In 1998, lawyer William Ginsburg became the first person to appear on the five major English-language Sunday talk shows on the same day. Ever since, Ginsburg has been immortalized in Washington nomenclature by the term “the full Ginsburg.” With Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s appearance on all five this Sunday, we can add a new version of the full Ginsburg to Beltway dictionaries: “the Pompeo flop.” At no point in his sit-downs did the secretary of state offer anything to reassure Americans that the administration has a plan to deal with the repercussions from its killing of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
Consider the crucial question of whether Soleimani was in fact helping to plan an “imminent” attack, as President Trump, Pompeo and others have alleged. That claim has allowed Trump and his team to play the self-defense card against charges that the killing defied both domestic and international law. But pushed by the Sunday show anchors, Pompeo got squirrelly.
All he would tell Fox News was that Soleimani “was actively engaged and plotting against American interests” — hardly compelling evidence about someone who has targeted American interests for years. On CNN, Pompeo denied that imminence mattered at all: “If you’re an American in the region, days and weeks, this is not something that’s relevant.” You don’t need to be an expert to see this excuse’s flimsiness.
Nor was it encouraging to hear that Pompeo and the president aren’t on the same page regarding possible future strikes against Iran. On Saturday, Trump had warned that if Iran attacks U.S. assets, “we have targeted 52 Iranian sites … some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.” Anchors on several networks asked Pompeo whether the United States would really strike civilian, cultural targets — in violation of international agreements. “I’ve seen what we are planning in terms of the target set,” Pompeo replied on ABC. “The American people should know that every target that we strike will be a lawful target” — a claim impossible to square with the president’s words.
Rather than argue that expulsion was expected but worth the price and/or that U.S. officials were already hard at work on keeping U.S. troops in the country, Trump’s top diplomat opted for personal attacks: On Fox News, he dismissed Mahdi as the “resigned prime minister” and the “acting prime minister.” Acting or not, that doesn’t change the vote, nor does it change the fact that killing Soleimani may now hand Iran a cherished victory.
We do not yet know what the exact fallout of killing Soleimani will be, though there are ill omens with the Iraqi parliament’s vote and the suspension of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran’s announcement Sunday that it would no longer abide by the agreement’s restrictions on uranium enrichment. But we do know that the Tehran regime has maintained its grip on power despite Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, that no “better” nuclear deal has been struck, that millions of ordinary Iranians have suffered terribly under the economic sanctions of that unproductive campaign and that Iran and the United States are closer to war than they have been in years. Not a single goal of Trump’s Iran policy has been met; in many cases, the situation is worse. Yet this president and his team continue to bumble forward, oblivious to their own obliviousness. And that is the most terrifying thing of all.