting includes arms control, North Korea, Ukraine, Syria, and Iran. Of all of these, arms control may be the most pressing issue, and the highest on Pompeo’s own priority-list. It was Pompeo himself who announced on February 2nd that the US had decided to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, alleging that Russia was “in material breach of its obligations” under the treaty.
As with all accusations made against Russia, no evidence was provided for public scrutiny. The INF treaty is directly connected to what is, arguably, singularly the greatest factor driving the current problematic state of Russia-US relations, namely, the United States’ attempts to encircle Russia through the deployment of the Aegis missile defence system.
It is interesting that, when itemizing the topics of discussion scheduled for today’s Sochi meeting, State Department officials did not pay specific reference to Venezuela. In previous phone-calls between Pompeo and Lavrov, the Secretary of State had claimed that Russian involvement in Venezuela was “destabilizing” the country.
Try not to laugh.
If American exceptionalism were not held as a sacred religious principle by people like Pompeo and National security Adviser John Bolton, then a clear negotiating-strategy with Russia concerning Venezuela would present itself. Alluding to the Monroe doctrine, Bolton stated on March 3rd that Venezuela was a country in “our hemisphere.”
I presume that both Bolton and Pompeo are well aware that Russia quite explicitly adheres to the SOI (“spheres of influence”) model of international relations. If their worldview were not so parochial, and if they didn’t equally see the Monroe doctrine as something akin to a religious principle, which could not be separated from the liturgical language in which it was couched, then they might at least see a certain translatability between that doctrine and the Russian SOI-model, which would then be an angle of approach in negotiations.
On the other hand, that might necessitate trade-offs in Eurasia.
But even that minimally hermeneutic approach to foreign policy doctrine is too much to expect from Midwestern placemen such as Bolton and Pompeo.
However, personality-types such as these are merely manifestations of problems which are ultimately systemic. When a nation is unable to formulate or project a coherent foreign policy, due to very real economic and geo-strategic material factors, then it chooses to communicate that incoherence by appointing incoherent and incompetent people. In certain decaying, crisis-ridden societies, competent people are deemed simply no longer useful.
The United States today could never produce a Metternich. If Metternich were an American diplomat today, then he would see the country’s geopolitical predicament in the clear light of day, and shoot himself in despair. In any case, the deep state’s internal logic would dictate that their purposes were better served by incoherent fools.