In many respects, the Biden administration’s foreign policy stands in sharp contrast to that of the Trump administration. Some elements of Trump’s foreign policy – like the Abraham Accords – appear to be cemented, but Israel fears that others, like the maximum pressure campaign on Iran, is already falling by the wayside.
Last week, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to The Jewish Press about these and other topics.
The Jewish Press: In its closing days, the Trump administration said some countries were very close to joining the Abraham Accords. Which countries were they and might they still join the agreement?
Pompeo: I can’t share anything we were working on, but suffice it to say we were working in countries all across the Middle East and Africa and with Islamic countries in Asia as well.
We [wanted] to help countries bridge any gaps they had and make the case for why the right thing to do was to join the Abraham Accords or something like it that would allow them to recognize Israel as an economic, security, and diplomatic partner.
So far, the Biden administration has shed the terrorist designation from Yemen’s Houthi rebels, has attempted to re-engage Iran, and is now confronting the Saudis. So there’s obviously a change in direction. What’s your assessment of the Biden administration so far in terms of its Middle East policy and are there any areas of agreement between this administration and the last one?
I think we have shared objectives, but they have a different hypothesis. Their hypothesis is that until the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is resolved, nothing [good] can happen [in the region long term].
We proved that wrong. We weren’t going to allow the Palestinian Authority to continue to conduct its terror campaign, to continue to undermine any hopes for peace, and to just frankly say “No” to everything, so we went about building stability in the region [without it].
When you say we’re going to give the Palestinians…veto [power] and enter some form of agreement with the world’s largest state sponsor of terror – the regime in Iran – that presents a real risk to the region.
[In contrast,] when you take an approach that’s different [as we did], countries in that region feel compelled to act differently, not only with the United States, but also with each other and Israel.
Your maximum pressure campaign on Iran bent, but did not break, it. You also essentially acted without the backing of key Western powers in trying to keep sanctions in place. In retrospect, would you have done things differently?
We isolated the Iranian regime like no country ever had. We built an enormous coalition of countries that understood that Iran is the central threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.
It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t bring the E3 – France, Germany, and the United Kingdom – on. They were so deeply wedded to this thing, this monstrosity called the JCPOA [the Iran nuclear deal]. There were so deeply wedded to that – as it appears this administration is as well – that we weren’t able to bring them along.
I regret that, but I wouldn’t do anything different. We got it right. We put enormous pressure on the Iranian regime and that denied money for Hezbollah and resources to [Syrian President Bashar Al] Assad.
Remember, during the Obama administration, Iranian support of the Syrian government led six million people to flee Syria. People forget the enormous humanitarian crisis created by the Iranians, which was connected to a central understanding that the Obama administration had, which was, “We’re not going to push Iran at all. We’re going to let them do [whatever they want] so that we can sign a piece of paper.” It was a poor policy.
I hope that this administration will see that today isn’t 2015 and that the Iranian regime is under enormous pressure. Their people – the people of Iran – understand that their leadership is failing them. Continuing down the path that our administration began would lead to a really good outcome for the Iranian people and a much more stable and secure Middle East.
During the Trump years and your time leading the State Department, we saw something that was fairly unprecedented: America pushing Israel to the right instead of to the left thanks, arguably, to the influence of evangelical Christians and pro-Israel American Jews. Do you agree with this assessment?
I don’t know that we were pushing Israeli politics one way or the other. We were focused on our mission, which was to create security for the American people and to be good partners with the Israeli government, whoever that government might have been.
We ended up having a partner and Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was a fantastic partner to work with, who understood the central threats to his country, and who was prepared to work alongside the United States to achieve [his country’s aims] and, indeed, make sacrifices to agree to the Abraham Accords themselves.
We sometimes forget that Israel had to sign up for these deals as well and had to make commitments about the things that they would do and would not do in order to enter those agreements. This is what deals are about. This is how compromise occurs. It’s how stability is engendered….
I’m watching this administration now look like they may underwrite the Palestinian Authority. We said it’s crazy to underwrite the Palestinian Authority and send American taxpayer money there while they’re threatening Israel. It’s not only immoral; it violates the Taylor Force Act. It violates U.S. law where the Palestinians are doing “pay for slay” [paying salaries to terrorists for murdering and maiming Jews].
It’s essentially as if the administration says it’s going to launder money through the Palestinian Authority to try to get to some better deal. It won’t happen. It won’t increase the likelihood of the Palestinian Authority coming to the negotiating table.
Rather, a clear understanding is needed that here are commitments [that need to be made]. We saw multiple countries do that. If the Palestinian leadership is prepared to negotiate an arrangement that provides security for Israel, I’m confident that the lives of the Palestinian people would be far, far better than they are today.
On that note, Palestinian elections are apparently right around the corner. Assuming they happen, what do you see as the future of Palestinian leadership and its people?
There’s no indication that the election will be anything more than a rubber stamp for the current leadership. I hope I end up being wrong about that. I hope I’m surprised, but the Palestinian people should demand that they have real elections where they [can] elect leadership that will fundamentally understand that they can’t just say, “No, no, no.”
You’ll recall our efforts in the Middle East began with laying out a vision for peace that included enormous amount of resources flowing to the Palestinian people, which would have made their lives so much better. I regret that the Palestinian leadership couldn’t see the way to that, but I don’t see these elections as being likely to change that much at all.
Are you planning to run for president?
Long ways off. I’m going to stay in the fight for the things that I worked on that you described during this interview and that I care about deeply. We’ll see what the world brings in 2022 and beyond.